Sonsio Grand Prix action

AJ Foyt Racing driver Santino Ferrucci provided plenty of highlights over the entire day of action Saturday during the Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while Colton Herta was left annoyed by an intrateam flashpoint.

Saturday morning, Ferrucci dove his No. 14 AJ FOYT RACING/SEXTON PROPERTIES Chevrolet under Romain Grosjean’s No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet during the 30-minute final practice session that preceded the 85-lap race.

Ferrucci’s maneuver nearly created contact between his car and Grosjean’s. Ferrucci responded with a middle-finger salute while speeding down the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway front straightaway.

He said the incident stemmed from a clash between the two that started at the last event in late April at Barber Motorsports Park.

“He drove into me in the warmup at Barber for no reason, and I’m simply returning the favor, my friend,” Ferrucci said Saturday morning. “You want to turn into me when I have the inside, I’m not lifting – I’m sorry. I had the corner. If he doesn’t like it, come over here and talk to me about it.”

The dustup didn’t stop there.

Grosjean climbed from the 23rd starting spot to catch Ferrucci for 17th on Lap 2. The pair jostled side-by-side in the same portion of the track as their warmup incident, with Ferrucci eventually pushing Grosjean off track in Turn 12.

Ferrucci ended up dropping out of the race on Lap 55 due to a mechanical failure. Grosjean continued to finish 12th.

“He was on the outside, and honestly, anybody would be in the same position here,” Ferrucci said of the second-lap contact.

The duo had more side-by-side racing later in the race, but conflict was avoided with the pair racing cleanly.

“He passed me clean earlier,” Ferrucci said. “That’s totally fine. Later in the race he passed me in Turn 7, and I gave him space. Back to normal racing. But that would be for anybody whether I’m on the outside or inside, that’s just how we race.”

Andretti Global teammates Herta and Marcus Ericsson had an interesting run-in on the opening lap. Starting 24th, Herta battled Ericsson’s No. 28 Delaware Life Honda on Lap 1. The two were side-by-side and contact between them forced Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda into the gravel trap.

Herta directed a profanity-laced tirade at his teammate on the radio for the incident. He still was hot after the race, in which he rallied to finish seventh but lost the championship lead, falling to fourth.

“Your teammate leading the championship, and you race him like an ass like that?” Herta said. “You've got to be smarter than that. So dumb.”

There also was a fracas in Turn 1 on the opening lap that resulted in multiple cars driving or spinning into the grass.

With the fastest track on the 17-race schedule ahead on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, the new rivalries may simmer through to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.

Herta’s Championship Drive

Alex Palou’s worst finish in his 17-race championship winning season in 2023 was eighth. On a day where four of the top six drivers in NTT INDYCAR SERIES points rolled off in the first three rows, Herta charged from 24th to finish seventh.

A championship-saving day?

“I would really rather not have these kinds of days,” Herta said. “I would rather start up front, run up front and not make it so hard to finish up front. But we will have some problems, and we will have some issues. I didn't qualify well at Barber; we had a fuel issue here. Just need to get out of that habit. We need to break the habit and qualify well for the next few races.”

Herta came into Saturday’s 85-lap race leading the points for the first time of his career, but the 47th top-10 finish in his 86 career starts limited the damage with him leaving fourth, 25 points out of the lead.

After that early-race incident with Ericsson, Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda team called him down pit road early on Lap 12. Among the 27 starters, that was the second-earliest pit stop of the afternoon.

The undercut strategy paid dividends. Herta climbed to 12th after the first stint, then battled in the top 10 after the second pit stop.

Days like Saturday for Herta are where championships can be won.

Franchitti Raves about Palou, CGR

In 2021, Alex Palou’s second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season but first with Chip Ganassi Racing, team driver mentor/coach Dario Franchitti called Palou a “Sunday driver.”

Three years later, Palou is a two-time INDYCAR SERIES champion (2021, 2023) and won Saturday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second consecutive year in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“He just continues to impress,” four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Franchitti said. “He really does. He’s had a colorful time off the track, shall we say, and it doesn't seem to affect him. That’s the mental strength that he continues to show. It is quite impressive. Never mind his talent behind the wheel, which is something special, too.”

With three INDYCAR SERIES championships in the last four seasons and 26 wins in the last 68 races overall, CGR rivals any group in the paddock for supremacy.

Franchitti said it’s hard to compare eras at Chip Ganassi Racing, but what the team is accomplishing is worth taking notice.

“There was one season we won 10 races between the two of us,” Franchitti said of him and Scott Dixon each winning five races in 2009. “Those were pretty good years. But it's tough to do with five cars now. It's tough to keep that focus. And we've managed it.

“That’s a testament to the management and every person working in the team. So, long may it continue because it's not easy to be successful in any form of racing, especially INDYCAR.

“We've got Scott (Dixon) in his early 40s winning races left and right at the moment, and then we've got the young guys with Linus (Lundqvist), Marcus (Armstrong) and Kyffin (Simpson). I think everybody develops at different rates. But the trick is to develop early and keep pushing like Dixon does. I think Palou is going to have a similar trajectory to that, as hopefully will our other drivers.”

Armstrong Scores First Top-Five

Franchitti said Armstrong is on target for what he expected from the sophomore driver after just 16 NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts. Saturday’s Sonsio Grand Prix was Armstrong’s first career top-five finish, coming home fifth in the No. 11 IU Simon Cancer Center Honda.

“I'm happy with today's result, but frankly, I do want to be on the podium and fighting for wins,” Armstrong said. “It's extremely competitive in this championship to be inside the top five, and then on the podium is massively tough. You really have to nail it.

“I do believe that the results are coming. We’re gaining momentum and confidence within the team, and everyone's starting to buy into philosophy and approach.”

Saturday’s finish catapulted Armstrong from 18th to 11th in points coming into his first oval start in the 108th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.

“Time to work hard and study and make sure everything's understood,” Armstrong said of turning his focus to the oval. “It’s not unusual for me to have to learn new things because I came here last year, didn't know a single track on the calendar. Obviously, oval racing is a bit different, but still, it's the same thing – you have to learn and progress.”

Crown Royal Wall Of Gratitude Event

Crown Royal and The American Legion have identified five new honorees that will be added to the Wall of Gratitude inside of Gate 2 on Sunday, May 18.

Jeff Spencer (Breaking Limits/American Legion, Mobile Marketing Tour Manager), Michael Harmon (Chip Ganassi Racing, Designed the American Legion car livery), Dr. Melissa McCarthy (NTT INDYCAR SERIES doctor with the AMR Safety Team), Keagan Baker (Abel Motorsports) and Douglas Heath (CEO/President of Bravia Services) will be honored at 10 a.m. ET.

The Crown Royal Wall of Gratitude salutes this nation’s heroes and all essential workers, past and present, who have served America.

Odds and Ends

  • Five of the last six Sonsio Grand Prix podiums have produced the NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. That’s great news for Palou, Will Power and Christian Lundgaard.
  • Power comes to oval activity second in points but has three runner-up finishes in four tries this season. The 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner hasn’t won in 32 races but has seven second-place finishes in that span.
  • Team Penske won five of the first six Sonsio Grand Prix races. The organization is winless in the last five.