Rinus VeeKay took his lumps from Texas and turned in a mature performance on the run from 18th to fifth. His poise at the GMR GP is what was expected – but missed – in the opening round. Pitting on lap 31 for service proved to be fortuitous with Oliver Askew’s crash and yellow on lap 36; the Dutchman leapt to the top six and kept working his No. 21 Ed Carpenter Chevy to great effect while sustaining pressure from behind.
Sure, VeeKay’s teammate Conor Daly had an unrewarding outcome of 12th at his home race, and the decision to stick with a two-stop race while all but two other entries switched to three conspired against a better outcome, but it was great to see both ECR cars with the raw pace to run towards the front. Before he went into ultra fuel conservation mode to make it to the finish, Daly and the No. 20 Chevy were quick like a bunny. Coupled with VeeKay, we could be on the cusp of a reinvigorated presence by ECR on road courses. The upcoming doubleheader in Wisconsin will answer that question.
Simon Pagenaud was the master of mileage on Saturday, motoring 17 positions forward from start to finish. He stopped on the same lap as VeeKay – four spots ahead of the ECR driver on the road – and improved from a lowly start of 20th to third. It’s far too early to place stock in such things, but if Pagenaud ends up vying for the championship, we’ll need to look at what he and race engineer Ben Bretzman did on July 4 to turn a terrible qualifying into a podium visit as a meaningful contributor to their final place in the standings.
Of the three who stuck to the two-stop plan, Graham Rahal was the only one to make it work. Starting fourth, he took the lead during the caution, was chased down by Dixon on fresh tires, stopped on lap 54, and cycled forward, racing home to second. On a three-stop strategy that mirrored Dixon’s, it would have been interesting to see the two try and settle things; with the different strategies, there was a point where Rahal had 40 seconds over Dixon, and in the end, Dixon held 20 over Rahal.
It isn’t meant as a criticism when I say that Chevy has gone 0-for-2 this year. Unless I’m forgetting something, the Bowtie has also gone 0-for-2 in having engine issues at the two opening races while Honda has borne the brunt of motor problems. At Indy, Rossi’s team spent two days changing every fuel-related component in the No. 27 Honda, but to no avail. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who drove like a man possessed, was dealt a cruel blow after running as high as third late in the race, but retired after succumbing to a suspected broken exhaust header. Honda’s taken all the spoils on race day, which is what matters, but it can’t afford to have reliability issues so early in the season if it wants to vie for a third consecutive Manufacturers’ championship.
Sticking with Pigot, how nice was it to see the 2015 Indy Lights champion having one of his most competitive IndyCar outings to date, all while coming in cold after exiting the Ed Carpenter Racing team last September, and missing the season-opener at Texas? More performances like this in the No. 45 Citrone/Buhl RLLR Honda could make it easy to envision a Graham-Spencer combo whenever the ageless Takuma Sato bids farewell to IndyCar.
Has Pigot found his happy place? Image by Cantrell/Motorsport Images
Hard not to feel for Meyer Shank Racing and second-place qualifier Jack Harvey. We already have my Golden Bowling Ball award for the driver who causes the most wreckage, and the ACME Cartoon Anvil for the driver befallen by the worst luck, so maybe we need to add a new Killed By Caution award. The first recipient is Harvey, whose third-place turned into 17th after his front-row start went massively awry.
Team Penske has two poles, no wins, and Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are drafting behind Dixon in the championship standings. The top three have yet to have a bad race, and that’s a rarity so far; Starting with Rahal in fifth, the rest of the field have at least one forgettable finish in just two events.
In the ‘If I’d told you at the beginning of the year that ______ would happen’ chronicles, would you have believed that after two races, sixth through 10th in the championship would be Zach Veach, Conor Daly, Pato O’Ward, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Marcus Ericsson?
Man, Marco Andretti was really looking forward to improving upon his forgettable run to 14th in Texas. Indy had other ideas in mind as the cartoon anvil clipped his No. 98 Honda more than once (after it was finished with Rossi). Placing one lap down in 22nd wasn’t fun; if we’re looking for silver linings, he had the third-fastest race lap.
Dixon said he got lucky with the timing of the yellow that benefited some and sank the fortunes of others. It might be a case of unnecessary modesty. Credit the decision to pit on lap 10, which set his next stop in motion somewhere in the ensuing 25 to 26 laps, at most. Also consider Dixon’s opening pace on Firestone’s primary black tires as another contributor to his win. The primaries didn’t appear to be the hot ticket in the race, and yet Dixon, the only front-running driver to open the contest on blacks, improved from seventh to sixth on the opening lap and held off the drivers behind him on reds until he pitted. Thanks to his pace on blacks, Dixon’s early stop for reds didn’t result in a huge drop down the running order. He emerged in 16th, and as other drivers made their first stop in the ensuing laps, he climbed up to fifth. CGR could have tried to stretch Dixon’s first red-tire run to the limit, which would have meant pitting around lap 35 or 36, but they chose to go a few laps early and stop on lap 33. With Askew’s lap 36 crash, maybe that’s the lucky part he mentioned, but either way, that lap 10 trade of blacks for reds ended up playing a much bigger part in the GMR GP’s outcome than anyone could have predicted at the time.