Indianapolis Motor Speedway‘s Road Course has a very close history with Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Rinus Veekay. It was the site of his first NTT IndyCar Series pole position, his first podium, and now his first race victory, dominating the late stages of the race to win the 2021 GMR Grand Prix.
Veekay beat out open-wheel racing veteran Romain Grosjean, passing the ex-Formula 1 driver in turn twelve on lap forty-four while he was on cold tyres. From there, he never looked back, becoming the third first-time winner this season, the first time this has happened since 2013.
Grosjean lead the field to green in his Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda, his first experience leading a rolling start. He made it clean through turn one, with Jack Harvey following him through on the inside to second. Further in the pack, Simon Pagenaud clipped Conor Daly going into the braking zone, sending Daly into the grass as Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and Patricio O’Ward all had to take evasive action. Caution flew for Daly before a lap could be completed, as he came to a halt in the grass. After starting sixth and making Q3 for the first time in his career, Daly finished a disappointing twenty-fifth.
Under the caution, Dixon, O’Ward and Rahal came into the pits to switch to the softer red-wall tyres. The belief around the paddock was that this was the optimal racing tyre, and now they could use it all the way to the finish. Rahal however, came in again on lap three to top off with fuel. Rahal was not pleased on the radio with the decision, as he now needed to race around at the back of the pack to hit a fuel number.
Grosjean got another chance at a rolling start, this time single-file, on the lap five restart. The Swiss-born Frenchman launched away, once again clearing the dangerous turn one with the lead, building a gap of four seconds by lap thirteen. On lap twelve, Alexander Rossi, Veekay and Juan Pablo Montoya came to make their first pit stops to the red tyres, working on a three-stop strategy. Many of the leaders that started on red tyres switched to the harder black tyres to get that mandatory stint out of the way early.
Grosjean stayed out until lap 25 and pit for reds, still able to maintain a solid pace out front on worn tyres. Dixon inherited the lead for a few laps off-strategy before he made his second pit stop on lap 28, giving the lead to Grosjean once more. Harvey, who pit on lap thirteen, was able to cut the gap down to two seconds after running fast laps on the red tyres and the other pit stops cycled out.
On lap 38 pit lane was packed as second pit stops began for most of the grid. Harvey was one of those drivers who stopped, but an issue getting the nut on the right rear tyre not cost him precious time. That wouldn’t be the end of his troubles, as the same tyre went flat on the backstretch. At a track that the team is so consistently good at, another costly error ruined a strong day. He finished twenty-third one lap down.
As Grosjean continued ahead, Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Alex Palou pit from second place on lap forty-one for primary black tyres. On his out lap, Veekay made one of his trademark highlight-reel passes by threading the needle between Palou and his slower teammate Jimmie Johnson to steal fourth place on-track, which would cycle out to second place after pit stops. The lightning-quick twenty year old then set his eyes on the provisional lead held by Grosjean.
Grosjean went long on his second stint, pitting on lap forty-three to allow for a shorter stint on his mandatory black tyres. After a very physical on-track battle with lap-traffic Takuma Sato, he was able to narrowly beat Veekay out of the pits. However, the young Dutchman, armed with up-to-temperature red tyres, was able to snag the provisional lead in turn twelve. Grosjean struggled on the black tyres, allowing Veekay to bulid a gap of three and a half seconds.
Rossi was the first to hit pit lane on lap sixty for his final pit stop amidst concerns of rain looming over the track. Veekay pit on lap sixty-one while Grosjean pit from the lead on lap sixty-three, and a successful undercut saw Veekay easily cycle back into the lead of the race, with the gap now at five seconds.
The rain started to pick up a few laps later, not enough however to necessitate rain tyres, and was gone by around ten laps to go. Veekay continued to grow his lead every lap over Grosjean, who was stuck behind the lap car of Sebastien Bourdais up until two laps to go. Despite a fuel scare on the final lap, Veekay took the checkered flag with a gap of just under five seconds, bringing the car home for ECR’s first race win since Iowa Speedway in 2016 and embracing with his parents in victory lane.
Although the win slipped through his hands, Grosjean led forty-four laps of the race and came home with an incredibly respectable second place finish in just his third IndyCar race. This podium finish was his first since the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as a part of the Lotus F1 Team.
Palou comes home with his second podium of the season, recovering from a hose leak that kept him out of Practice 1 to finish third. After O’Ward’s fifteenth place finish, the young Spaniard reclaims second place in the points standings.
Newgarden pushed Palou to the finish, but after starting on the front row he slipped down the order and finished fourth, stating post-race that the car “just didn’t have the speed” to compete for the win. On the bright side, he’s recovered from his crash in the first race of the season to sit third in the points standings.
Although he was not happy with the strategy call at the time, Rahal was able to turn his ultra-conservative strategy into a fifth place finish and his third straight top five. The strategy proposed by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew was so conservative, that Rahal was not allowed to touch his push to pass boost for almost the entire race because it would burn too much fuel.
Three-time GMR Grand Prix winner Pagenaud quietly worked his way up from tenth to finish sixth, marking the Team Penske veteran’s fourth straight top ten finish. His rookie teammate Scott McLaughlin also joined him in the top ten with an eighth place finish, making it three Penske cars in the top ten at the track Roger Penske now owns. Only Will Power finished outside of the top ten, narrowly missing out in eleventh.
Rossi was one of the biggest movers of the day, finishing seventh after starting fourteenth and dealing with engine issues for the second half of the race. Multiple times he reported issues reaching fifth gear, and puffs of smoke were visible on downshifts. Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay also made up seven spots from his starting position to finish twelfth, even leading a few laps in between the various pit strategies.
Ganassi rounded out the top ten with Dixon and Marcus Ericsson finishing ninth and tenth respectively. Both drivers were knocked out of their respective groups in Q1 on Friday but managed to fight their way through the pack to claim as many points as they could. Dixon gained seven spots to take ninth and maintain his points lead over teammate Palou, while Ericsson gets his third top ten of the season after struggling at the Texas Motor Speedway doubleheader.
The only CGR car not in the top ten was Johnson, who finished twenty-fourth.
Arrow McLaren SP‘s Montoya and A.J. Foyt Enterprises‘ Charlie Kimball finished twenty-first and twenty-second respectively, as they continue to re-acclimate themselves to their teams and cars ahead of the Indianapolis 500 later this month.
The teams now get a few days of rest before getting back out on the track on Tuesday to begin practice for the 105th Indianapolis 500 on 30 May.
2021 GMR Grand Prix Final Results
|1||21||Rinus VeeKay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||1:47:08.577|
|2||51||Romain Grosjean (R)||FRA||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||+ 4.951 sec|
|3||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 15.072 sec|
|4||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+ 18.447 sec|
|5||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 26.981 sec|
|6||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+ 27.870 sec|
|7||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 33.270 sec|
|8||3||Scott McLaughlin (R)||NZL||Team Penske||+ 36.186 sec|
|9||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 36.836 sec|
|10||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 37.197 sec|
|11||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+ 39.802 sec|
|12||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 40.389 sec|
|13||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 43.114 sec|
|14||18||Ed Jones||UAE||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan||+ 43.811 sec|
|15||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 44.544 sec|
|16||30||Takuma Sato||JPN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 44.997 sec|
|17||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 45.420 sec|
|18||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||+ 1:05.198 sec|
|19||14||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 1 lap|
|20||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 1 lap|
|21||86||Juan Pablo Montoya||COL||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 1 lap|
|22||11||Charlie Kimball||USA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 1 lap|
|23||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 1 lap|
|24||48||Jimmie Johnson (R)||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 1 lap|
|25||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 35 laps|