The NTT INDYCAR SERIES continues its 2020 season with a doubleheader event Oct. 2-3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR is the first major auto racing event will take place in October for the first time in the 111-year history of IMS and the third and fourth races of the 2020 season held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Here are five things to watch at this weekend’s event.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship Up for Grabs
The championship race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will continue to charge down the homestretch at the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR doubleheader on Oct. 2-3, as Scott Dixon will try to hold off his closest pursuers and either clinch or close in on his sixth series title.
Dixon leads reigning champion Josef Newgarden by 72 points, with Pato O’Ward 128 points behind Dixon in third. There are plenty of opportunities for Dixon to gain or lose ground with two races scheduled on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
“We just have to treat it like any other race weekend and try to get maximum points,” Dixon said. “The obvious goal is to go out there and try to win, but unfortunately, there are 23, 24 others that have the same goal. We’ll try to do better than we did at the last doubleheader at Mid-Ohio, where I definitely made a very large mistake that gave away some pretty easy points there.”
There are 54 points maximum available to a driver at each NTT INDYCAR SERIES race outside of the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. So, with just the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25 remaining on the schedule after the INDYCAR Harvest GP, Dixon will clinch the championship with a lead of 55 points or more after this weekend.
The mission is tough but not hopeless for two-time series champion Newgarden. He trimmed 24 points from Dixon’s lead during the Honda Indy 200 doubleheader weekend Sept. 12-13 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“We’re running second in championship points and have some ground to make up to Scott (Dixon), so every point is really going to count,” Newgarden said. “With this being a doubleheader weekend, the pressure is on to perform at our best in the Hitachi Chevy and really maximize the points that we get. With two opportunities to race this weekend, we still feel we have a good shot at the title since my entire team has been working so hard and have a really great plan put together. Execution will be key, especially since doubleheader weekends can be so intense and anything could happen.”
King of the Road
Scott Dixon won the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of 2020 at IMS, the GMR Grand Prix on July 4. It was one of the three straight victories with which he opened the season, as Dixon has never trailed in the championship standings.
Dixon could earn the rare distinction of being the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to win three races in one year at the Racing Capital of the World with a sweep of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR doubleheader.
Multiple INDYCAR races only have taken place in the same season at IMS since 2014, when the GMR Grand Prix joined the annual schedule at the world’s most famous racetrack along with the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud swept the Grand Prix and “500” in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The schedule shuffle created by the COVID-19 pandemic placed four INDYCAR races at IMS this season, giving Dixon the chance to make history with three wins in the same year at the Brickyard. Takuma Sato won the Indy 500 on Aug. 23, and he also could be the first three-time winner in one season at IMS among NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers with a sweep of the INDYCAR Harvest GP.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES star Colton Herta won all three Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races in May 2018 at IMS, with two races on the road course and the Freedom 100 on the oval. Indianapolis native Johnny Aitken swept the Harvest Classic on Sept. 9, 1916, a single event comprised of three races. That event inspired the name of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR.
Popular Vets Return to Series
Three of the most popular veterans of INDYCAR racing will return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR, as Sebastien Bourdais will drive the fabled No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing, James Hinchcliffe rejoins Andretti Autosport as the driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves stands in for Oliver Askew at Arrow McLaren SP.
Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004-07 and was a mainstay and race winner in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after nearly two seasons in Formula One. He will make his first INDYCAR start of 2020 with Foyt’s team in the doubleheader on the IMS road course and will drive for the team in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25 in advance of a full season behind the wheel of Foyt’s car in 2021.
Frenchman Bourdais has produced three fourth-place finishes (2014, 2015, 2018) in six career INDYCAR starts on the IMS road course. He also won the inaugural Rolex Sports Car Series race at IMS in 2012, sharing a Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype with Alex Popow.
“It’s time finally to get that 2020 INDYCAR season started for us,” Bourdais said. “It’s been a long time coming but really happy to finally get this show on the road and see what we’ve got. Obviously, there was a lot of anticipation at the beginning of the year, and many months have gone by and many races, so we’re not taking it the easy way by getting in the seat at the tail end of the season. There’s a lot of things to learn for me with the team, the team to validate a few things that they think they need answers on for this season and, more importantly, the next. I’m very much looking forward to the Indy GP. It’s a track that I’ve had good success on and very much enjoyed the layout, but it’s not going to be easy because we’re jumping straight into the thick of it: one practice, then qualify, race, qualify, race. Hopefully, we hit the ground running with a happy setup and can have a good weekend.”
Hinchcliffe, one of nine drivers to start in every INDYCAR road course race at IMS, finished 11th in July’s GMR Grand Prix. He’ll finish the season with Andretti Autosport’s No. 26 car as it evaluates its program for the 2021 season.
Castroneves, who has won the last three races in IMSA’s Daytona Prototype International class, will make his first road course start since the 2019 GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 30-time INDYCAR race winner will be in unfamiliar ground with Arrow McLaren SP – his first INDYCAR start for a team other than Team Penske since 1999.
“It’s great to be back in a place where I have so many memories,” Castroneves said. “It’s even more exciting this time, coming back with a new team and getting new experiences. Hopefully I can add a little bit of my experience to a great team and brand. I also want to thank Roger Penske and Tim Cindric for allowing me to race this weekend for a different team. My biggest fear is to not enter the wrong garage after 20 years!”
History will be made during the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR event weekend, as a major auto racing event will take place in October for the first time in the 111-year history of IMS.
The Harvest Classic, United States Grand Prix Formula One and Big Machine 400 at the Brickyard races all have taken place in past years during September on the IMS oval or road course. The Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP event also raced in September at IMS.
But among major events, only the Red Bull Air Race World Championship for acrobatic airplanes has competed at the Racing Capital of the World during the cool, crisp, colorful days of October.
Welcome back, fans
Fans will be welcomed to a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 2020 during the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR event weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.
The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including mandatory face coverings, temperature screenings before gate entry, social distancing in grandstands and other areas, and more.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic to have up to 10,000 fans on each day.” Dixon said. “It’s definitely been a different dynamic, I think, for a lot of us this season, especially the Indianapolis 500 that ran without fans. We welcome the fans greatly. Hopefully, the weather cooperates, and we can have a fantastic weekend.”