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The IndyCar Afterburn: Indy GP 2024 - Will Power the bridesmaid again as Alex Palou retakes standings lead with victory

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The IndyCar Series might run from March to September, but the undisputed heart of the calendar is the month of May, when the action comes home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After an instant classic at Long Beach and the bat-guano insanity of Alabama, this year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis was a less dramatic affair, but when you remember that a relatively calm IndyCar race can still mean fourteen lead changes and eight different lap leaders.

It puts into perspective just how spoiled we are as fans to get such competitive racing every week.

With no further ado, let’s get right into the winners, losers, and storylines of this weekend’s action.

Palou pilots the #10 to win #10

Alex Palou dominated the Thermal exhibition in March, but to defend both his local crown on the IMS road course and his reign as National Champion, he needed to put it all together for points.

Despite blowing his pole position on the first turn, the Spanish shark stayed firmly on his prey’s scent, getting stronger the longer the race went.

By the end of the day, Palou racked up 39 laps led, the fastest single lap of the day, and most importantly, the checkered flag.

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With the National Championship lead once again in hand and double-digit career wins to his name, Palou can now set his sights on the one big prize he hasn’t already claimed: a victory in the Indianapolis 500.

Power gets stuck mining for silver

In what’s quickly becoming a theme this season, Will Power started and finished on the podium, collecting valuable Manufacturers’ Cup points for Chevrolet, but couldn’t translate it to a win.

The Australian had an overall strong day and pulled some slick moves in the pit lane to secure his third silver of the season, but it seemed no matter what he did, he just couldn’t get a gasp of top-step air, even for a fraction of a lap.

Add in his early use of his freshest soft tyres, which backfired in the finale as Palou ran off with the win, and you have a bittersweet seventh silver medal since Power’s last victory.

That win still feels right around the corner, but it can’t be fun searching for it down an ever-lengthening hallway.

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Lundgaard shines, but ultimately settles

The IMS road course is always friendly territory for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and today was no exception. Pietro Fittipaldi rebounded from a disastrous last couple races and led two laps, the first time he’s ever done so in IndyCar.

Graham Rahal also led two laps on the way to his first top-ten finish of the season. But the big story of the day at RLL was Christian Lundgaard, who came out guns blazing, sniped the lead on the opening turn, and led 35 of the first 40 laps.

But while he looked like he had this race in a chokehold early on, the Dane’s grasp of the lead weakened, then slipped entirely in the back half, and even his hopes of silver slipped away after a smart pit row pass by Power.

Still, a bronze is nothing to sneeze at, and on top of the success for himself and his team, Honda will be very glad for the points Lundgaard’s just given them.

Dixon, Armstrong, & McLaughlin make New Zealand proud

There have never been more New Zealanders at the top level of American open-wheel racing than there are right now, and today was a good day for all of them.

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Scott Dixon always looked just one good break away from running off with the lead; Marcus Armstrong posted the best finish of his young career; and Scott McLaughlin, while worst among the three, still gained seven places to finish second-best among the Chevys.

Although none of them finished on the podium, they did put together a 4-5-6 finish, led a combined six laps over the course of the day, kept their country first on our Nations’ Cup leaderboard, and improved their stations in the National Championship standings.

With all three Kiwis gaining or maintaining momentum going into the 500, fans of any member of the trio have every reason to be excited as we approach the biggest race on the schedule.

Herta decides it’s comeback time

Colton Herta weathered no shortage of setbacks in the early going. He ran out of fuel in qualifying, forcing him to start fourth-to-last on the grid. Early in the race, his own teammate, Marcus Ericsson, smacked him off the road, a move Herta was still salty about even after the race.

But in a fine display of Herta’s new Zen master approach, the Andretti ace quickly locked in and ground out the result he needed, as he and his crew combined a quick pace, some quality pit stops, and the most overtakes of any driver that day to climb all the way from 24th to seventh, easily the biggest gain of the day.

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It wasn’t enough to maintain the National Championship lead, but it does keep Herta very much in the hunt, and if this is the worst he does all year, it could be a major key to victory in the long run.

Rossi pulls himself out of the spiral

Until this race, Alexander Rossi was on a downward trend—after taking sixth at the season opener in St. Pete, he’d gotten worse results every race, culminating in a DNF at Birmingham.

However, Rossi’s pit crew was on point, his tyres knew they weren’t birds, and his fortunes were far better, as he picked up a bonus point for his first lap led on the year on his way to a very respectable eighth place finish, good for third among Chevrolets and best among McLarens.

With how good the Brickyard has been to Rossi, both on the road course and the oval, this is an encouraging sign, and it could light the fuse for an explosive performance at the Indy 500.

Grosjean earns the racing gods’ favor

Romain Grosjean’s big story coming into this race was his recurring encounters with Santino Ferrucci.

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The two had repeatedly gone wheel-to-wheel in practice and warmups going back to Alabama, and when they met again early on in this race, Ferrucci ran Grosjean off the road.

But in a testament to the Swiss-born Frenchman’s skills, Grosjean quickly turned things around, taking his place back, making 18 on-track passes on other cars, and going on to finish 11 places above where he started.

With the fates back on his side, Grosjean has one simple goal for the rest of May: finally finish an Indy 500 with his car intact.

Simpson leads the young guns again

Théo Pourchaire may have grabbed the headlines leading up to race day, what with his official long-term transfer from Japanese Super Formula to the Arrow McLaren Indy roster, but it was the island boy, Kyffin Simpson, who emerged as head of the rookie class.

The Caymanian’s 15th-place finish isn’t as splashy as the podium Linus Lundqvist scored in Alabama, but it was a quietly impressive drive, as only Colton Herta made more passes on track than Simpson did.

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Simpson has now led among rookies twice in four championship races, putting him eight points shy of Lundqvist for the Rookie of the Year lead.

With key contender Pourchaire too inexperienced on ovals to run the 500, we may have a major shakeup in this award race on our hands.

The Sicko’s Guide to DNFs: Ferrucci eats his words

Santino Ferrucci came into the day feeling especially self-assured, and it looked early on like he might be able to repeat his Alabama aggression for another solid result.

But after saying “FTG” to Grosjean in a pre-race interview, then running Grosjean off the road early on, the racing gods said “FTG” right back to Ferrucci.

The Connecticut native quickly lost that place he’d fought so hard for, then slid down the pecking order with an ever-growing pile of braking and mechanical issues until he finally limped into the pits and retired the car.

That said, don’t laugh too hard at Ferrucci just yet.

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The Indy 500 is far and away his best track – he’s never finished outside the top 10, and last year’s running brought his first and only podium in IndyCar thus far – so if he finds his groove there again, there’s no telling what he might pull off.

Myriad Misfortunes: because misery loves company

There may not have been many DNFs or cautions, but there were plenty of mishaps to go around from the outset. On the first turn of the first lap, Pietro Fittipaldi ran into Rinus VeeKay, causing a major pileup at the back of the field that, amazingly, didn’t take anyone out of the running.

Fittipaldi would bounce back and have an overall solid day, but VeeKay wouldn’t be nearly so lucky. The Dutchman spent much of the day lapped and acting as an obstacle for better drivers, then took a drive-through penalty for an improper pit exit, dooming VeeKay to a woeful 26th-place finish.

Staying with Turn 1 for a bit, British rookie Tom Blomqvist struggled with that turn repeatedly, locking up several times there over the course of the day. Fortunately, none of them ended in a crash, but it heavily impeded him on his way to 23rd.

It’s a huge contrast to his form back in IMSA, where he’s a one-time Drivers’ Champion and two-time winner at Daytona, but with luck, he’ll be able to lean on those endurance chops in his forthcoming first Indy 500.

Blomqvist wasn’t the only rookie having a rough day. In 24th place, we have Linus Lundqvist, who had the pace for a top-ten finish until gearbox issues and a blown pit stop doomed him to the back of the pack.

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But that’s still a better hand than fate dealt Luca Ghiotto, who spun out late in the race and caused the day’s only caution. He was able to restart, but his drive never recovered, and the Italian finished 25th.

Meanwhile, among the more established names, Pato O’Ward had an especially frustrating day. He qualified in fifth, but an emergency engine replacement before the start of the race had knock-on effects all day, as various issues plagued him all day long.

Ultimately, he’d finish 13th—technically his best result since the win at St. Pete, but clearly not where O’Ward wants to be.

But even he didn’t squander his starting spot as badly as Josef Newgarden. The year’s emergent villain started in fourth, and hung well with his rivals early on, but once he started slipping, he faded out of the picture fast and ultimately sank all the way to 17th.

Newgarden’s last gasp of TV time came late in the race, when he punted Jack Harvey down the straightaway into Turn 1.

Poor Christian Rasmussen, an Indy NXT champion and class champion at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona who’s caught bad break after bad break to start his IndyCar career, had to veer hard left to avoid getting collected in a crash.

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However, Rasmussen did salvage a top-20 finish for the first time since St. Petersburg, so maybe the young Dane will finally escape this section sometime soon.

Championship Collage: Palou pulls himself and Honda ahead

With a victory and a clean sweep of the bonus points, Palou now leads the National Championship standings. Aussie Power remains second, albeit eleven points farther from first than he was before the race, and Colton Herta, for all his heroics to salvage the day, still slides down to fourth, just behind Dixon.

Meanwhile, outside the top five, Scott McLaughlin continues to make up for his St. Pete disqualification, climbing to sixth; fellow Kiwi Marcus Armstrong makes an even bigger jump, rising seven spots to 11th; and RLL teammates Christian Lundgaard and Graham Rahal catapult themselves to ninth and 12th, respectively.

In the Manufacturers’ Cup chase, it’s once again wings up and bowties down, as Honda’s 90 points are enough to take the lead and put them nine ahead of Chevrolet.

With so many bonus points up for grabs in the next couple of weeks, and such thin margins separating the two engine suppliers, the rest of this month could prove crucial to shaping the championship picture the rest of the way.

Finally, in our official unofficial Nations’ Cup tally, New Zealand maintains the top spot, but Spain and Australia are closing in fast, as both countries gained enough ground to knock the United States out of the top three.

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Meanwhile, Rinus VeeKay’s atrocious performance brings the Netherlands down three spots, allowing the Cayman Islands and especially Denmark, who tied Spain for the day’s biggest gain, to reap the benefits.

Finally, towards the back of the pack, Pietro Fittipaldi’s improved luck brings Brazil three points shy of arch-rival Argentina.

That fight might only be for 12th right now, but wherever these South American powers meet in sports, the fans’ inflamed passions are sure to follow.

Future Flames: counting down to the 500

It’s the greatest spectacle in all of racing. It’s a piece of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. It’s the race every IndyCar fan spends all year waiting for, and it’s almost upon us.

The 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 promises to shock and amaze us once again, and though the bar for drama is high after last year’s finish, the magic of the Brickyard is always liable to show us something crazy.

As always, there’ll be a slew of Indy-only drivers entering the picture, including the legendary Hélio Castroneves and his quest to become the first five-time Indy 500 winner.

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But the talk of the town right now is 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, who’ll hop in the Arrow McLaren No. 17 car and become the first driver in ten years to attempt the Memorial Day Double.

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Larson already has two NASCAR wins this year, the second of which at Kansas came by the narrowest margin of victory in Cup Series history, and he’s looked absolutely fearsome in his Indy practice runs.

But he’ll have to keep those standards up because, with 34 entrants and only 33 spots on the grid, somebody’s dreams are going to get crushed well in advance.

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