Tradition is the foundation of the Month of May. In 2014, a new one was added.
The GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the next race on the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, has become the opening weekend event for the Month of May and the Indianapolis 500. It was a race born out of necessity.
In 2010, the two-weekend qualifying schedule for the Indy 500 was shortened to one. For years, besides a similar truncated schedule from 1998-2000, the Month of May was just that – four straight weekends of cars on track with non-stop action. A race with such prestige, and therefore entries, required significant track time for cars to dial in and find speed to make their way into the 33-car field. It was common for deals to be made between new drivers and teams after the first weekend of qualifying as every effort was made to get in the show. It was days of drama.
But in an effort to reduce costs on teams and miles on engines, the month’s schedule was shortened, and the first weekend of time trials and a week of practice removed. Opening day on Saturday, held on the former first day of qualifying, became a practice for teams. Over the next few years, crowds didn’t turn out and a reported 7,500 fans attended the opening day’s practice in 2013.
The IndyCar series made a change in 2014 to spark interest and added road course racing to the month.
Built for Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix, the 2.439-mile, 14-turn IMS road course had seen little use by IndyCar. The track hosted various series to replace F1, including motorcycles and sports cars, but the races didn’t last. Rather than let the asset go unused, the series and track leveraged it to increase fan attendance for the Indy 500’s opening weekend. Instead of cars on the oval in practice mode, a new road course race – a first for the IndyCars in Indianapolis since at least 1970 – was the answer.
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis started with a bang. An opening lap accident – triggered by a car that didn’t move during the standing starts the series used then – caused a massive pile up. But Simon Pagenaud took the inaugural race victory. For the next five running’s, only Will Power joined Pagenaud as a winner of the race – each having 3 victories a piece. Rinus VeeKay got his first win in IndyCar at the track in 2021, where then-rookie Romain Grosjean took his first IndyCar pole and podium, and Colton Herta displayed excellent car control in wet conditions to visit victory lane in 2022.
The desire to supply an event that brings in thousands of fans on opening weekend has given the start of the month more momentum than previous years. But the race itself is overshadowed by the big prize at the end, the Indy 500 and repetition of the event. In 2020, the series added a second race on the road course, first ran in October due to COVID-19 and now paired with NASCAR in July in a unique double-header format. With the same layout, the IndyCar drivers run a carbon copy of the Grand Prix just two months apart. Unlike NASCAR, IndyCar does not have a deep history in running at the same track twice in one year.
As for the May edition of the race, every driver competes because it’s a round in the championship. But all eyes are on the oval for the start of Indianapolis 500 practice. Still, opening day for the Month of May has a bigger crowd and a unique race to add to the tradition.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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