Race Weekend Central

2024 Sonsio Grand Prix Preview

The Olympics may have its grand opening ceremonies, but the Indianapolis 500 has a Grand Prix. 

For the 10th time, the Month of May kicks off its glorious racing schedule Saturday (May 11) with the NTT IndyCar Series Sonsio Grand Prix of Indianapolis. What better way to open Indianapolis Motor Speedway up for all the festivities that make up the Greatest Spectacle in Racing than a 85-lap motorsport contest on a 2.439-mile, FIA Grade 1 circuit. 

The road course that goes the opposite direction than what will be done on Memorial Day weekend is a low-drag vs. high-downforce battle as teams aim to go fast down the main frontstretch over the yard of bricks and Hulman Blvd. backstretch or be able to have high commitment cornering in the tight sections. 

Team Penske has been the dominant squad over the first six races, winning five of them. But lately it’s been an event that has leaned towards other teams in the paddock coming out with the win. 

May is here, and so are the stories. 

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Last Year

Who knew? When Alex Palou crossed the Yard of Bricks for his first win at the Indy road course in 2023, no one expected what was to come. After leading for 52 laps, the Spaniard would go on one of the most dominant performances in IndyCar history, winning three races after the Indy 500, a runner-up at Toronto and had fate been nicer to him (or not, the dude had four wins in five races!) he’d have his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. 

Hats off to Scott Dixon for trying to make the championship battle exciting in the final stretch, but Palou won the Astor Cup based on his awesome early summer run.

Palou will definitely be challenging for the win Saturday. His last two permanent road course finishes are a win at Thermal Club and fifth at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago.

Here’s the scariest part, though, that should send shivers down his competitors’ spines. He has started his season better this year than he did in 2023. While an eighth was his worse finish in the four events leading up to May, he hasn’t placed outside the top five yet this year. Somehow he has started the defense of his title in better position than when he went on a historic tear for a second championship. 

And it started at the Indy Grand Prix.

Former Winners

The first six races held were split evenly between two drivers – Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. However since Rinus VeeKay took his only IndyCar win on the road course in 2021, there hasn’t been a repeat winner in the last three runnings. In fact neither VeeKay or current points leader and 2022 winner Colton Herta have visited victory lane since their Indy road course triumphs. 

VeeKay is understandable, as he doesn’t drive for a consistent front-runner in Ed Carpenter Racing. But Herta does, and is in the longest drought of his short, but eye-opening IndyCar career. In the 32 races since, Herta has notched just four podiums compared to nine over his first three seasons, including six wins. 

Good news for Herta? Two of those four podiums have been this year, with a second at Long Beach and, thanks to Team Penske’s disqualification, a third at St. Petersburg after originally finishing fifth. Perhaps the longest tenured driver at Andretti Global can hit the track fast to return his No. 26 back to victory lane. 

As for VeeKay, the Dutchman needs some solid drives to raise eyebrows and maybe garner a coveted seat in a better car in the offseason.  

The Strategy

Much like the opening round at St Petersburg, IMS’s road course and race distance doesn’t really lend to varying pit stop numbers. However, fuel save is a possibility. At the second Indy Grand Prix last year, fuel maestro Dixon was able to stretch his mileage to make it to the finish. Had a slower car not held up Graham Rahal in second who was in full-send mode, the gamble might not have worked. But with Dixon, it tends to be a success because that’s what excellence is in a cockpit. 

If a yellow falls early in the first stint, it’s possible some teams will opt for an early stop and long term conservation. But Dixon being able to do it is one thing. Others in the paddock? Eh, not sure about that. We will see. 

First Turn

Previously I mentioned in another preview story that one of the best visuals in IndyCar is the first turn of the Indy 500 and the start of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach as they rocket down Shoreline Blvd. Let’s add one more to the list – the start of the Indy Grand Prix and the cars fanning four to five wide and funneling down through the first turn complex. 

It’s chaos and mesmerizing all at the same time. Drivers’ days can be ended from the hard right hand turn through the end of turn 3 and its sweep to 4 that leads to Hulman Blvd. It’s a small stretch of asphalt when compared to the rest of the 2.439-mile track but it is one of the most critical to get through. It’s not imperative to gain a bunch of positions but rather survive. 

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Rest of the Field

Not much has been said of Ed Carpenter Racing this season. With no oval before the Indy 500 now, owner Ed Carpenter hasn’t raced in anger yet, only getting laps at the open test in April. Rookie Christian Rasmussen has had a rough start to the season, 21st being his best result which is clearly not indicative of his talent. Lead driver VeeKay started the year well with a 10th at St. Petersburg but has been mid-pack at the rest of the events. 

They all hope their hometown track will get their season rolling. 

It’s been discussed in other content already but the weekend will kickoff the suspensions of the key Team Penske personnel after the push-to-pass scandal and penalties that happened after Long Beach. Each race weekend for the No. 2 car and driver Josef Newgarden will be an uphill climb as he earns the trust and rebuilds his reputation with the paddock. 

Watch Felix Rosenqvist in qualifying. He hasn’t missed a Firestone Fast Six yet this year. 

Tip of the cap to A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver Santino Ferrucci. The American is 10th in points, and earned his second top 10 of the year at Barber. Last time the No.14 had two or more top 10s on road courses in a season? That was 2021 with Sebastian Bourdais

Frontstretch Predictions

I’m two for 12 now on drivers at least making the podium. At the Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix, I had Power winning, Palou second and Newgarden third. Power finished runner-up to his teammate Scott McLaughlin, who I almost put on my podium but didn’t. Know why? Because I’m awful at this.

For this weekend, I’m leaning towards those that ran well last year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

I didn’t mention him much in this story but Christian Lundgaard is at the forefront of my predictions. He won the pole last year and has been stellar on permanent road courses. His teammate Rahal almost won last year. Palou is the defending winner, and Power is in a prime part of the schedule at his best tracks to go back-to-back for a podium.

Pole – Lundgaard

  1. Lundgaard – Like I said, he was fast last year and there is some decent speed coming out of that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.
  2. Palou – he’s lurking. 
  3. Power – one of his best tracks on the circuit. 

The Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will start at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 11, with coverage on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer 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 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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