IndyCar setup sheet: Gallagher Grand Prix

IndyCar setup sheet: Gallagher Grand Prix
IndyCar setup sheet: Gallagher Grand Prix

What: Gallagher Grand Prix / Race 14 of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ind. – 2.439-mile, 14-turn permanent road course

When: Saturday, Aug. 12, 2:00pm ET

There are three road courses and one short oval left on the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, and the championship-deciding home stretch begins with Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It’s the second IndyCar race of the year to be held on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn track which was first used by the series back in 2014. 

Its relative smoothness and lack of gradient might lead one to believe that it’s one of the simpler courses on the IndyCar calendar, but perhaps that very “simplicity” makes finding an edge in basically equal cars such a brain teaser for all involved. In qualifying, the margins between cars appear almost as thin as on an oval.

Gavin Ward, racing director at Arrow McLaren, will have the reassurance of running the last two polesitters at the season’s second IMS road course race — Pato O’Ward in 2021; Felix Rosenqvist in ’22 (above) — as well as last year’s race winner, Alexander Rossi, who scored his eighth and final victory for Andretti Autosport there (below), before making the switch to McLaren in the off-season. But as Ward tells RACER, there are several complex equations to unravel at the Indy road course, and racing on the same track in May isn’t necessarily helpful in zeroing in on the answers.

“One of the things that’s unique about the course is that we race there twice,” he says, “and it’s not like the Iowa doubleheader happening on the same weekend. Here we have a three-month gap between the races, and you can go back there in August, run the same car you did in May and have amazingly different handling characteristics and problems. There’s just not a ‘dead cert’ setup for the place. 

“We’ve seen it so many times: teams that shine in May can come back in August and not be competitive, and vice versa. It’s one of those infuriating — but also wonderful! — things about race engineering. It’s so complicated with the way the tires work, different track conditions, how wind direction affects the car, different temperatures… 

“But this track is also a bit of an anomaly among the road courses we go to. There’s not a lot of elevation change and it doesn’t really have high-speed corners. Turn 14 onto the front straight on fresh tires is flat, but a wind change in the race can make it more of a corner. Generally, though, the track is all about medium- and low-speed turns. The drivers also take a lot more curb than at most road courses, particularly through Turns 8-9-10.”

The road course uses the half-mile start/finish straight of the legendary IMS oval (albeit running in the opposite direction), and even though the current IndyCar aerodynamic package with aeroscreen is now in its fourth year, this flat-out blast — and a lengthy back straight from Turns 6 to 7 — requires a delicate balancing act from the teams. How much can the car be trimmed out to reduce drag, yet still have adequate downforce for the twisty sections?

“Oh yeah, that’s still a source of debate for both qualifying and the race,” says Ward (above), “and it’s a little wind sensitive, too. If you’re having to lift off out of the final turn because you haven’t got enough downforce to stick, then you end up falling back from whoever you’re chasing, and your trim-out is only barely getting you back on his tail at the end of the straight. So that’s an interesting part of the puzzle. Then you have to make changes to the front of the car to keep your aero balance. You can run the car lower here than on any other road course because the surface is so smooth and because there’s no high-speed corners where you could bottom out or roll, so you’re operating in a little bit different a window than on most other tracks. 

“You also have big braking demands because of the speeds down the straights and the nature of the corners at the end of those straights. And there’s some really interesting corner sequence tradeoffs, where you’ve got to give up a little bit here to gain a little there, over and over throughout the lap.”

With the race being 85 laps, it’s possible to tackle it on two or three pit stops, depending of course on the length and timing of caution periods, tire degradation, and whether you feel that the performance gain from a fresh set of tires is worth the 38 seconds eaten up in a pit stop here.

“Yeah, that figure is on the higher side, although obviously not as bad as Road America,” Ward says. “But recently we’ve had a fair amount of tire degradation here, so that can mean it’s not always a bad thing to lose an extra 38 seconds. Doing three stops allows you to eliminate fuel save and stop early for the undercut, or stop later for the overcut, depending on the degradation of Firestone’s primaries and alternates. And that’s another unknown: although the primary is the same as the one we used in May, Firestone are giving us an alternate that is more similar to the 2021 tire here. That means slightly less grip, slightly better abrasion resistance, but taking slightly longer to warm up.”

Speaking of rubber, the fact that this race weekend is shared with NASCAR and its Goodyear rubber has been less of a factor than was originally expected, and there hasn’t been a major incompatibility issue between the Firestone and Goodyear compounds in terms of the track gripping up.

Ward observes: “The condensed schedule [see below] is probably a bigger deal than the NASCAR rubber, to be honest. The first time we were running on the same weekend as NASCAR here, there were some worries that their rubber would be a big curveball for us, but it didn’t play out that way. 

“Whereas with just a couple of hours between sessions, you’re always thinking, ‘Should I change this now?’ You almost have to rule out the idea of making big changes, and carefully consider the risk-reward ratio in terms of experiments. You try not to deviate from what you know. I think having three cars is the optimal amount — it’s not information overload, so you can study it all in detail and make educated decisions. The good thing is, Pato, Felix and Alex are all pretty suited to the Indy road course, even though their techniques are different, and they all have plenty of experience now to get the best from themselves and their cars.”

You can watch every practice and qualifying session from the Gallagher Grand Prix on Peacock on Friday, Aug. 11, while the USA Network and Peacock will deliver the race day action, Saturday, Aug. 12. And to get even closer to it all, grab the best seat in the house with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA and its 14 race day live onboard cameras.

TUNE IN

Friday, Aug. 11 / 9:00am – 10:30am ET – Practice 1 – Peacock

Friday, Aug. 11 / 12:30pm – 2:00pm ET – Qualifying – Peacock

Friday, Aug. 11 / 4:00pm – 4:30pm ET – Practice 2 – Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 / 2:00pm – 5:00pm ET – RACE – USA Network, Peacock

• All sessions and the race are also available as audio commentary on SiriusXM and INDYCAR Radio.  

Ride along with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA

Taking you inside the action, 14 drivers will be carrying in-car cameras. During the race, you can live-stream every one of them with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA. You choose who you ride along with, and you can switch drivers at any time. The App’s free to download for fans worldwide and you can find out more HERE. If you’re not already onboard, take your viewing experience to a whole new level HERE.

Bringing you the onboard action from the Gallagher Grand Prix are…

Colton Herta / No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda 

At Nashville, having qualified in the top four, Herta looked set for a strong showing come race day. But finding himself on the marbles on a restart and being elbowed aside by rivals sent him down an escape road and down the order, and so his star-crossed season continued. He sits only 10th in the championship, but we know his potential and he’s returning to a track where Andretti Autosport has upped its game considerably in the last 18 months. Fingers crossed, this could be the breakthrough weekend.

Christian Lundgaard / No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

The IMS road course has been a very good track for Lundgaard, who made his debut there in 2021 and qualified fourth, scored his first podium there a year later, and then took pole for the GMR Grand Prix back in May (below). He returns with the confidence of having notched up his first series win — last month on the streets of Toronto — and he’s making RLL look like a real force once more. There’s no reason to expect him to be in anything other than podium contention.

Rinus VeeKay / No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet 

Like Lundgaard, VeeKay has happy memories of this place — his first pole and podium in 2020, and his first (and so far only) win in 2021. But as McLaren’s Gavin Ward mentioned earlier, being strong in one event on this track is by no means a guarantee that you’ll be fighting for the win on your return, and Ed Carpenter Racing has had some highly anonymous days at this venue. That said, if the Dutch driver is to score only his second top-10 finish of the year, it’s perhaps more likely to come here than anywhere else.

Romain Grosjean / No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

Another European import who’s found the Indy road course very much to his taste, Grosjean scored a pole and two runner-up finishes here in his rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing. His starts with Andretti have been more fraught, both here and across the board, but he has at least now finished three straight races without incident. If he and engineer Olivier Boisson can make the car fast while also providing all the feedback that RoGro requires from the front end, then he’ll fight for pole. Thereafter, who knows?

Scott McLaughlin / No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet
While McLaughlin has proved there are certain events when he’s got an edge over his champion teammates at Team Penske — last round at Nashville, for instance — he’s yet to put it all together on the IMS road course. But given his rate of learning and his determination, it’s hard to imagine this situation will last long, and those folks at Gallagher who sponsor the event can expect to see “their” car riding high this weekend. 

Josef Newgarden / No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet
The Indy road course used to be one of the few tracks where Newgarden didn’t feel on top of his game. Then he won here in 2020, and it was added to the long list of venues the two-time champion has mastered over the past eight years. That will add a flicker of encouragement for a driver trying to trim down Alex Palou’s 84-point lead in the championship after finishing on the podium, but behind the Spaniard in last weekend’s street race in Nashville (below).    

Alexander Rossi / No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

The defending winner of this event, Rossi is still looking for a breakthrough result in 2023, or the sort of weekend where he’s Arrow McLaren’s guy to beat. Even his lone podium finish this year — scored here, incidentally — was slightly marred by the fact that both his teammates outqualified him and Pato O’Ward was ahead of him at the checkered flag. But Rossi and race engineer Craig Hampson both know how to shine here and will doubtless come back stronger. Will this finally be the big weekend?

Pato O’Ward / No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Without wishing to decry the efforts of race engineer Will Anderson, nor any of the super-talents in the Arrow McLaren engineering brain trust, O’Ward’s qualifying lap at Nashville to land himself a front row slot appeared to be down to a driver carrying his car through sheer skill and force of will. It was a reminder, if anyone needed it, just how special he can be. But if he is to clamber back into the top three in the championship — he’s currently sixth — it’s time to convert that potential into a win. He finished second in May’s GMR Grand Prix (below), so can he make the final step on Saturday?

Graham Rahal / No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Rahal’s quest to find a car that actually rolls off the truck in competitive form, with handling that suits him right off the bat, has been thwarted on so many occasions this year. And the need for that immediate performance, where a driver just seeks small fine-tuning tweaks, is never more necessary than on a weekend that comprises just one practice session before qualifying. Rahal is still seeking his first top-five finish this year, but has twice finished on the podium here.

Felix Rosenqvist / No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

This is one of those “special” tracks for the quiet Swede. He scored his first pole here in 2019 for Chip Ganassi Racing, took pole for Arrow McLaren in 2022, and last May he started on the front row having been beaten to P1 by an infinitesimally small margin. Yet the place owes Rosenqvist, too: he might have won this race last year but for a mechanical problem that caused too much friction and drag, making him a sitting duck. There is no driver in the field who deserves a strong IMS road course weekend more than this guy.

Kyle Kirkwood / No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

The rising star’s stats for 2023 now look even stranger than they did a week ago — two wins, but no other top-five finishes! That explains why freshly-minted Nashville winner Kirkwood (below) is only ninth in the championship right now, but it still makes him top Andretti Autosport driver in the standings. Given their pace in previous years on the Indy road course, it would be a significant feather in Kirkwood’s cap were he to again outpace teammates Grosjean and Herta, as he did in May’s event.

Callum Ilott / No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Ilott served notice of intent on his first race on the Indy road course last year, qualifying seventh and finishing eighth in the pre-Indy 500 GMR Grand Prix. Such results have been far harder to come by in 2023, at least since the third round, and it’s not entirely clear why. But this is a track where the ex-Formula 2 ace can punch above his weight. 

Linus Lundqvist / No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda

Until his late-race shunt at Nashville, Billy Corgan lookalike Lundqvist (below) was doing everything expected of him and more on his NTT IndyCar Series race debut after qualifying in the top dozen. It’s little surprise, therefore, that Meyer Shank Racing has elected to keep him in the No. 60 Honda for a second event as it waits for Simon Pagenaud to get medical clearance to return to action following his Mid-Ohio shunt. Lundqvist won on the Indy road course twice while in Indy NXT (formerly Indy Lights), so watch out for another strong showing. 

Jack Harvey / No. 30 Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

There’s no doubt he’s fighting for a ride in 2024, but Harvey stands a great chance of a strong result this weekend. This is where he scored a fine podium in 2019 for Meyer Shank Racing, and he qualified fourth for Rahal Letterman Lanigan three months ago. The headlines and plaudits for RLL’s revival have mostly gone the way of teammate Lundgaard — and deservedly so — but if Harvey can still find an edge over the Dane somewhere, it could be here.

The INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA is free to download and access, so don’t miss out – CLICK HERE to get started.


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