INDIANAPOLIS – As the first race to be run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway under the ownership of Roger Penske, the GMR Grand Prix held special significance despite being delayed two months due to the coronavirus. The fact that it was held on the NASCAR Cup Series weekend made it that much more historic because it was the first time America’s two premier racing series competed at the same track (if not on it) on the same weekend.
For rookie Dalton Kellett, it was special because he made his debut in the NTT INDYCAR Series driving the K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet. He ran a clean race, had solid pit stops—for the first time in his young career—and finished the race in 21st position.
Veteran Charlie Kimball started 24th in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet but the overall pace was not there as the team tries to sort out the road course package. Kimball avoided trouble throughout the 80-lap race but had a contretemps on lap 68 with rookie Alex Palou. Palou was penalized for avoidable contact and had to relinquish the spot back to Kimball who finished 18th.
“While 18th is not the result that the No. 4 Tresiba team wanted out of this weekend, I’m really proud of the guys,” Kimball said afterwards. “They fought hard all day. All three pit stops were money. The car had decent pace at times but I think there was room to improve. I know the engineers and I already have some ideas heading into the doubleheader next weekend at Road America. It was a hot, physical race and I know the guys were hot because they don’t get the same breeze I do in the cockpit. So overall a good weekend, a learning weekend. We’ll move on from here and be better next time.”
The race did pose its challenges for Kellett who handled them with Canadian coolness. A brush with the wall in the morning warmup triggered a set of circumstances that made race conditions less than ideal for the rookie. The crew had to replace the steering wrack—a major job–after the 9 a.m. warmup. They made the grid by 11:30.
There were two issues the rookie had to deal with which made his race more difficult: intermittent radio communication to the pit stand and a malfunctioning drink system on a very hot day. The crew handed him a water bottle during the stops and worked out a signal system for the radio. Despite the upset, Kellett remained cool and spent 15 laps with pole winner Will Power behind him in the final third of the race. Power had been caught out by the lone caution flag on lap 36 for Oliver Askew’s hard contact with the Turn 14 wall–he wasn’t injured. Then Power had a problem on his pitstop which dropped him to 23rd. He passed Kellett with seven laps to go. By then Kellett’s red tires were worn and he was out of Push-to-Pass engine horsepower boosts.
Race strategist Scott Harner praised Kellett’s effort this weekend saying, “I think the
race went great. I think he learned a tremendous amount all weekend and learned a ton today. He did some racing today, passed some cars, and got in and out of the pits without any trouble. He was great on the race track and didn’t put a wheel wrong, so I thought we had a great first weekend with him for sure.”
Kellett was happy to get his debut under his belt as it was initially going to be at the Circuit of the Americas April 26th.
“Alright, that’s a wrap for my first NTT INDYCAR Series race!” said Kellett, who appeared none the worse for wear after the race which was nearly three times as long as his Indy Lights Series outings.
First of all, I have to thank AJ Foyt Racing and K-Line Insulators USA, they gave me a great car. We’ve been working on it all weekend. It’s been a tough condensed weekend for me being a rookie with minimal testing coming in. Had a lot of work cut out for us and we didn’t really put a foot wrong, finished all our laps, got lots of experience and I think that was the goal for this weekend so I’m happy that we can walk away having checked that box. We’re going to debrief with the 4 car engineers and see what we can learn. And now that my appetite’s been whetted for this kind of racing, I can’t wait to come back next weekend at Road America.”
In addition to running the permanent road courses, Kellett will also compete in a third entry for the Indianapolis 500 in August.
Scott Dixon became the first non-Team Penske driver to win the race. He finished second to Penske here for the last three years. He reached a personal career milestone by winning back-to-back races to start the season but he’ll have a ways to go to match or beat A.J. Foyt’s record of winning the first seven races in 1964.
Finishing second through fifth were: Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Colton Herta and Rinus Veekay, the top-finishing rookie.
Team President Larry Foyt summed up his thoughts saying, “Tough weekend for the team as we just struggled for pace in qualifying and the race. Charlie did a good job to bring the car home and Dalton did great for his first race in an Indy car. We will get back to the shop and look at the data and try to dial up a little more speed for Road America next week.”
The teams will have little time to rest as they prepare for two doubleheaders over the next two weekends. Next weekend, the Series travels to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. Race 1 is Saturday, July 11 (5 p.m. ET, on NBCSN), with Race 2 on Sunday, July 12 (12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC).