(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY STEVE PAGE)
Although they didn’t win the Indy Car GMR Grand Prix Saturday, veteran drivers Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal expressed confidence in their teams as practice began on the 2.5-mile oval Tuesday for the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500.Rossi, driving for the first season with Arrow McLaren SP, finished third to road course winner Alex Palou. Rahal, driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, finished a strong 10th after coming back from a Turn 1 incident with a punctured right rear tire.
The Arrow McLaren SP team placed three drivers among the top five with teammates runner-up Pato O’Ward and fifth-place Felix Rosenqvist.
Rossi was the last competitor to lead the race until Palou took the lead with 20 laps remaining on the IMS road course.
“Really looking forward to getting started on the oval,” Rossi said. “Man, this is a momentum game; we talk a lot about it.”
The winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 as a rookie added, “Performance here doesn’t translate the other direction, but it’s good mentally for everyone. You know you’ve got the ability to have the results across all three cars. When everyone is relaxed and just doing what they know how to do, the confidence in their abilities is when the performance comes.”
Rossi, 31, moved to Arrow McLaren SP after being with Andretti Autosport for seven years and winning seven races, including the 2022 Gallagher Grand Prix on the same Indy road course.
Rahal, who is in his 17th IndyCar campaign, and two Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammates, pole winner Christian Lundgaard and No. 4 qualifier Jack Harvey, were among the top eight for the GMR Grand Prix.
In the first turn on the first lap Saturday, Kyle Kirkwood made contact with Rahal whose Dallara-Honda wound up with a punctured tire. It dropped Rahal to 26th and a complete change in strategy.
“It turned our race into a two-stop race,” said Rahal who was out of pit sequence but later led for seven laps. “We were able to finish strong.”
Then he reflected, “With three cars qualified among the top eight that shows what we can do. It shows we’re making progress.”
Rahal’s best finish in the “500” was third in 2011 and 2020. He led the race in 2021 but spun hard into the Turn 2 wall when a loose left rear tire fell off. He has raced with RLL since 2013. His father Bobby Rahal won the “500” in 1986 and Graham obviously wants the father-son duo to be the first to win since Al Unser and Al Unser Sr.
Palou and the Chip Ganassi team utilized tire strategy to win the GMR Grand Prix Saturday by nearly 17 seconds ahead of O’Ward in a rare domination of the road course race.
They are among 34 entries in the “500,” including the Dreyer Reinbold Racing duo of 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and British driver Stefan Wilson.
Practice continues through Friday with qualifications Saturday to lock in positions 13-30 with the front four rows and the last row to be determined Sunday.
Carb Day is May 26 and Race Day is May 28.
So what does it take to win the “500?” Palou had the answer.
“You need the perfect, perfect day,” he said Saturday. “Just having a good day is not enough here.”