DiZinno: Second GP of Indy suffered from complications of “meh,” “May-itis,” fatigue


The level of intrigue was off the charts for last year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

It was the first Verizon IndyCar Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It would witness a standing start. It had arguably one of the least likely front rows in series’ history with Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth nailing the timing in mixed conditions to start first and second.

It then had a crazy start line crash and the winner save just enough fuel to bring it home. It also had a picture perfect race day and a great walkup crowd.

By contrast, Saturday’s second edition of the GPI was, to me, the race equivalent of a college freshman who became a sophomore and was mailing it in for a biology class. He or she just needed to get the grade, get through and move on to the more crucial next step.

Whereas last year’s Grand Prix featured anticipation, this year’s featured exasperation.

It suffered from complications of “meh,” “May-itis,” overall fatigue and two better-than-expected lead-ins – the most recent series race at Barber Motorsports Park on April 26, and the much-anticipated debut of super speedway aero kits last Sunday.

There were positives to take away from this year’s event. For one, getting a title sponsor was a huge get, and Angie’s List signage was all over the IMS road course to go along with it.

As Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles told me in an interview, this was a case of the series “checking the box” before they even got to the race weekend.

The second was, aside from the Turn 1 multiple-car mess that kicked off the race, this was a needed clean race for the series. Long Beach needed to be clean, following two debris-littered caution-fests at St. Petersburg and NOLA.

This one needed to be clean because most of the teams have been flat out, thrashing to switch cars from road course-spec back to oval-spec, road course-spec again and now back to oval-spec for the rest of the month. With 23 of 25 cars finishing Sunday and the only two who failed due to mechanical issues, it was a mostly clean day at the office.

Thirdly, this event does give the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series a showcase weekend at IMS. The seven races for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 had more entertainment than most of the IndyCar race, and the enthusiasm from the drivers, teams and their families is infectious. While cynicism and skepticism can often rule the day in IndyCar, all involved here truly appreciate the opportunity to race at IMS, knowing that it’s their first step to one day racing in the Indianapolis 500.

Lastly, this gives folks who might not be as inclined to visit IMS on a day with huge crowds an opportunity to do so. RACER.com’s Robin Miller estimated roughly 20,000 in attendance with the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin going double that, in the 40,000 range. The actual number most likely lies in the middle, and while Miles told me advance ticket sales were on par with where they were pre-race last year, it’s a near definite certainty that Saturday’s threat of rain hurt the walk-up.

However, there were certain issues that emerged during that made for a less than satisfying race weekend experience.

The “meh,” first. While the grounds, turn grandstands and certain other grandstands are lined with fans around the road course, the “feel” of the weekend just didn’t really exist. Friday for example was qualifying day, but it felt like a glorified practice day.

Saturday, pre-race, it looks very, very strange seeing empty grandstands either side of the front straight. Again, granted, these are not good seats for a road course race. But from an optics standpoint, the largely empty front straight just does not give off a good look for the series.

A pre-race fan walk was a good idea in theory, but not in execution. Crews and workers involved in the race should not have to be dodging selfie-obsessed fans mere minutes before the green flag, as they’re trying to do their jobs. The post-race track invasion though? That was great, and if it can be done earlier to ensure fans see the podium ceremonies, even better.

For “May-itis,” there is a faction of folks who prefer the month of May to the series itself, and that’s fine. But as IMS track president J. Douglas Boles told me earlier in the week, the sale of “Opening Day” Sunday May 3 didn’t work as it was thought of as either a test, or not really “Opening Day.” To have the “May-itis” interrupted by the GPI as almost something of a speed bump en route to the rest of the month on the oval didn’t quite work.

Would GPI work on the opening weekend of the month? It did last year, I thought, and there’s a part of me that thinks it would again in the future, even if it meant a tighter turnaround Sunday for oval opening day the next day.

There’s going to be fatigue either way, it seems. Last year, the oval opening day suffered after the Grand Prix. This year, the Grand Prix seemed to suffer after oval opening day, and it seemed there was an overall fatigue element given the New Orleans, Long Beach and Birmingham cross-country jaunt in as many weeks, and the car changeover between road course and oval spec.

Miles has made no secret of his appreciation for having four straight weekends on ABC from the GPI through Detroit, with the highlights Indianapolis 500 qualifying and the Indianapolis 500 itself on back-to-back weekends. But if the overall goal of increased ratings doesn’t materialize as hoped given the run of events, the best interests of the competitors must be achieved first.

Overall, I wrote going into the weekend that this race needed to avoid a “sophomore slump.” And while it was a clean race and a decent event, the fact it was at IMS and inevitably compared to everything else that is “oval dominant” in May meant it just didn’t feel as big-time as it could, or should feel.

Ideally, the powers-that-be work to correct the “feel” of the event even more for 2016 so that it has a truly “grand” feel beyond the Grand Prix name in the race title.

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway