Josef Newgarden fastest in IMS practice; problems plague Chip Ganassi Racing drivers

IndyCar GMR GP practice
Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports Images

Seeking his first victory in nearly two years after a dismal start to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series, Alexander Rossi paced the opening practice Friday for the GMR GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Andretti Autosport, whose most recent victory was June 23, 2019 at Road America, turned a 1 minute, 9.8784-second lap in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course at IMS. Jack Harvey was second (1:09.9646), followed by Rinus VeeKay (1:10.0624), Josef Newgarden (1:10.0643) and Romain Grosjean (1:10.587), the F1 veteran who will be making his debut at the track in Saturday’s race.

In a second 45-minute session a few hours later, Newgarden went even faster, turning a lap of 1:09.3323, ahead of VeeKay (1:09.4020), Will Power (1:09.4747), Colton Herta (1:09.4999) and rookie Scott McLaughlin (1:09.5514), who made it three Penske Chevrolets in the top five spots.

FRIDAY SPEEDS: Click here for first practice l Click here for second practice l Click here for the combined speed chart

HOW TO WATCH SATURDAY: A primer for the GMR Grand Prix

Team Penske has won seven of the past nine races on the Indy road course, including a sweep of the doubleheader weekend last October with Newgarden and Power.

Rossi, who finished second and third in his two most recent starts at the IMS road course, was 11th fastest in the afternoon practice. Qualifying is at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Herta, who revealed a two-year contact extension Friday morning, was sixth fastest in the a.m. session.

It was a rough start for defending series champion Scott Dixon, who won this race last July but was among multiple Chip Ganassi Racing drivers with problems Friday.

The six-time champion was 16th on the speed chart (1:10.7726) in the first practice that began at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Dixon was 23rd fastest while making only 11 laps in the second practice while the team battled some mechanical woes.

Pato O’Ward, who became a first-time IndyCar winner two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, improved to ninth in the afternoon after ranking 18th in the morning, and Arrow McLaren SP teammate Felix Rosenqvist also improved from 20th to 10th.

McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya struggled ahead of be making his first IndyCar start in nearly four years, ranking 21st (1:11.4833) in the morning session and last of the 25 drivers in the afternoon (1:11.8081).

Jimmie Johnson ranked 22nd after turning the most laps (22) in the morning practice, but the Ganassi driver was penalized by IndyCar for making a lap after the checkered flag for the 45-minute session. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was 24th fastest in the second practice after serving a 5-minute penalty.

Because of a water leak in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda, Alex Palou sat out the morning session. NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider said Chip Ganassi Racing believed it might be related to the radiator.

Sebastien Bourdais completed only three laps in the morning practice after his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet stalled on track because of an electronics problem, according to his team.

There will be 25 drivers in Saturday’s race (2 p.m., NBC) after Carlin Racing announced Friday morning that its No. 59 Dallara-Chevrolet was being withdrawn because of “travel issues” for driver Max Chilton. Carlin is expecting Chilton to be available for the Indy 500 with practice beginning on the IMS oval next week.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)