When the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, the precursor to the Harvest Grand Prix, was held back in 1916 it was to keep the IMS afloat during the troubling pre-war times. Now, as back then, the Harvest Grand Prix is here to keep fans afloat in 2020. The weekend was simply a treat of racing featuring great battles in both races, and qualifications full of tire strategy.
It was a double-header weekend full of fantastic battles. The most important battle, at least for 2020, was the battle between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden. Heading into the two races, Dixon only need to keep at fifty-point lead over Newgarden to clench the championship. This weekend saw Dixon’s lead shrink each and every day. Race 1 ended with Newgarden the race winner, this cut Dixon’s lead down to forty points. Despite being in championship contention, Dixon wasn’t the Ice Man during the race. Within the first lap, he got passed by multiple drivers. With two laps to go, Dixon spun out, loosing additional places though he managed to finish within the top 10. The second race, Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reah had contact early on in the race, with Dixon suffering a hole in his side pod, that never got fixed the whole race. Both Dixon and Newgarden finished within the top ten, but Dixon’s lead in the championship is now only thirty-two points.
This weekend also solidified that Colton Herta’s fantastic rookie year, and even better sophomore year, was no fluke. He provided the most exciting moments of both races. The first race was dominated by an exciting, safe, and breathless race between Herta and Rinus VeeKay. First, big congratulation to Rinus on his first INDYCAR pole. Those two went at it from the green flag, and didn’t stop until the very end of the race. They were trading positions on every other corner it felt for the first handful of laps. Then with pit stops, they weren’t next to each other for a while, until towards the end of the race again. VeeKay had cut through traffic and was back to racing Herta. One lap it felt like they were two-wide through at least the first half of the track. Great, clean, and exciting racing. Those two both know how to race, race each other, and make it interesting! Herta ultimately did not end on the podium for the first race, that honor went to VeeKay. But the second race, he was going to make sure that didn’t happen again! He was chasing down Will Power in the final laps of the race, and with approximately five to go, he had Will. That was until Conor, inadvertently, moved out of Will’s way and right into the lane Herta had chosen to use. It wasn’t Conor blocking Herta, but it was similar to when you try and step out of someone’s way, and you both end up in each others way again. That cost Herta valuable position, and he didn’t have enough laps to reset and get Power. Herta came in second during Race 2, but he was so close to wining another race. Darnit he’s so much fun to watch.
Another battle, one that seems like it’s been brewing for months now, is Alexander Rossi versus Race Control. In the first race, they penalized him for ‘exceeding track limits’ and made him yield the position back to Dixon. Rossi vehemently did not agree, arguing on his radio that it was only two wheels and not four. Nevertheless, the penalty stuck so he gave the position to Dixon. Only to snatch it back within the following lap. He was then later told to get Rosenqvist. It was cat and mouse with Rossi causing Rosenqvist to burn up all his push to pass. After passing Rosenqvist, and shortly after that Herta, Rossi was attempting to catch Newgarden for the win. TO do so he had two slower cars in front of him: Takuma Sato and Dalton Kellett. One, or both, of those drivers received the blue flag from Lap 77 all the way up to lap 84 (out of an 85 lap race). At no time did those drivers allow the faster cars to pass. Here’s the issue, if the blue flag is from the Starter’s stand, or is a direct command, drivers have one (1) lap to yield. In this case it was just below the starters stand. But now you have traffic that’s legitimately holding up cars for almost ten laps, Race Control – do better. However, is there anything better than angry Rossi driving? No. No there’s not.
After two exciting races, where are we now? The 2020 Championship will go down to the wire at St. Petersburg in twenty days. Dixon currently is thirty-two points ahead of Josef Newgarden. If a driver has a perfect race, and gets a pole, they get fifty-four points for the weekend. I at one point this weekend tried to do some “If/Then” math and it didn’t work out. Realistically, Dixon needs to finish the St. Pete Grand Prix ninth or higher to win.
I can’t remember if it was Leigh Diffey or Townsend Bell who said the weekend was “remarkable and respectful” racing. They’re one-hundred percent right. For Race 1 there was 247 passes. For Race 2 there were 50 passes within the first three laps. This has been a hard year to pass with the aeroscreen, but the cooler temperatures have done something. Hopefully we see it at St. Pete. Also hopefully smart engineers are figuring out how to transfer that into hot weather!