Love Blooms In Moraines Of Central Wisconsin

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2016
Indy cars return to scenic, historic and beloved Road America this weekend. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

Indy cars return to scenic, historic and beloved Road America this weekend. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Differences of opinion, heck,  vociferous arguments are inseparable parts of sports. Pick a topic, voice an opinion and start an argument. Pretty much that simple. Except, it appears, when the sport is auto racing and the topic is best road course in North America.

bugindycarNext up for the IndyCar Series is Sunday’s race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. This week, drivers were asked about their series’ return to the scenic 4.048-mile course which runs through the wooded moraines of central Wisconsin and the opinion was virtually unanimous.

The place just does not have many, if any, detractors among teams and drivers.

That includes drivers who have competed on the historic track, which began life in the early 1950s. And it also includes drivers who have merely tested the track or, even, know it just by reputation.

Sebastien Bourdais won the Champ Car Series race at Road America in 2007 – the last time Indy cars raced there.

There was no ambiguity from Bourdais, a native of Le Mans, France, when asked his opinion of the facility.

“Let’s face it, it’s the best track in the U.S,” Bourdais, a multiple Indy car championship winner who currently drives for KVSH Racing Technology. “There’s nothing that gets close to it. Everybody just talking about COTA (Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas) and everything, but it doesn’t compare.
“This is a race track. It’s not a big, paved place with run-offs everywhere. Here, you’ve got to hit your marks, you’ve got to keep it between the two white lines, and it rewards or it bites.”
Speaking of bites: On the parade lap before the race in 2007, Bourdais was stung on his hand by a bee. The sting was attended to by medics but it made life inside his racing gloves very painful. So
Graham Rahal eyes the apex of Turn 5 at Road America. It's a turn that features plenty of action.

Graham Rahal eyes the apex of Turn 5 at Road America. It’s a turn that features plenty of action.

much so that he actually wondered if it would cost him chance to win at his favorite American road circuit.

It didn’t.
And it sure didn’t cost him his love for the place.
Even drivers who have not been stung by bees love the place.
“Outside of Indy, this place has always been my favorite race track,” Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, said, “so it’s been tough being away for so many years.”
Andretti teammate Alexander Rossi, who was a Formula One driver a year ago and who is well acquainted with the best circuits in the world, called RA world class.
“It is one of the flagship tracks, not only in America, but globally,” Rossi, the winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500, said.
Defending series champion Scott Dixon continued the lovey-dovey talk about Road America saying,  “I know for a fact that Road America is on the top of all the drivers’ lists, and we have been waiting to come back for quite some time. I think my last visit there was in 2002 with CART, and it was great to be back at the track testing again last season. This course is just amazing to drive and I’m sure every single driver will say so. If they don’t, they are just flat-out lying to you.”
If anybody has reason to not like Road America, it would be A.J. Foyt. Now a team owner, Foyt suffered one of the worse wrecks of his driving career at RA. In 1990, the brakes failed on his Lola at the end of the front straight and he plowed into a dirt embankment. He spent the next eight months recovering.
His current drivers, however, are looking forward to the weekend.

Takuma Sato, a former Formula One driver, called Road America “superb”. Asked if it reminded

The start/finish straight is one of several long, high-speed stretches at the 4-mile Road America road course.

The start/finish straight is one of several long, high-speed stretches at the 4-mile Road America road course.

him of some of the iconic European road courses, Sato said, “A little bit but not necessarily. If anything is similar, it is as fast as I experienced at possibly Imola [outside of Bologna, Italy]. Both tracks are the classic narrow type of track but very fast with good elevation change.”

For a 14-turn road course, Road America is fast. That’s because if features several long straights and several of the corners are high-speed. The signature Carousel is a dramatic long sweeper.
It all adds up to interesting decision making when it comes to downforce and trimming out the Indy cars.
Driver Graham Rahal, described a lap around Road America and when he did, he incorporated technical intricacies needed to go fast.
“To do it (a lap in an Indy car) all right,” Graham Rahal, of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda said, “you are hanging on in the infield due to running so little downforce in order to be fast on the straights which makes it difficult to get that balance right.  That’s one of the most challenging aspects of it plus it’s a long lap and to get the most out of every part of the track and put the perfect lap time together is a challenge in and of itself.
“In practice you might normally get 20 or 30 laps at any other road course but at Road America you might only get 10 because it takes so long to do it. The level of downforce on the car is one of the most challenging things about racing at Road America.  You run as little downforce as possible to be fast on the long straights so in the slow speed parts of the track, you are kind of hanging on.  The carousel is the most enjoyable.  The kink is fast but the kink in these cars is just a quick moment of intensity whereas the carousel is long and you are really hanging on.  And the speed that these things corner at nowadays, the carousel is definitely going to separate the men from the boys.”

“The biggest challenge is the downforce question: How much do you run?” said No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driver James Hinchcliffe.“You’ve got long straights sure,

Ryan Hunter-Reay powers through the wooded moraines at Road America.

Ryan Hunter-Reay powers through the wooded moraines at Road America.

but you also have wicked fast sections and some really big brake zones so you can pile on the downforce and kill them on the brakes and in the carousel, or do you trim it out for the straightaways and hope you can hang on in the twisty bits?”

While all IndyCar drives seem to love the place, some late Sunday afternoon, one will love it just a bit more than the rest.


Fast Facts

2007 (most recent) race winner: Sebastien Bourdais (No. 1 McDonald’s Racing Team-Newman/Haas Racing)

2007 (most recent) pole winner: Sebastien Bourdais (No. 1 McDonald’s Racing Team-Newman/Haas Racing), 1:41.535, 143.525 mph

Qualifying record: Dario Franchitti, 1:39.866, 145.924 mph, Aug. 19, 2000

NBCSN television broadcasts: Practice, noon ET Friday, June 24 (live); Qualifying, 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday, June 25 (tape delayed); Race, 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, June 26 (live). Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for the NBCSN broadcasts this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 24
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3 – 4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 25
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3 p.m. – Qualifying for the pole (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (5:30 p.m. ET, same-day delay)

Sunday, June 26
8 – 8:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
11:32 a.m. – Driver Introductions
12:07 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
12:15 p.m. – The race (50 laps/202.4 miles), NBCSN (Live)


Race notes:

• There have been six different winners in the eight previous Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2016: Juan Pablo Montoya (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Phoenix International Raceway), Simon Pagenaud (Streets of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500), Sebastien Bourdais (Raceway at Belle Isle-1) and Will Power (Raceway at Belle Isle-2). Dixon’s win at Phoenix on April 2 tied him for fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with Al Unser at 39. He is the active leader in wins. Bourdais’ win at Belle Isle on June 4 tied him with Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time list with 35 wins.

• The race will be the first Indy car event conducted at Road America since 2007 and the 26th Indy car race at the track since it hosted its first Indy car event in 1982.

• It will be the seventh race on a road/street course in 2016. The first six races were won by Montoya (St. Petersburg), Pagenaud (Long Beach, Barber and Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Bourdais (Belle Isle 1) and Power (Belle Isle 2).

• Nine drivers entered this weekend have previously raced Indy cars at Road America: Bourdais, Helio Castroneves, Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Montoya, Pagenaud, Power and Graham Rahal. Three of those drivers have led laps at the track (Bourdais 92, Montoya 52 and Castroneves 24).

• Bourdais is the only driver in the field that has won an Indy car race at Road America, winning the final Champ Car race at the track in 2007. Bourdais has finished on the podium in all four of his previous starts at Road America. Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi have the most wins by an Indy car driver at the track (3).

• Six drivers have won the Road America race from the pole: Mario Andretti (1983, 1984 and 1987), Danny Sullivan (1989), Paul Tracy (1993), Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Bruno Junqueira (2003) and Bourdais (2007).

• Drivers who have won at Road America have gone on to win the Indy car championship six times: Mario Andretti (1984), Michael Andretti (1991), Villeneuve (1995), Alex Zanardi (1997), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Bourdais (2007).

• Team Penske has won three times at Road America (1989, 1992 and 1993) and is one of two current teams to win at the track. Chip Ganassi Racing has won twice at Road America (1997 and 2001). Newman/Haas Racing won a record 10 times at Road America.

• Four rookies – Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Rossi – are entered. Rossi leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 65 points over Daly with Chilton 103 points behind.

• Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 258th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Teammate Scott Dixon has made 199 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the third-longest streak in Indy car racing.

• Helio Castroneves will attempt to make his 320th career Indy car start, which would tie him with Al Unser for fourth on the all-time list.

• The 2016 season is the second in which aerodynamic bodywork component kits are used. The aero kits, produced by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda for their respective supplied teams, are the latest technical innovation to enhance on-track performance through competitive aerodynamic development. Each manufacturer produces two kits for teams – one for short ovals/road courses/street courses and another for superspeedway ovals – but within each kit, teams have multiple component options available.

• The second season of aero kit competition complements the fifth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. It will be another season testing speed and durability to determine the manufacturer champion.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2016
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