Raceday at Road America is once again a reality for IndyCar. We missed 8 years at this track, and after being here for just 4 days, I feel justified in saying that any kind of absence at THIS track for THIS series, is sinful. Let’s not let that happen again.
Friday saw two practice sessions, with current points leader and series “it” driver, Simon Pagenaud (No. 22, Team Penske) running fastest in the AM inside that stunning bright yellow Menard’s livery again. Another yellow car however, the No. 15 Gehl-sponsored RLL Honda of Graham Rahal barely got fired up. He finally ended up clocking 9 laps in the 75 minute session and talked about the issues later in the day,
“It’s a weird scenario. I guess one of the antennas that is supplied was faulty. It was frying all of our boxes. It was like the car didn’t even exist. You plug in, do absolutely nothing. Couldn’t get a setup. We tried everything we could. We lost a set of tires because of it because we couldn’t get the five laps in in the 20 minutes. We were kind of behind an eight ball. The car was decent. It hurt us, but we were able to rebound pretty well.”
Rebound was putting it delicately because Rahal ran the fastest in the afternoon practice session on Friday. Right behind him was Team Penske driver, WIll Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy. 24 hours later however, Power moved up into P1 when it counted – in the 3rd Round of qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.
This weekend’s pole position is Power’s 44th of his career and 2nd this season. The first was at the season opener in St. Petersburg, FL. Power fell ill and did not start that race – the No. 12 was piloted by Oriol Servia, who had to start at the back of the field because of the driver change. Power is most certainly looking forward to leading the field to green today in Elkhart Lake, WI.
Oh and in case you’re counting – Power’s 44th pole keeps him in the same 5th spot as he’s held since achieving his 42nd, on the All-time Career Pole Winners list, but the significance is that he is now one P1 Award away from tying his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves for 4th on that list. Look out Helio, Will has his sights set on you!
After qualifying was completed and the celebration in pit lane was wrapped up, the fun moved over to the post-qual press conference. Would you like to know my favorite part of it? The drivers taking control of the conversation and flat-out ignoring technical questions off the bat, choosing rather, to discuss the fans and their absolute delight in being back at the National Park of Speed.
I decided to just share a snippet of the transcript with you, because well, it’s so much better than me trying to summarize. Please enjoy:
“QUESTION: Tomorrow’s race with these cars, from what you guys have seen the last two days, what’s it going to be like in the race? Is there going to be a lot of drafting? Is it going to be mostly about saving tires?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don’t know, I just think the fans here are awesome. The race, to be honest, whatever happens happens, but just to have so many people here, I’m just excited. Obviously it’s a high-speed track, you know, but anything can happen. But at this point I’m just glad we’re back in this beautiful place.
SCOTT DIXON: I think there’s a lot of unknowns coming back for the first time, but just to echo what Helio said, we went cruising around last night through the campgrounds, man. It’s so cool to see everybody back here and everybody embracing this race.
SIMON PAGENAUD: It was you with the fireworks.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, man. Apart from the dumpster guy, man, at 5:20 every morning. They’re always cleaning those dumpsters out!”
Are you smiling right now? Yep. I know. Too awesome. Everyone is thrilled to be back on theses grounds and like Simon Pagenaud mentioned during our podcast on Friday, qualifying at this track and initial track position do not have a direct correlation to race results so we are all in for a treat. Passing, tire and pitting strategy, track conditions, heat – so many elements that can have a strong influence on who ends up atop that podium this afternoon.
Honestly, after hearing this entire field wax poetic about Road America, I’m not sure who is going to have more fun during this race – the folks inside the cars or the folks watching them. What I do know however, is when that checkered flag flies… we will all feel like winners.
Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Kohler Grand Prix:
Friday, June 24:
Practice #1 – 11:00 a.m. CT/12:00 p.m ET
Practice #2 – 3:00 p.m. CT/4:00 p.m ET
Saturday, June 25:
Practice #3 – 11:00 a.m. CT/12:00 p.m ET
Quals – 3:00 p.m. CT/4:15 p.m. ET
Sunday, June 26:
Warm Up – 8:00 a.m. CT/9:00 a.m. ET
Kohler Grand Prix Race – 11:30 a.m. CT/12:30 p.m E.T.
The Kohler Grand Prix Practice #1 and Race will be broadcast live on NBCSN. Qualifying will be broadcast on tape delay on NBCSN at 4:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m. ET. Qualifying will be livestreamed via IndyCar, as well as Practices #2 and #3. All links to livestream plus information on radio coverage is available here.
Feature image credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar