Some people call IndyCar a circus. They aren’t wrong.
We have a cast of characters that people come to see from far and wide. They perform awe-inducing tricks and put on a show with their natural talents that others only dream to possess. There’s no discernable ring-leader, but at Road America it certainly seems like the guys at Team Penske are trying to fight for that title.
The Kohler Grand Prix morning practice on Saturday foreshadowed the results of qualifying later in the day. Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Chevy), Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Devilbiss Chevy), Helio Castroneves (No. 3 REV Group Chevy), and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevy) occupied the top 4 spots in both sessions yesterday, although the order was different for each – with Pagenaud running quickest in the practice and Castroneves taking that position when it mattered – in the third round of qualifying during the knockout format.
This was the Brazilian’s 50th Verizon IndyCar Series P1 award, though he had a hard time saying anything other than 51. Jokingly of course, but it’s apparent that the penalty from Detroit earlier this month is still a painful sting. Not the first time in IndyCar history that the provisional pole winner lost his quickest lap due to a penalty though… and I guarantee it’s not the last. I just hope this doesn’t turn into a Paul-Tracy-2002-Indy-500 thing with him, and he adds a one every time he wins a pole position going forward.
Oddly enough, speaking of the 2002 Running of the 500, the driver who was ruled as leading when that yellow flag fell and ultimately “stealing” the win from Tracy, was Helio Castroneves! Tracy was actually present for the pole-winner’s press conference on Saturday afternoon, seeing as how NBCSN is this weekend’s television partner. He asked Castroneves, “After the first round of qualifying, when Will had a huge gap on everybody, did you get the telemetry? Is it in one sector?” Castroneves explained,
“That was a huge lap. He really went for it. I did look into the lap. By that time was still too early. My car wasn’t actually doing what it wants to do. For example, it was a little bit loose on high-speed corners, but new tires was understeer. So was changing quite a lot from one thing to another.
When we saved the tires till the end, we made some adjustments that was just perfect. I guess after that I could do what Will was doing before. I was able to lay down a good lap.”
He certainly was. His winning lap in the third round was 1:41.3007 – about .79 of a second quicker than the P1 lap Power ran last year. Power went on to win the event in 2016 as well. And while Castroneves has had no issue racking up the poles over the past few seasons, he’s struggled with putting together a race run worthy of a win. I have a feeling that will unfortunately continue this weekend.
Going caution-free at Road America is pretty unlikely for this series, and if the yellows fall as anticipated, we can expect some gnarly restarts and hopefully, pit strategy that creates an unpredictable race. I want to see passing and edge-of-your-seat maneuvers today, quite simply because I know what kind of racing this track is capable of yielding and I would like to see it all left out on the asphalt on race day. No fuel-mileage snoozer. Not this weekend.
It has been an amazing few days so far, kicking off with a thunderstorm on Thursday night… as though the excitement was in the air, electrifying. Friday then transitioned us into partly cloudy and upper-60’s, the absolute best conditions to be outside (in my humble opinion). We couldn’t have ordered up a more perfect race weekend. And the bonus? It all happens to be when we are right here, in beautiful Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Everything has lined up so far. And in a matter of hours, our favorite race cars will line up as well, on the front stretch of Road America.