Thursday, June 23, 2016

Track Walk: Road America 2016

There will have been 3,241 days between IndyCar races at Road America
The nine-year wait is over. The ninth race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Road America. The Kohler Grand Prix marks IndyCar's first race at the famed road course since 2007. After two days of rain in Texas, IndyCar will look to complete its first race in nearly three weeks. Simon Pagenaud enters another race with the championship lead. A driver change could occur at Road America. After suffering a fractured right clavicle and small fracture in his right hand at Texas, Josef Newgarden is on the entry list but J.R. Hildebrand will be on stand-by in case Newgarden is not fit enough to race.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 26th. Green flag at 1:15 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 12:00-1:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Second Practice- 4:00-5:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Third Practice- 12:00-12:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will show the session tape-delayed at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Warm-up- 9:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 1:15 p.m. ET (50 laps).

How Do Drivers Respond After Postponed Texas Round?
The postponed Texas round adds a new wrinkle to the 2016 IndyCar season. Most drivers can enter the next race weekend and reflect on a race just complete and search for what needs to be repeated or improved on. However, now teams enter Road America with another race hanging over their heads. Seventy-one laps were completed before the rain halted the Texas race and forced IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway to reschedule the remaining 176 laps for August 27th. The delay could benefit a few drivers while hampering others.

James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay enter Road America knowing they are the de facto front row for the restart at Texas Motor Speedway. The two Honda drivers had started tenth and 11th initially at Texas and were somewhat behind the eight ball after staying out while other teams pitted under caution at Texas. However, the rain has erased the strategy and put everyone back in square one. Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay are now in control when IndyCar returns in August. Hunter-Reay believes he should be the leader after video replays showed he exited the pit lane before Hinchcliffe passed under caution but with it appearing 176 laps to be run, Hunter-Reay will have plenty of time to fight for the top position.

Will Power had qualified seventh at Texas but he had a dreadful opening stint, falling back to 21st position but stretching his first stint and pitting without losing a lap. Power ended up fourth, just behind Mikhail Aleshin when the red flag was waved. The Australian gets a mulligan but can he compartmentalize and put the uncertainty over Texas behind him and now focus on making up ground at Road America?

While some drivers find themselves in promising positions when they return to Texas, such as Gabby Chaves in sixth and Hélio Castroneves in seventh, others are going to have an uphill battle when the race is restarted, including the top two championship contenders. Scott Dixon ended up in 14th with Simon Pagenaud in 15th. Pagenaud is only one position behind Dixon and isn't in a dire situation to lose ground to him in the championship but Pagenaud can't bank on having an 80-point championship lead when IndyCar returns in August. The worst-case scenario for Pagenaud is Dixon, Castroneves or any other driver chipping away and then returning to Texas either leading by ten to 20 points or Pagenaud no longer in control.

Conor Daly's Texas race appeared to be over after his backend stepped out and the Dale Coyne Racing driver slid into Josef Newgarden but because of the postponement, Daly will be allowed to rejoin the Texas race, however 29 laps down to the leaders. Daly's standing at Texas could benefit him at Road America. While others will be running through changes they would like to make before going back in August, Daly knows at best he could make up two or three positions at Texas. The American can now focus solely on Road America and look for his four consecutive top ten finish on a road/street circuit.

A Known Unknown
While Road America is a historic venue and has a long history of hosting IndyCar, only nine of the 22 drivers have started an IndyCar race at the 4.048-mile road course and four of those nine drivers haven't raced an IndyCar at Road America since at least 2002.

Sébastien Bourdais is the only of the nine Road America-experienced drivers with a victory at the track. The Frenchman won the most recent IndyCar race there in 2007. In four starts, the Frenchman finished on the podium all four times, started on the front row all four times and led 92 of 186 laps.

Tony Kanaan has the most Road America starts among active drivers with five but his last start at the track was in 2002 driving for Mo Nunn Racing. He has four top ten finishes with his best finish being fourth, however Kanaan's best start at the track is tenth and he has never led a lap at Road America. 

Hélio Castroneves has four starts at Road America, the most recent being in 2001. Castroneves has improved his finish in each of his Road America starts having finished ninth and seventh in his last two starts after finishing 26th and 16th in his first two starts at the track. He started sixth in each of his last two Road America starts.

Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon all have two starts at Road America with the two Penske drivers having never finished in the top ten at Road America. Power and Montoya both have an average finish of 14.5 at Road America after finishes of 13th in their first starts and 16th in their second starts. While Montoya's results have been dreadful, he has led 57 of the 79 laps he completed in his two Road America starts. Hunter-Reay had finished tenth and fourth at Road America. Dixon finished fourth in his Road America debut in 2001 but retired in 17th after a fire in 2002.

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud both made their Road America debuts in 2007. Rahal finished third while Pagenaud started 12th and finished 11th. Rahal has been in tremendous form on natural-terrain road courses since the start of last season. In the seven natural-terrain road course races, Rahal has a victory, four podiums, five top fives and six top tens and he was spun by Bourdais while running in the top ten last year at Sonoma before finishing 18th.

While nine drivers have IndyCar experience at Road America, many other drivers have raced at the track in other series. Alexander Rossi won four times at Road America between Formula BMW USA and the Skip Barber National Championship. Gabby Chaves made six starts at Road America in Formula BMW USA/Americas. In 2009, Chaves won twice with a second place finish at Road America in Formula BMW Americas.

James Hinchcliffe made four starts in the Atlantic Championship at Road America with his best finish being fifth. Hinchcliffe did win the Star Mazda race at Road America in 2005. That 2005 Star Mazda race is Marco Andretti's only Road America start. He retired after four laps. J.R. Hildebrand made two Atlantic Championship starts at Road America and his best finish was ninth. Hildebrand's ECR teammate Spencer Pigot won at Road America in U.S. F2000 in 2011 and has finished on the podium in four of his five U.S. F2000 starts. Josef Newgarden raced at Road America in the Skip Barber National Championship in 2008. He finished second to Conor Daly in one race. Charlie Kimball won the 2002 SCCA June Sprints Formula Ford at Road America.

Jack Hawksworth and Conor Daly have both raced at Road America in IMSA's Prototype Challenge class. Last year, Daly led at the start of the final lap before spinning and finishing second in PC to Bruno Junqueira, whose first IndyCar victory came at Road America in 2001, and Chris Cumming. Daly also won at Road America in Star Mazda in 2010

Road to Indy
After a month since the Freedom 100, Indy Lights returns for a doubleheader at Road America. Ed Jones leads the championship with the Carlin driver sitting on 185 points from eight races with ten races remaining. Jones has started the last five races from pole position but Dean Stoneman has won the last two races on the trot. The Andretti Autosport driver trails Jones by 29 points with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Santiago Urrutia ten points behind Stoneman.

After finishing on the podium in the first three races and leading the championship, Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser has one podium in the last five races and is 41 points behind Jones. Félix Serrallés is four points behind Kaiser while Belardi Auto Racing drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach are sixth and seventh in the championship with 120 points and 114 points respectively but Rosenqvist will not be at Road America. James French will make his Indy Lights debut in place for the Swedish driver and defending FIA European Formula Three champion. French is a 23-year-old Wisconsin-native and has been a regular competitor in the IMSA Prototype Challenge since 2011. Rosenqvist had won at the opening weekend in St. Petersburg

RC Enerson is eight in the championship but he will not be at Road America with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Enerson reportedly will not return to Indy Lights in 2016 to focus on making the move to IndyCar in 2017. Emerson's best finish this season was third at Phoenix and he finished fourth in the championship last year. Shelby Blackstock and Andre Negrão round out the top ten in the championship.

There will be another driver change at Road America. Garret Grist has been promoted from Pro Mazda and will replace fellow Canadian Scott Hargrove at Team Pelfrey. Grist had three podiums and was third in the Pro Mazda championship through seven races for Juncos Racing. Grist is signed for the remaining road and street course races. Juan Piedrahita remains at Team Pelfrey and Canadians Dalton Kellett and Zachary Claman De Melo also return for Road America. Neil Alberico rounds out the entry list.

This will be the first Indy Lights race at Road America since 1990, when Paul Tracy won the race on his way to the championship that season.

The first Indy Lights race will be Saturday at 1:00 p.m. ET. Race two for Indy Lights will be at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pato O'Ward enters Road America having won four consecutive races and six of seven this season. O'Ward leads the championship by 22 points over Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz. O'Ward and Telitz have a new teammate this weekend as T.J. Fischer moves up from U.S. F2000. Fischer had three top tens in six starts this season for Team Pelfrey and will run the remainder of the Pro Mazda season.

Juncos Racing's Will Owen has 125 points and is five ahead of Cape Motorsports w/WTR's Nico Jamin. Jake Parsons sits on 109 points with Jake Eidson three points behind and Nicolas Dapero on 98 points.

Both Pro Mazda races will be on Saturday with race one at 9:55 a.m. ET and race two at 3:05 p.m. ET.

Cape Motorsports w/WTR teammates Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have combined to win the last five races and the drivers are 1-2 in the championship. Thompson is top of the table with 178 points with Martin 26 points back. Australian Jordan Lloyd finished first and second at St. Petersburg but has not been on the podium since. However, the Pabst Racing driver is third in the championship, 19 points behind his fellow countryman Martin.

Victor Franzoni and Yufeng Luo round out the top five in the championship with 130 points and 122 respectively. Luke Gabin has 113 points and Robert Megennis is the top American in U.S. F2000 with 105 points. Ayla Årgen and Garth Rickards are eight and ninth in the championship on 83 points and 76 points respectively with Nikita Lastochkin rounding out the top ten with 68 points.

Like Pro Mazda, both U.S. F2000 races will be on Saturday. Race one is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. ET with race two at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
A month after Álvaro Parente swept the Lime Rock Park weekend and took the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship lead, the series returns to competition at Road America. The K-PAX Racing McLaren driver Parente has 995 points, 34 points ahead of Wright Motorsport Porsche's Patrick Long. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell and Michael Cooper are third and fourth with 887 points and 867 points respectively. CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli has 806 points and 29 points ahead of Nissan's James Davison, a winner last year at Road America. Davison's teammate Bryan Heitkotter has 691 points.

Bentley Team Absolute has entered one car for Adderly Fong after Andrew Palmer suffered a head injury during the Lime Rock Park weekend. Acura will have two cars entered for Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley after Eversley was only entered at Lime Rock Park. Michael Lewis returns to competition with Calvert Dynamics Porsche, joining Andrew Davis. Lewis missed the last two rounds due to EFFORT Racing taking a hiatus.

K-PAX Racing will also have two McLarens entered for Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson. Jon Fogarty returns in the Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing McLaren.

The first GT race will be at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The second GT race will be Sunday at 10:55 a.m. ET.

Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro's Lawson Aschenbach leads the GTS championship with 884 points, 49 points clear of ANSA Motorsports KTM driver Brett Sandberg. Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta's Parker Chase trails Aschenbach by 56 points. Roush Racing Ford Mustang drivers Nate Stacy and Jack Roush, Jr. round out the top five of the championship with 738 points and 721 points respectively.

Despite missing St. Petersburg, SDR Motorsports Lotus driver Scott Dollahite is sixth in GTS with 657 points, ahead of Klenin Performance Racing Maserati's Mark Klenin and Blackdog Speed Shop's Tony Gables. Racers Edge Motorsports has two SIN R1 GT4s entered for Scott Heckert and Jade Buford and Chris Beaufait will share the other. Buford is tied with GTS championship leader Lawson Aschenbach for most victories with three but Buford has only made four starts this season.

TRG has three Aston Martins entered for George Kurtz, Max Riddle and Derek DeBoer. Riddle won at Mosport earlier this season. Jeff Courtney returns after missing the last two rounds with the JCR Motorsports Maserati.

GTS will race at 6:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh eighth IndyCar race to take place on June 26th and the first since Paul Tracy won at Cleveland in 2005.

This will be the 26th time IndyCar has raced at Road America.

This will be the first time IndyCar has ever raced at Road America in June. IndyCar has raced at the track in July, August, September and October.

The track record at Road America is 99.866 seconds (145.923 MPH), set by Dario Franchitti in 2000.

Dallara has never won an IndyCar race at Road America.

Chevrolet has seven victories at Road America, the most recent being Paul Tracy in 1993. Tracy's victory in 1993 is also Team Penske's most recent Road America victory.

Honda has three victories at Road America, the most recent being Paul Tracy in 2000.

Of the 16 Road America winners, seven drivers scored their first career victory at Road America. Of those seven drivers, for four of them, it was their only IndyCar victory (Héctor Rebaque, Uncle Jacques Villeneuve, Christian Fittipaldi and Alex Tagliani). The other drivers to score their first IndyCar victory at Road America are Jacques Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti and Bruno Junqueira.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.8 with a median of three.

The worst starting position for a Road America winner is 13th by Alex Tagliani in 2004. It is the only time a Road America winner started outside the top ten.

The average number of lead change at Road America is 4.08 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions at Road America is 2.2 with a median of two. The average number of cautions laps is 7.2 with a median of six.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 4,800 laps led milestone and he needs to lead 76 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 22 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 49 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs one podium to reach 75 career IndyCar podiums.

Graham Rahal wins the race but will have four Chevrolets finishing behind him. There will be at least one caution period because of an incident in turn one. Scott Dixon will finish ahead of all four Penske drivers. Ed Carpenter Racing gets one top ten finisher. Chevrolet and Honda will equally split the top twelve in qualifying. The fastest lap in qualifying will be completed in less than 100 seconds. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.