Thursday, June 22, 2017

Track Walk: Road America 2017

The summer portion of the IndyCar season starts at Road America
The tenth round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the Kohler Grand Prix from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Scott Dixon leads the IndyCar championship with 326 points despite having yet to win a race this season. Thirteen points behind Dixon is the defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud, who will be the famed Menards livery this weekend and this year's Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato is a point behind Pagenaud. Hélio Castroneves rounds out the top four in the championship, 21 points behind Dixon. This year's race will be five laps longer than last year's race at 55 laps in distance.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 25th. Green flag will be at 1:17 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Kevin Lee is in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 11:45 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 4:15 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Third Practice- 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage of this session at 5:00 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up- 9:00 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 1:17 p.m. ET (55 laps)

Robert Wickens Subs in for France Stranded Mikhail Aleshin (Update: Or Not)
Mercedes-Benz DTM driver Robert Wickens will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in the #7 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, as Mikhail Aleshin has not been able to leave France due to immigration issues after he raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend. Aleshin will not make it to Road America in time for Friday's activities.

Wickens is in his sixth season in the DTM. He has won four races in 72 starts and finished fourth in the championship last year, the top Mercedes-Benz driver. This season he finished second and third in the two Lausitzring races and he finished eighth at the Hungaroring last week. Prior to his DTM career, the Canadian won the 2006 Formula BMW USA championship, finished third in the 2007 Atlantic Championship, second in the 2009 Formula 2 Championship, second in the 2010 GP3 Series championship and he won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship over the likes of Jean-Éric Vergne and Alexander Rossi. Wickens drove in a free practice at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for Marussia Virgin Racing. He also won a A1GP sprint race on the streets of Durban in 2008.

This is not the first time Wickens and his fellow Canadian Hinchcliffe have been teammates. They shared time driving for Team Canada in A1GP in 2007-08. Wickens tested an IndyCar with SPM at Sebring on February 28th in a ride-swap with James Hinchcliffe, who in turned tested Wickens' DTM car at ACI Vallelunga Circuit just north of Rome on March 17th. Wickens made one start at Road America. He finished seventh at the track in the Atlantic Championship in 2007.

Update: Mikhail Aleshin has been approved to leave France and he is on his way back to the United States and Road America for this weekend's race. It appears Wickens will participate in the two Friday practice sessions but confirmation over who will be in the #7 Honda for the rest of the weekend is still to come.

Power and Rahal in Great Form Heading to Top Track
Few left Texas Motor Speedway in a happy mood but two drivers who are heading in the right direction as the IndyCar schedule turns to the final half of the season are Will Power and Graham Rahal.

Power sits fifth in the championship on 286 points, trailing Dixon by 40 points but Power is coming off his second victory of the season as he took victory at the Texas round and he finished third in the race before that at Belle Isle. Rahal is three points behind Power in the championship. He is the only other repeat winner this season after he swept the Belle Isle doubleheader and Rahal finished fourth at Texas. The good news for Power and Rahal is they look to continue their respective runs at a track both have had respectable success.

Last year, Power won in dominant fashion from pole position and led 46 of 50 laps in the first Road America race in nine years. The Australian's first two starts at Road America did not got to plan after having an off course excursion in 2006 and having a gearbox failure after starting second in 2007. Power could become the first driver to win consecutive Road America races since Jacques Villeneuve in 1994-95. Power has not won consecutive years at one track since 2012 when he won at Barber for the second consecutive year and he won at São Paulo for the third consecutive year.

Road America was at the start of a summer swing of success for Power in 2016. His Road America victory was his second consecutive after he won the second race of the Belle Isle doubleheader. After Road America, Power alternated runner-up finishes and victories from Iowa to Pocono. It was the best six-race stretch of Power's career with an average finish of 1.333.

Rahal finished third last year after starting sixth on the grid and he led two laps during a pit cycle. It was Rahal's second consecutive podium at Road America, as he finished third in the 2007, his only other IndyCar start at the track. Rahal is coming off three consecutive top five finishes and he is looking to match his career best streak of four consecutive top five finishes, which occurred in 2015.

Can Anyone Claw Back Into the Championship Picture?
This year's IndyCar season is much tighter than the year prior. Simon Pagenaud entered last year's Road America race with an 80-point lead over Dixon, and Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden were the only other drivers within 100 points of the Frenchman. This year the top nine in the championship are covered by 72 points and 12 drivers are within 100 points of Dixon.

Josef Newgarden is only six points behind Rahal in the championship but he let valuable points slip through his hands at Texas after an ambitious move in turn four put him in the wall and the Tennessean has failed to finish in the top ten in three of the last five races after starting the season with four consecutive top ten finishes, including a victory at Barber.

Tony Kanaan is coming off an unpopular runner-up finish and he finished runner-up to Power last year at Road America, which was Kanaan's first podium on a natural-terrain road course since he finished third at Sonoma in 2008. Kanaan's last five runner-up finishes have come in the month of June. Only once has Kanaan won the race immediately after a runner-up finish. That was in 2004 when he won at Texas the race after he finished second in the Indianapolis 500. He sits eighth in the championship on 264 points.

Ten points behind Kanaan is Alexander Rossi. Rossi had a streak of four consecutive top ten finishes end at Texas after contact with Dixon and Kanaan caused Rossi to spin and hit the wall in turn four. That was Rossi's first finish outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career. Rossi had his first visit to Road America in an IndyCar hampered by a poor starting position after a red flag in his qualifying group and a front wing change during the race, leaving him with a 15th-place finish.

While Power and Rahal head to Road America on a high, James Hinchcliffe heads to Wisconsin on a slump. While he remains in the top ten in the championship, sitting on 232 points, he has fallen five spots since the Barber round and he has failed to finish in the top ten in five of the last six races with three retirements from the last four races. Before this stretch, Hinchcliffe had been running at the finish of 37 of the previous 38 races. He has never retired from three consecutive races in his IndyCar career.

Max Chilton and Ed Jones are just outside the top ten in the championship, three points and four points behind Hinchcliffe respectively. Chilton set fastest lap for last year's Road America race but he ran out of fuel at the end of one of his stints and finished two laps down in 20th. Jones ran in Indy Lights last year at Road America where he finished fourth and finished 13th after a collision with his then-Carlin teammate Félix Serrallés.

Road to Indy
While IndyCar was nose to the grind nose for the better part of two months, the three Road to Indy series have had an extended break but that all changes this weekend as for the first time since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend all three series will be at the same race track.

Kyle Kaiser left the Freedom 100 with the Indy Lights championship lead on 151 points. The Juncos Racing driver had scored four consecutive podiums, including a victory on the IMS road course prior to a ninth-place finish in the Freedom 100. Tenth in the Freedom 100 and 14 points behind Kaiser is Andretti Autosports' Nico Jamin. Colton Herta had a May to forget with finishes of 12th, tenth and 13th after a turn two, lap one accident in the Freedom 100. Herta dropped to third in the championship, trailing Kaiser by 22 points.

Belardi's Aaron Telitz and Carlin's Neil Alberico are tied on 122 points but Telitz, a Wisconsin-native, holds the tiebreaker with a victory and Telitz finished second in the Freedom 100. Alberico has five top five finishes in seven races this year. A point behind the pair of Americans is the Freedom 100 winner and Carlin's Matheus Leist. The Brazilian driver has finished on the podium in the last two races. Belardi's Santiago Urrutia finished outside the top ten in three of the first four races but has recovered with three consecutive top ten finishes and he is on 105 points, three ahead of Carlin's Zachary Claman DeMelo.

Shelby Blackstock sits on 90 points, four ahead of third-place finisher at the Freedom 100, Dalton Kellett. Nicolas Dapero is two points behind Kellett and six points ahead of Ryan Norman. Juan Piedrahita and Garth Rickards are tied on 68 points.

Last year at Road America, Zach Veach and Urrutia split the Indy Lights races while Telitz swept the Pro Mazda races.

Race one of the Indy Lights weekend will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and the second race will be at 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pro Mazda hasn't been on track since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend in the middle of May and that weekend saw a change in the championship lead as Victor Franzoni swept the weekend and the Juncos Racing driver has 116 points, six ahead of Cape Motorsports' Anthony Martin, who finished second and fourth that weekend. Martin swept the U.S. F2000 races at Road America last year.

T.J. Fischer is the only driver other than Franzoni to stand on the podium in all four races this year but the Team Pelfrey driver sits on 91 points. Fischer's teammate Carlos Cunha Filho sits on 71 points and he finished third in the second race on the IMS road course, his first career podium finish. Nikita Lastochkin sits on 66 points, five ahead of Sting Ray Robb and Phillippe Denes.

Pro Mazda will race at 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday and at 3:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Oliver Askew has won five consecutive U.S. F2000 races and he finished second in the season opener, giving the Floridan 188 points and a 60-point lead over the Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who has four podiums from the first six races. Kaylen Frederick has three podiums this season but a disqualification in the first IMS road course race cost him a second-place finish and he is 78 points behind Askew.

Parker Thompson sits on 100 points and he is still looking for his first victory this year. He had three victories at this time last year. Unfortunately, Dakota Dickerson, who is fifth in the championship, has had his season end prematurely with Newman Wachs Racing due to funding issues. Robert Megennis won the season opener at St. Petersburg but he has not stood on the podium since and he has 82 points.

The first U.S. F2000 race is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET on Friday with race two of the weekend scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
After three consecutive SprintX rounds, two of which took place during the month of May, Pirelli World Challenge returns with its first traditional sprint round since Long Beach in April.

Cadillac's Michael Cooper leads the overall GT Drivers' championship on 145 points, ten ahead of Patrick Long of Wright Motorsports Porsche and K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente. Parente is the top driver in the Sprint Drivers' championship as he has won two of the first three sprint races this season. Cooper's only victory this season was the lone SprintX race at Mosport after rain cancelled the second race, which will be made up at Circuit of the Americas on Labor Day weekend. Long is the only driver to have won a Sprint and SprintX race this season. While Cooper leads the overall GT Drivers' championship, he is eighth in the Sprint championship.

Parente sits on 70 points in the Sprint championship, Long is on 69 points and Alex Riberas is third on 54 points but he will miss this race after he missed the last two SprintX rounds due to damage suffered to his R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari at Mosport. Parente's teammate Bryan Sellers sits on 50 points while Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell rounds out the top five on 43 points. GMG Racing Porsche driver Alec Udell is a surprise sixth in the championship on 41 points while TR3 Racing Ferrari's Daniel Mancinelli is tied with Cooper on 38 points but holds the tiebreaker with a fourth-place finish at Long Beach.

Ryan Dalziel and James Sofronas round out the top ten with the CRP Racing Mercedes driver Dalziel on 34 points and Sofronas on 26 points. Michael Schein is the top GT-A driver in the championship in 11th on 25 points. Ryan Eversley swept the Road America races last year and the Acura NSX GT3 driver is currently tied with Jon Fogarty of Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Porsche on 23 points.

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

This weekend features a unique sight for Pirelli World Challenge, as the GTS series will be joined by ten invited drivers from the TC series for two races this weekend.

Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4 driver Lawson Aschenbach leads the GTS championship with 173 points but he has yet to win this season. He has seven podium finishes from the first eight races with four runner-up finishes and his worst finish has been fifth. Forty-six points behind Aschenbach is another driver yet to win this season, Martin Barkey. The Mantella Autosport KTM driver hasn't even stood on the podium this year but he does have four top five finishes.

Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche's Rodrigo Baptista is coming off sweeping the Lime Rock Park weekend and he is now third in the championship on 117 points, 13 points ahead of his teammate Nate Stacy, who finished second and third at Lime Rock Park. Anthony Mantella rounds out the top five in the championship on 100 points but he will not be at the Road America round. Ian James is coming off a second-place finish in the first Lime Rock Park race and the Panoz driver sits on 82 points, one point ahead of Tony Gaples, the top GTS amateur driver.

ANSA Motorsport swept the Virginia International Raceway weekend with Nico Jamin and Austin Versteeg, last year's IMSA Prototype Lites vice-champion will drive the #13 KTM this weekend. Jade Buford swept the Mosport weekend in the #45 SIN R1 GT4 for Racers Edge Motorsports but Chris Beaufait will be in that car this weekend.

Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker return for the first time since the St. Petersburg weekend in Ginettas for Performance Motorsports Group. Wisconsin's own Jeff Courtney scored two runner-up finishes at VIR and he is back in a Maserati for JCR Motorsports.

The first combined GTS/TC race will follow the GT race on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET with the second race at 3:45 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to occur on June 25th and first since Iowa in 2011, which is Marco Andretti's most recent victory.

Five previous Road America races went over 50 laps in length, most recently the 2007 race was 53 laps in length.

The longest Road America race in distance was in 2002, which was 60 laps and covered 242.88 miles. Cristiano da Matta won that race on his way to the championship.

Will Power's victory last year was Team Penske's and Chevrolet's first Road America victory since Paul Tracy won at the track in 1993.

Honda has not won at Road America since Paul Tracy won with Team Green in 2000.

The last six Road America races have been won by six different drivers (da Matta, Bruno Junqueira, Tagliani, A.J. Allmendinger, Sébastien Bourdais and Power). Power is the only driver in this year's field with a Road America IndyCar victory.

Esteban Gutiérrez returns to the #18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing after skipping the Texas round. He won at Road America in Formula BMW USA in 2007. Alexander Rossi won the other Formula BMW USA race that weekend. Mexican Héctor Rebaque won the inaugural IndyCar race at Road America in 1982 for Forsythe Racing. It was Rebaque's final IndyCar start.

Canadians have won more at Road America than any other IndyCar track with six victories from four drivers (Uncle Jacques Villeneuve in 1985, Tracy in 1993 and 2000, Jacques Villeneuve in 1994-95 and Tagliani in 2004).

Mikhail Aleshin had finished in the top five in the tenth race of his prior two full-time seasons. He finished second in the second Houston race in 2014 and fifth last year at Iowa.

J.R. Hildebrand won at Road America in the 2006 U.S. F2000 season. It was the final race of the season that year and Hildebrand comfortably took the title over Dane Cameron.

Carlos Muñoz finished tenth last year at Road America. A.J. Foyt Racing entries' average a finish of 17.7 at Road America with the team having only two top ten finishes at the track. A.J. Foyt finished tenth at the track in 1988 and Mike Groff finished eighth in 1991.

Charlie Kimball enters Road America with his best finish this season being eighth. Kimball has had at least one top five finish in the first ten races of the season every year in the DW12-era.

Conor Daly finished seventh at Texas, his first top ten finish of the season and first career top ten finish on an oval. Daly's finishing position has improved over the last four races from 30th at Indianapolis to 22nd at Belle Isle to 12th in the second Belle Isle race to seventh at Belle Isle.

Spencer Pigot has not failed to finish in the top ten in consecutive starts this season.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.69 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has won the last two Road America races. Never has the pole-sitter won three consecutive Road America races.

Only five of the previous 26 Road America races have been won from outside the top five.

Only once has a Road America winner started outside the top ten. That was Alex Tagliani, who won from 13th starting position in 2004.

The average number of lead changes in a Road America race is 4.08 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Road America race is 2.2 with a median of two.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

I am at the point where I am just going to pick Scott Dixon until he wins a race so Scott Dixon gets his first victory of the season, extends his championship lead but has Will Power on his coattails most of the race. Ryan Hunter-Reay finally has a good race. Spencer Pigot has another race where he works his way into the top ten after failing to advance from the first round of qualifying. At least one podium finisher uses a four-stop strategy. Dale Coyne Racing gets one car into the second round of qualifying. Sleeper: J.R. Hildebrand.