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IndyCar: Kohler Grand Prix Road America Preview

Spencer Pigot gets on the brakes racing Ryan Hunter-Reay into turn 5 at Road America. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Spencer Pigot gets on the brakes racing Ryan Hunter-Reay into turn 5 at Road America. [John Wiedemann Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

Past-winners Scott Dixon Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais return to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin Sunday as the Verizon IndyCar Series challenges the hills and valleys of Road America in the Kohler Grand Prix.

Indy cars have raced 27 times here in the Kettle Moraine area, just over an hour from metro-  Milwaukee, but Road America is nothing like the historic, but dormant, Milwaukee Mile oval.

The 4.048-mile natural road course, opened in 1955, presents a high-speed challenge unlike any other Verizon series venue. Long straights, sweeping curves and tight corners have faced drivers since Hector Rebaque beat Al Unser Sr. to win the first RA Indy car race back in 1982.

RACE FACTS: Sunday’s race will be for 55 laps (220.77 miles) around the 14-turn course. Track records were set here in the days of CART events. The qualifying record is held by Dario Franchitti (2001, 1:39.866, 145.924 mph) while the race record, then 60 laps, was set by Cristiano de Matta (2001, 1:56.43, 124.856 mph).

PAST RACES at TRACK: Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Michael Andretti are tied for most wins (3 each), while Team Penske (4 wins) leads Rahal Letterman Lanigan (2) among current teams. Mario Andretti won three of the first six races here (1982-87) and son Michael won three of seven (1990-96). Last year Scott Dixon, driving for Chip Ganassi, beat Penske’s Josef Newgarden by 0.5779 seconds to capture his 41st career win. He started fifth and passed Newgarden for the lead in turn one on a lap 31 restart. He led 24 of the final 25 laps to capture his first Road America win. Behind Dixon’s Honda, Team Penske drivers Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power dominated places 2-6 for Chevrolet.

2018 SO FAR: Each of the six road course races run so far have been won by six different drivers: Sebastien Bourdais, Alexander Rossi, Newgarden, Power, Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. These six must be considered the favorites going into the Kohler Grand Prix, though Newgarden’s win at Barber would come closest to what he will face at RA when he straps in Sunday. Wins and Points so far: 1. Dixon (2 wins) 357 points, 2. Rossi (1) 334, 3. Power (2) 321, 4.RHR (1) 308, 5. Newgarden (2) 289.

THE FIELD: Twenty-three cars are entered with the usual road course drivers stepping in to replace oval masters like Ed Carpenter. The one new pilot for Juncos is Alfonso Celis Jr. who replaces Rene Binder.

NOTES: Eighteen entered drivers have previously raced Indy cars at RA. Five rookies: Celis Jr., Matheus Leist, Zachary Clamon – De Melo, Zach Veach and Robert Wickens are new to Indy cars here…The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is said to be planning to build a temporary ¼-mile dirt track in the third-turn infield at IMS. The track would host a USAC midget race during the Brickyard 400 weekend…Alex Tagliani started in 13th place when he won the Road America CART race back in 2004…Honda has won five races this season while Chevy has captured four…Entered drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power have each won a race at Road America from the pole.

OUR TAKE: AS previously noted, six different drivers have won the six previous road course events contested this season. It would be a surprise if one of them didn’t win this weekend. With its long straights and fast, sweeping curves, aero and grip will be keys to running fast and up front. Drivers and team tacticians also need to remember how long a course RA is. Don’t run out of fuel or get stuck in a trap out in the far reaches. Your day may be over.

FINAL WORDS: Takuma Sato (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda): “We tested at Road America last week…It was a little confusing as there were two spec of tires and the difference in each was more than expected…Road America has a couple of ultra-high-speed corners like the Carousel, Kink and the unsighted Billy Mitchell Bend. They are some of the most challenging corners. The track flows so well and has a combination of tight bends with a long straight followed by big braking areas that make great overtaking opportunities…Road America is a beautiful, great race course”

 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”