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What We Learned from Road America 2017

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The Big Picture:  The road course in Elkhart Lake, WI was a fixture for decades on the CART schedule through to Champ Car that came to an abrupt halt with openwheel reunification in 2008. Nearly everyone missed it, but because Michael Andretti was promoting the oval race at the Milwaukee Mile, it was thought the market could not support two races, so there was no Road America for eight long years. The return of this event in 2016 was great news to all, so hopefully, the Verizon IndyCar Series is here to stay.

Event:  The weekend is a road racing extravaganza. In addition to IndyCar, there are races for Pirelli World Challenge and all three Mazda Road to Indy Presented By Cooper Tires support series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires, and Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda. No wonder it’s so popular among road racing fanatics!

Qualifying:  Helio Castroneves took his 50th IndyCar pole. Only Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt have more of them than the Brazilian racer. Team Penske grabbed the top four places in qualifications with Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud starting behind a jubilant Castroneves.

Race:   Nice clean race with little to no carnage unlike the previous event in Texas. Newgarden looked to have the winning car and led an impressive 13 laps. Castroneves also led 17 circuits and appeared to be a contender. But Sunday was Scott Dixon’s day. He practiced fuel economy to make sure he could go longer than others, his pit stops were flawlessly executed by his crew, and he had the right tires at the right time.

Biggest Surprise: That Scott Dixon, after running at the front nearly every race this year except the Indy 500 but never winning for all that, won. Good job, mate.

Biggest Disappointment:  The continued poor finishes of Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. RHR has always been an excellent driver, and Andretti has Bryan Herta calling his races instead of his dad. Finishing 14th and 18th must be disappointing to both competitors.

Best Team:  Team Penske was best even if they missed the win. The four drivers worked very well together and finished in the top five.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  Koehler, who sponsored the race weekend. Their town is charming and features a “Great Wall of China.” Worth a visit if you’re in the area.

What We Learned:  That Team Penske seems to need the Captain to finish the way they wish. Also, Road America is great to have back on the calendar.

Schedule:  The Iowa Corn 300 in Newton, IA follows on July 9th.

Quotes of the Weekend:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet): “You can’t predict (yellow flags) and I think our strategy was spot on. We were doing what we needed to do to stay out front there all day, but you just can’t predict those yellows, and some days they fall your way and some days they don’t. Today they didn’t fall our way. (Scott) Dixon and the whole Ganassi team did a great job and they deserved to win with the job they did. I felt good about what we had and we had four strong Chevrolets all weekend with Team Penske. It stings a bit that we didn’t get the win because of how good this car was all weekend. We looked good and you couldn’t miss us.  We had the fastest lap which was pretty cool and I am just proud of all our guys. Just disappointed we couldn’t get it done.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet): “The REV Group Chevy was good, especially in the beginning. I was taking it easy and saving fuel, a lot of fuel actually. When we put the blacks (Firestone primary tires) on, I knew it was going to be rough. At the end of the race Scott (Dixon) did a good job saving fuel and going a lap farther. They were fast, for sure, and it’s a shame because our car was really good without question. But when you battle this close with everyone it’s the difference of one small detail. At the end of the day, it was a good day for the points championship. It’s kind of disappointing that Team Penske didn’t get the win here today considering how strong all of the cars were. That’s the way it goes sometimes. We’ll come back ready to go for Iowa.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda, 2017 KOHLER Grand Prix winner): “The NTT Data car has really had pace all weekend. The Penske cars definitely had something figured out this weekend and we knew we were going to have a battle on our hands. Then we missed the morning warmup today with a fuel pressure issue. The team worked hard to fix the car and it was a bit of an unknown for the race, but it held up. We had great strategy and great pace today and I couldn’t be happier for the team. We had a few races earlier this year that I felt got away, so this feels good and it’s good for us in the points.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “It hasn’t been our weekend here at Road America for sure. We were working our way back up and we thought we had a good chance at getting a top-10 finish, but then he (Alexander Rossi) blocked me and put me in the wall. I don’t think it was a nice move at all, but I’m not going to waste my time with it. My wrist is a little sore, but I’m OK overall. That was a big hit. Congrats to Scott (Dixon) and the No. 9 car. They were fast all weekend.”

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.