NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers prepare for one of the most scenic and challenging tracks in the country: Road America, at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Teams, drivers and crowds are ready for a great day of track action as the weather looks near perfect for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR. By the time the green flag drops at 12:55 p.m. (ET), the temperature should be 63 degrees. The day should be partly cloudy with a 1% chance of rain and 60% humidity.
Firestone is supplying more than 1,600 tires for today’s race on the 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course. The tires feature the same technology that Firestone Racing used at this race weekend last year and are tuned to handle the high speeds and 211 feet of drop per lap. Each entry received seven sets of main tires (black), four sets of alternate tires (red) and five sets of rain tires (grey).
You can catch the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR at 12:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC and Peacock Premium. Live coverage from the INDYCAR Radio Network begins at noon. You can listen to live radio broadcasts on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, INDYCAR.com and the INDYCAR mobile app powered by NTT DATA.
Here’s what you need to know to prepare for today’s action.
The racetrack of a champion
Race drivers love this 14-turn, 4.048-mile permanent road course, as its fast straights, flowing turns and drop-offs challenge the best drivers in the world. It’s also a track that demands perfect laps. The slightest mistake will penalize a driver due to the length of the lap; even a simple missed corner entry or wide corner exit.
That’s why only the best tend to succeed at Road America. In 32 INDYCAR SERIES races at Road America, 26 times the winner was a series champion or a future champion. Look at some of the winners of this circuit:
Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Scott Dixon, Danny Sullivan, Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, Cristiano da Matta, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou.
Eight times the winner of Road America won the Astor Challenge Cup in the same season: Mario Andretti in 1984, Michael Andretti in 1991, Villeneuve in 1995, Zanardi in 1997, da Matta in 2002, Bourdais in 2007, Dixon in 2020 and Palou last year. Note that the last two champions of the series conquered Road America en route to the championship.
Since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned to Road America after a brief hiatus in 2016, the series has made seven track starts, and all but two have been won by series champions: 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by the winner of Gainbridge Alexander Rossi in 2019 and Felix Rosenqvist in Race 2 of the 2020 double title.
There are five former series champions on the field this weekend in Newgarden, Dixon, Power, Palou and Simon Pagenaud. You should expect all of these drivers to battle it out today.
Start early for success
Qualifying is very important at Road America, and while it doesn’t always result in victory, it almost always results in success.
Eight drivers have won Road America from pole in 10 races: Mario Andretti (1983, 1984, 1987), Danny Sullivan (1989), Paul Tracy (1993), Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Bruno Junqueira (2003), Sébastien Bourdais (2007), Will Power (2016) and Josef Newgarden (2018).
While a pole sitter hasn’t won at Road America since 2018, the first-place starter has seen success again recently, especially in the 2021 race weekend.
NTT P1 award winner Newgarden led a race-high 32 laps before gearbox problems plagued his car on a restart with two laps to go and forced him to finish 21st. This allowed Alex Palou, who started fifth, to claim his second victory of the season.
In the last 10 INDYCAR SERIES races at Road America, the winner has only started outside the top 10 once: Alex Tagliani started 13th in his 2004 win. And only twice more during this period, the winner started outside the top five: Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist in 2020.
So if you’re looking for a group of drivers to put on your INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge Driven by Firestone team, you’d be risky looking outside of the top five starters of Alexander Rossi, Newgarden, Palou, Marcus Ericsson and Colton Herta.
Who can keep their stuff the best?
The race in the race today at Road America will be with Firestone Firehawk tires.
When will drivers switch to the primary “black” tires which have more long term durability, and when will they switch to the alternative “red” tires which are more grippy and offer more speed in the short term?
This question is at the forefront of people’s minds this weekend, as this strategy was at the center of the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit presented by Lear last weekend. Will Power held on for the final stint on worn Firestone alternate (red) tires while Alexander Rossi loaded hard on cooler primary (black) tires.
Tire degradation was the phrase of the weekend as both primary and alternate tires experience a drop that challenges the best riders in the world. The longer drivers drive with tires, the more they wear and the harder it is to drive.
That means those riders have to work overtime today as they battle grip levels all day, but that’s great news for racing fans.
Herta falls to the 11th starting point
Colton Herta will start 11th in the #26 Gainbridge Honda today after incurring a six-point grid penalty for an (unrepairable) engine change after the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. INDYCAR officials made the decision late Saturday afternoon.
Every driver who qualified between sixth and 11th on Saturday will earn a place on the grid today.