Report: IndyCar Series may return to Road America in 2014

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As NASCAR’s Nationwide Series prepares for its fourth go-round on the challenging and twisting 4.05-mile, 14-turn road course at Road America in central Wisconsin this Saturday, a report Wednesday suggests that Indy cars may soon return there, perhaps as early as next season.

SpeedTV.com’s Robin Miller reported that the open-wheel series is considering hosting a return to two annual races in the Badger State, continuing its run at The Milwaukee Mile in suburban West Allis, Wisc., as well racing for the first time in its history at Road America.

Since 1956, there have been 89 open-wheel races at Milwaukee, spanning from USAC to CART/Champ Car to the Izod IndyCar Series, which has raced there for nine of the last 10 years, including last weekend.

Meanwhile, for 25 years Road America was the exclusive province of CART and the succeeding Champ Car World Series until the latter went out of business following the 2007 season. Open-wheel cars have not raced there since.

It was also during that 25-year reign at Road America that CART/Champ Car ran two races per year — one each at both tracks — oftentimes with sellout crowds at both venues, drawing tens of thousands of fans from throughout the Midwest and Canada.

Now a move is underway to bring the IndyCar series to Road America as early as next season.

Road America president George Bruggenthies told Miller, “I’ve reached out to IndyCar and had a meeting with (IndyCar CEO) Mark Miles back in April at Long Beach and we’d like to bring Indy cars back.”

But for as much as Bruggenthies would like to see open-wheel racing back at his bucolic track in the middle of America’s Dairyland, IndyCar has been non-committal. Part of the reason is the contract to promote the Milwaukee race, which has been held by team owner and former Indy car star driver Michael Andretti for the last two races there, expired after last weekend’s race.

“Bobby Rahal sat in on our meeting and expounded on the virtues of Road America to him (Miles) and we discussed possible dates but I haven’t heard from him since,” Bruggenthis said. “I reached out again last weekend because we were only an hour apart when (Miles) was in Milwaukee, but I never got a response. I know he’d like to end the season around Labor Day and we’d be fine with a September race.”

Miles told Miller in an email that he wants to see how things play out with Milwaukee and whether Andretti will extend his contract to promote the race before committing to adding a race at Road America.

But it appears Andretti Autosport wants to continue promoting the Milwaukee event, which drew around 25,000 fans on race day this past Sunday (although far below the crowds of 40,000-plus that flocked to CART races there in the past).

“A couple of things need to come together to extend this deal but we’re determined to get it done,” Kevin Healey, managing director of the Milwaukee race for Andretti, told Miller. “It was a two-year deal with the understanding of trying to make it long-term if it worked out.”

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “