Hawksworth praises Road America, wonders why IndyCar isn’t there


ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It’s a story that’s as frequent to write as rain in the spring, traffic construction in the summer and snow in winter in Wisconsin – the wishes of someone involved with IndyCar, racing at Road America in another championship, to hope that one day IndyCar will return to the picturesque 4.048-mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Bryan Herta Autosport rookie Jack Hawksworth is making his track debut this weekend, again filling in for Alex Tagliani at RSR Racing in the team’s No. 08 Oreca FLM09 in the Prototype Challenge class. Tagliani is racing the NASCAR Canadian Tire event at Trois-Rivieres this weekend for his Tagliani Autosport team.

I caught up briefly with Hawksworth just before Saturday’s practice for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race here – the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase – merely to gauge his initial impressions of the track. He was fastest in PC practice on Friday.

“I absolutely love this place,” Hawksworth told MotorSportsTalk. “Best track I’ve been to in North America. I can’t believe IndyCar isn’t here. It’s a bit like the Nurburgring.”

While Road America is long – the 4-plus miles makes it one of North America’s longest tracks – it only has 14 corners to the 174 you’ll find at the original “Green Hell.” Still, given the trees lining the track and the reverence most people have for the joint, a still apt comparison.

Let’s face it. Hawksworth echoes the wishes of many, but until IndyCar and Road America could ever find common ground on a sanctioning fee and suitable date for turning on the TV cameras to cover this 4-plus mile track and share the costs, it ain’t gonna happen.

My colleague from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Dave Kallmann has reported extensively on the long-running saga of “will they, won’t they” return for the first time since the 2007 Champ Car race there. And as of this weekend, IndyCar is no closer to a date at Road America for 2015 than they were earlier this year, or last year, or on down the line.

IndyCar won’t share on the track’s NASCAR Nationwide Series weekend in June, and the TUDOR Championship has made it clear it will only partner with IndyCar when it’s the only way to get onto a race weekend. TUDOR wants to be its own lead show and on an IndyCar weekend, they simply aren’t.

So if Hawksworth and any other IndyCar driver wants to run at Road America, they need to figure out a way to race here in another championship that doesn’t conflict with a regular IndyCar weekend. A shame, but it is what it is.

In the meantime, Wisconsin race fans better do their part to support the sole remaining Wisconsin race, and a rare oval left on the IndyCar calendar – tickets are still available for next week’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.