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PREVIEW: KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

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The return of the Verizon IndyCar Series to Road America to race this weekend is real, and it is spectacular.

There’s a lot of excitement and pontification about the race and naturally there will be more to write and note.

Here’s some of the interesting story lines heading into this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) (full TV schedule linked here).

2016 KOHLER Grand Prix – Talking Points

Corner speed and track physicality

One of the big talking points coming out of the couple tests IndyCar has had at Road America is just how fast the track is, particularly the cornering speeds. In September, Tony Kanaan spoke of cars being about 12 mph faster in the corners than in the supposed “heyday” of speed at Road America from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, has four past starts here from 1999 to 2002.

There’s the three long straights leading into Turns 1, 5 and 12, followed by heavy braking points. Then there’s a bunch of high speed corners and that will be fascinating to watch how drivers handle the track layout.

Josef or JR?

Josef Newgarden was entered on INDYCAR’s initial entry list to drive the No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, and on Thursday after the Hendersonville, Tenn. native was cleared to drive for practice.

If he doesn’t continue past Friday, JR Hildebrand, who’s at Road America either way on standby, will get the call.

Newgarden sits fourth in the points standings and any hope of contending for his first championship would go by the wayside if he doesn’t race. That being said, given his collarbone and hand injuries sustained at Texas, the fact he’s even considering giving it a go is stunning enough.

How much might past track experience matter?

It might not be that much. Most of the field has past starts here in other disciplines, either in IndyCar or Atlantic, Formula BMW, USF2000 or sports cars. There’s only a handful of drivers who could be making their first starts at Road America this week.

And with the higher downforce levels, lower horsepower and higher cornering speeds, and different tire configuration compared to the past, it’s likely to be a different race.

Pagenaud vs. the field, again

With Texas now on a temporary hold until August 27 after the floods and heavy rain swept through Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago, the points haven’t changed. Simon Pagenaud still leads the points by 80 over Scott Dixon, who is fresh back like several other drivers from the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That list also includes Sebastien Bourdais, who won there in the GTE-Pro class and won the most recent open-wheel Road America race in 2007 in Champ Car, Mikhail Aleshin and NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who won the GTE-Am class.

And it was all, yellow…

With Dixon’s usual red No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet shifted to bright yellow Clorox colors, and with Pagenaud back in the bright yellow No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet and Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Gehl/D-A Lubricant Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, there’s a lot more yellow in the 22-car grid than usual.

The final word

From James Hinchcliffe, who freaking loves this place and once made an ode to the track’s bratwursts:

“I’m so excited to go back to Road America. This has been my favorite road course in the country from the moment I first went there in 2004. It’s the kind of track that Indy cars are built for. I hope that it’s a great race and it stays on the calendar for a long time.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 24
11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3 – 4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 25
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (5:30 p.m. ET, same-day delay)

Sunday, June 26
8 – 8:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
11:32 a.m. – Driver Introductions
12:07 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
12:15 p.m. – KOHLER Grand Prix (50 laps/202.4 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s race’s most recent top 10 (from Champ Car 2007): 

1. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Dan Clarke
3. Graham Rahal
4. Oriol Servia
5. Alex Tagliani
6. Jan Heylen
7. Tristan Gommendy
8. Justin Wilson
9. Bruno Junqueira
10. Neel Jani

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.