Nico Jamin. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Road America test underway with rebuilt cars, Indy Lights quartet

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The fact that the six Verizon IndyCar Series cars that are testing today at Road America are, in fact, testing is a small miracle in itself after the tornado of carbon fiber swept through Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night in the Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Three Andretti Autosport, two Dale Coyne Racing and a single Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda are all in attendance at the 4.048-mile circuit for a scheduled team test.

Both Andretti and SPM are using this day to test Indy Lights drivers in the opening half. Nico Jamin and Matheus Leist have taken their first ever laps in an IndyCar in the No. 27 and No. 98 Hondas, respectively, for Andretti. Meanwhile Dalton Kellett returns for the first time since Watkins Glen and Zachary Claman De Melo, for SPM, is in a car for the first time since Mid-Ohio last year.

Kellett had tested Marco Andretti’s car last year but is now in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda today. The Canadian who now lives in Indianapolis arrived Tuesday night along with the rest of the Andretti team.

The Andretti trio are in their road course chassis, with repairs coming to the No. 26, 28 and 98 Honda oval chassis from Texas last week. Of those three, the No. 98 was the worst damaged after contact in Texas.

Claman De Melo has taken over James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda and PaySafe is on the sidepods, which is more than you usually see changed over for an Indy Lights driver test.

Coyne’s team, though, has had the biggest thrash to get here in what’s been a bizarre, expensive and whirlwind month-plus.

With both cars damaged in Texas, Coyne’s team is down to two tubs and two gearboxes, both of which are on site at Road America.

The team arrived at the track this morning before 6 a.m. to unload its two transporters after a thrash to get two cars built up late Tuesday afternoon, then get on the road before rush hour for the roughly five-hour drive from the team’s Plainfield, Ill. shop to Elkhart Lake, Wis.

The No. 18 Honda running today is the repaired James Davison chassis from Indianapolis, which keeping things straight, was the road course backup car pressed into oval duty for the Indianapolis 500. The No. 18 Honda that was last an oval chassis, Pippa Mann’s No. 63 car from the Indianapolis 500, now falls out of the rotation after Tristan Vautier suffered significant damage in the Texas eight-car pileup on Lap 152. Ed Jones’ No. 19 Honda is repaired from Texas.

As for the identity of the No. 18 driver this test? It’s a weird one, and also recalls the IMSA test at Daytona in November 2015 involving Ford GT drivers.

Back then, the drivers tested the Ford GT but were technically not allowed to say they were there, because Ford had not formally announced them.

The same situation is presenting itself today. A driver known to the Dale Coyne Racing team was in the car today for the test; the team anticipates making its driver announcement for the Road America race in the near future.

Officially, we can say “TBA” was in the car for today’s test, thus making “TBA’s” official debut in an unofficial capacity, because this isn’t an official session.

Jones, meanwhile, now had his first IndyCar running at Road America today, and was the first of the full-season drivers out before the others – Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe – took over in the afternoon.

The four Indy Lights drivers ran the morning session before lunch. Jamin, in his first running in an IndyCar, was the only one who revealed a time – an unofficial mark of 1:44.9 – but figure between the 1:44s and 1:46s, the Lights guys were pretty much on pace.

Jamin was thrilled to add the IndyCar to his other repertoire of cars he’s driven in 2017. He adds the Honda, where he drove at least 35 laps, to the Dallara IL-15 Mazda (Indy Lights), Ligier JS P3 (IMSA) and KTM X-BOW GT4 (PWC).

“It was absolutely incredible. It was a lot more than what I expected,” Jamin told NBC Sports. “As any driver who’d drive it for the first time, I was a bit nervous, but after the install and the first laps it all felt natural. The car felt extremely smooth and it brings confidence to a driver. I was able to get up to speed quickly, we had a good run on the first set, the degradation got worse but I got the same kind of lap times.

“We put new tires on and I was able to do a pretty fast lap time. I did a (1:44) 4.9, which was good, and 10 seconds quicker than Indy Lights! New tires it feels like this car has no limit; it can push like crazy. In less than a year I was here in Pro Mazda; now I’m testing an IndyCar.

“On the power side, the power is linear. Indy Lights has a huge kick on the turbo. It’s easier to put the power down here. 2,000 vs. 6,000 pounds of downforce. The carbon brakes are quite insane as well. You can brake later.”

Leist, who drives for Carlin in Indy Lights, was the other first-timer. Perhaps a surprise nomination, Leist was in Brazil last week when he found out he’d be in the seat. Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta, age 17, is less than the required 18 years old (Leist is 19) to be in an IndyCar, per the INDYCAR Rule Book.

“I think I was fastest on my first set of new tires,” Leist told NBC Sports. “It’s faster, but not as much as I was thinking. The main difference is the cornering speed is amazing because of the downforce. When I tried to go on my second set of new tires it rained. I hope to do two more runs.

“The braking point here is crazy. It’s the fastest car that I’ve ever driven. The high speed corners, there’s a few corners where it’s almost flat in Indy Lights and here with more power, more downforce, it’s easy flat!”

Meanwhile the two returning drivers picked up the slack just fine. Kellett was flat out this morning in 37 laps and didn’t have time to take a breath.

“I think Road America is a friendlier track to be at to learn the car than Watkins!” Kellett laughed. “The cornering speed is maybe 20 mph higher there. It didn’t take long to get to the speed where I was at the level I needed to.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while, but the date I found about maybe a day or two before the Freedom 100. It’s been a quick turnaround.

“We didn’t have a chance to stop and look at anything. It was go, go, go. We went hard this morning! This was different with the (PFC) carbon brakes; at Watkins, we were still with the Brembos. It was a long time ago, but there were no issues today!”

Claman De Melo’s session, meanwhile, was truncated. He had a spin in the morning and after lunch, suffered another engine issue from a Honda, which was confirmed by HPD to NBC Sports.

“It’s been a similar feel. They all helped me at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” Claman De Melo said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in an IndyCar.

“Still, everything went according to plan. I had a small spin but got back going. I’m getting used to everything again. It’s been a good morning.”

Further Indy Lights driver test days figure to occur later this summer, as the next round of talent from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder prepares for their eventual ascension into the big show.

Dixon finally breaks through at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – After a year of near misses and frustration, Scott Dixon has finally captured his first win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing has won today’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America after leading 24 of 55 laps, and holding off a late charge from Josef Newgarden, best of Team Penske’s quartet.

The win also provides Mike Hull a victory on his 25-year anniversary with the team, a special moment. Dixon is now the eighth winner of the year, and the only active track where Dixon hadn’t led a lap – until today.

Hull made an excellent strategic decision to go with Firestone’s red alternate tires on the second-to-last stint. Following a restart after Takuma Sato spun at the Kink, Dixon then made a spectacular move to Newgarden’s outside going into Turn 1, and completing the move on exit. Newgarden had no counter as he was on Firestone’s blacks at that point.

Newgarden led home teammates Helio Castroneves, who fell to third from the pole, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, as Penske ended second, third, fourth and fifth after sweeping the top four spots on the grid.

Charlie Kimball parlayed an off-sequence strategy to jump up to sixth, with Ed Jones, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin completing the top 10.

Tony Kanaan had a heavy accident at the Kink but got out of his car, in the race’s one major incident.

More to follow…

Stroll rewarded with shoey after first F1 podium in Baku (VIDEO)

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Lance Stroll was “lost for words” after becoming the second-youngest Formula 1 podium finisher in Sunday’s chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, crossing the line third for Williams.

Stroll qualified eighth in Baku before managing to rise up the order as a race of attrition set in at the front, with title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both dropping back after coming to blows.

Stroll was left running second behind Daniel Ricciardo once Hamilton had pitted for repairs and Vettel had served his penalty, but had Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas bearing down through the closing stages.

In a drag race at the line, Bottas nosed ahead of Stroll by just 0.1 seconds to deny the Williams driver P2, but he was nevertheless able to hang on to third place.

Coming just two weeks after his maiden F1 points finish and following a barrage of criticism in the early part of the year, Stroll was overjoyed with the result.

“I’m just lost for words right now. I don’t even know what to say,” Stroll said.

“I can’t quite realize what just happened. It was a hectic race, people crashing and we stayed out of trouble, I kept my head cool and took it to the end.

“I lost out to Valtteri in the end. I reckon that was probably one of the closest finishes of all time! We were side-by-side across the finish line.

“What a race. I couldn’t believe coming into the weekend that I would be standing on the podium, it’s so amazing.”

Joining race winner and shoey extraordinaire Ricciardo on the podium, Stroll became the latest driver to take part in F1’s strangest tradition – albeit only after Ricciardo checked he was old enough.

Stroll completed the shoey like a champ, and was also informed that he had won the online Driver of the Day vote.

The result also saw Stroll became Canada’s first podium finisher since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001, as well as being the youngest ever rookie to finish in the top three.

Stroll missed out on the overall youngest podium record by 11 days to Max Verstappen, who won last year’s Spanish Grand Prix during his second season of racing in F1.

Ricciardo doubted Baku F1 win was possible, left ‘speechless’ on podium

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A stunned Daniel Ricciardo was left speechless on the podium after claiming his fifth Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, navigating a crazy race that he started from 10th on the grid.

Ricciardo survived three safety car periods, two early pit stops and a red flag stoppage to rise through the order and capitalize on trouble for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with both dropping back down the order after dominating early on.

Ricciardo moved into the lead when Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for dangerous driving, and went unchallenged en route to victory in Baku from there, finishing 3.9 seconds clear of the pack.

Struggling to form his words initially, Ricciardo said he only thought a podium was within reach after the restart, only for the issues for the leaders to hand him the race win.

“We know there was a chance of the podium after the restart, but then we heard what happened with Lewis and Seb. It was just a crazy race,” Ricciardo said.

“I made an unplanned stop at the beginning. After a few laps we had some debris in the brakes, so we had to stop and clean it. We dropped to 17th place.

“So did I think then that we could win? Absolutely not. I would have put all my money on it that this was very unlikely.

“A crazy race. This is the race we expected last year, with all the safety cars and all the chaos, and we got it this year.”

Ricciardo’s victory came after he crashed out of qualifying on Saturday evening in Baku, resigning him to a P10 start, but was pleased to make up for it in style.

“Yesterday I was disappointed with the mistake. I knew today would be a different outcome,” Ricciardo said.

“I said it yesterday that we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly paid off today. A big thanks to the team, it was nice to get one car home and on the podium.

“I’m honestly speechless. After the race on the cool down lap, I was kind of just giggling like a school boy.”

WATCH LIVE: KOHLER Grand Prix at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America this weekend, with the now 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix this afternoon.

You can watch it LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app starting at 11 a.m. CT and local time, noon ET.

Coverage has moved up half an hour from a planned 12:30 p.m. ET start time with the Formula 1 race from Azerbaijan running long.

This moves the Indy Lights second race of the weekend, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, with Jake Query and Anders Krohn in the booth and Hargitt in pit lane.

Coverage will run through to 3:30 p.m. ET. INDYCAR: NEXT at the 101st Indianapolis 500 is scheduled from 3:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Kevin Lee is on the call along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Marty Snider, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller in the pits.

Helio Castroneves secured the pole position for the race. The full qualifying report is linked here.