Don’t rule out IndyCar at Road America, but don’t believe it yet, either

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Open-wheel fans have, since the unification of IndyCar and Champ Car in 2008, clamored for Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s Road America to return to the schedule. Consider a Friday report from The Business Journal serving Greater Milwaukee the latest in the “will it or won’t it” actually happen category.

Senior reporter Rich Kirchen spoke to IndyCar’s vp of business affairs, Matt Breeden, in advance of next weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest at The Milwaukee Mile. Breeden didn’t dismiss the possibility that Road America could happen for IndyCar in 2014, if the finances work out.

“They (Road America) have been complementary to Milwaukee in the past,” Breeden told Kirchen, noting that races in Milwaukee and Elkhart Lake would not be mutually exclusive. “I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.”

The sticking points in recent attempts have been both the sanctioning fee amount, and finding a suitable date given the close proximity of the two events (60 miles).

Last year, Road America, the 4-mile road course, was tossed around as a potential last-minute, 16th event replacement for the canceled IndyCar race in China, but was not added.

Road America has always said it needed to make financial sense for the track, and in an interview I conducted with track president George Bruggenthies last year, he said the sticking point was that what IndyCar was asking was too high.  A year later, the principals Bruggenthies mentioned are no longer in a leadership position for IndyCar (Randy Bernard has since been ousted as series CEO), which leaves open the opportunity to negotiate.

Road America’s schedule highlights for 2013 include the NASCAR Nationwide Series (pictured) in two weeks, on June 22. Later, on August 10-11, the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series are on the same weekend but race separate races. The ALMS will be amalgamated into GRAND-AM next year, and conceivably, could leave room for another series to run on that weekend.

The last open-wheel race at Road America, Champ Car in 2007, ran on that same August weekend as ALMS.

Everything about an open-wheel reunion with Road America makes sense in theory, but only as soon as the dollars do for all parties, can the dream turn into reality.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds