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.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”