Road America redux: A look back, and a look ahead

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Do you remember the year 2007? Specifically August 12, 2007?

That date, eight years ago today, was when the last open-wheel race was held at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

The Champ Car World Series’ Generac Power Grand Prix was won by Sebastien Bourdais, driving the No. 1 McDonald’s Panoz / Cosworth for Newman Haas Lanigan Racing.

This is worth noting after the Verizon IndyCar Series and Road America announced last week open-wheel racing would return to the 4.048-mile road course next year the weekend of June 26.

I don’t remember that day. At the time I was preparing for my junior year at Springdale High School in Arkansas and had yet to write a journalistic word. But MotorSports Talk’s Tony DiZinno was there covering his first on-site race, weeks before starting school at Marquette.

DiZinno: I’ll make this brief. Road America was awesome.

Perhaps it was being a wide-eyed 18-year-old, the first race I could cover after 11 years of being a fan and writing for fun for the better part of eight or nine years.

Perhaps it was the ambiance of the place – practically a state park with a race track carved in-between the trees, with the best track food to boot.

Or perhaps it was the reality that this was the first time I could convert my fandom into work, meeting some of my heroes at the time and hearing the mix of cars from Champ Cars, ALMS and Atlantic over the weekend.

In short, even though it was work, I was hooked – and the memories gleaned from that year still last years later, and laid the groundwork for where I’ve been able to make it today. Some of the people I met that weekend have become instrumental in my career, as valuable friends, colleagues and sounding boards.

It cemented my love for the track so many have spoke so highly of.

Much has changed in the intervening years. Instead of Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” topping the charts, it’s “Cheerleader” by OMI.

In theaters, “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation” is the movie to see in the place of “Rush Hour 3.”

Oh, and there is just one major open-wheel series in North America. Seven months after Bourdais won at Road America – for his fifth of eight wins in 14 races that year – the Indy Racing League and Champ Car ended a 12-year war between the two series by merging back under the IndyCar banner.

Eight years later, how familiar is IndyCar, as a single series, compared to that weekend in Elkhart Lake?

Of the nine teams that made up the 17-car field that day, only two team owners’ names could be found in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio: Dale Coyne and Michael Lanigan. Coyne runs his two-car team and Lanigan, who was part of Newman-Haas in 2007, is now the third name of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Another team, PKV Racing, co-owned by Jimmy Vasser, has since become KVSH Racing and KV Racing Technology.

When it comes to drivers, Bourdais, Graham Rahal (finished third), Justin Wilson (eighth), Simon Pagenaud (11th) and Will Power (16th) are the only participants found in IndyCar, though Oriol Servia (fourth) and Alex Tagliani (fifth) can usually be seen in Indianapolis in May. Paul Tracy (finished 12th), is now an IndyCar analyst for NBCSN.

Meijer Indy 300
Meijer Indy 300Gavin Lawrence/Getty Images

That same weekend Champ Car was at Road America, the IRL was at Kentucky Speedway for the mouthful Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Edy’s.

Won by Tony Kanaan – competing for Andretti Green Racing – the race contained six current Indy Car drivers: Kanaan, Scott Dixon (second), Marco Andretti (fourth), Ed Carpenter (seventh), Helio Castroneves (ninth) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (15th).

Also in the field: Danica Patrick, the late Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish Jr. and Sarah Fisher. That weekend, Franchitti’s car went airborne – after the checkered flag – for the second race in a row.

For the Champ Car Series in 2007, Road America represented the 10th race of the season. Here’s a look at the drivers in the field, their finishing order on Aug. 12, 2007 and where they are in 2015.

  1. Sebastien Bourdais  (France): 2007 – Owner: Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing; 2015 – KVSH Racing. Two wins through 14 races in IndyCar. Left Champ Car for Formula One in 2008, returned to IndyCar in 2011.
  2. Dan Clarke (United Kingdom): 2007 –  Minardi Team USA, last of two seasons in Champ Car; 2015 – raced several times in the in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge with LAP Motorsports in a MINI JCW.
  3. Graham Rahal (USA): 2007 – Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing; 2015 – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, second in the IndyCar points, a career high, with two races left after two wins, his first since 2008 at St. Petersburg.
  4. Oriol Servia (Spain): 2007 – Forsythe Championship Racing; 2015 – last raced in 99th Indianapolis 500 with RLL Racing, managing director for Dragon Racing in Formula E Championship.
  5. Alex Tagliani (Canada): 2007 – RSPORTS; 2015 – competed in 99th Indy 500 with A.J. Foyt Racing, will compete in NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio on Saturday for Team Penske.
  6. Jan Heylen (Belgium): 2007 – nine races with Conquest Racing, one podium; 2015 – four races in TUDOR United Sports Car Championship with Wright Motorsports.
  7. Tristan Gommendy (France): 2007 – 11 races with PKV Racing; 2015 – competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Thiriet by TDS Racing.
  8. Justin Wilson (United Kingdom): 2007 – RSPORTS, one win; 2015 – part time IndyCar schedule with Andretti Autosport, one podium in five races.
  9. Bruno Junqueira (Brazil): 2007 – Dale Coyne Racing, three podiums; 2015 – nine races and one win (Laguna Seca) in TUDOR with RSR Racing, what had been RSPORTS in a one-year partnership with RuSPORT.
  10. Neel Jani (Switzerland): 2007 -PKV Racing, three podiums; 2015 – Porsche factory driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship, polesitter and finished fifth in 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  11. Simon Pagenaud (France): 2007 – Team Australia, eighth in points; 2015 – first season with Team Penske in IndyCar, four career wins.
  12. Paul Tracy (Canada): 2007 – 12 races with Forsythe Championship Racing, one win (Cleveland), last season of more than six races; 2015 – analyst for NBCSN.
  13. Alex Figge (USA): 2007 – 13 races with Pacific Coast Motorsports; 2015 – Off-road truck racing, and drove for K-PAX Racing in World Challenge GT in 2014.
  14. Robert Doornbos (Netherlands): 2007 – Minardi Team USA, two wins, rookie of the year; 2015 – Not racing actively.
  15. Katherine Legge (United Kingdom): 2007 – Dale Coyne Racing, 15th in points; 2015 – seven races in TUDOR with the DeltaWing team.
  16. Will Power (Australia): 2007 – Team Australia, two wins; 2015 – Team Penske, defending IndyCar champion, 25 career wins.
  17. Ryan Dalziel (Scotland): 2007 – 11 races for Pacific Coast Motorsports; 2015 – full-time in FIA World Endurance Championship with Tequila Patron ESM; two races in TUDOR with the same team; competing in Pirelli World Challenge with EFFORT Racing.

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”


In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”