DiZinno: Road America’s IndyCar return is real, and it’s spectacular

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – To understand why the return of Road America to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar means so much, you have to understand how surprising and unlikely it is for a race that’s been gone so long to make it back.

The race has been gone since 2007, when the last Champ Car weekend occurred there in August. From a personal perspective, there was a sense that the race would never come back – rarely are races re-introduced to calendars after long hiatuses. If they are, they don’t necessarily have huge mass appeal.

As an example, although Houston came back in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, and it was nice to see a major media market added, but there wasn’t exactly an outpouring of media or fan support about returning to a glorified parking lot of a race track.

But Road America? A.k.a. a national park that happens to be regarded as one of the iconic North American permanent road courses? It’s only been something nearly the entire North American open-wheel community has been salivating for since the end of 2007, and has left folks hungry for more.

Whereas the actual announcement of the race’s return in August on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship weekend felt hurried and forced, Tuesday’s test felt like the proper re-introduction of IndyCar back to one of its most hallowed grounds.

To start, the test was on a Tuesday. This is not exactly the best day to have a test, since it takes you away from your day job in most cases.

Yet upon my arrival about 15 minutes after the green flag flew, there was already a line of cars waiting outside the gates, anticipating getting in. It was a glorious, sun-splashed, 72-degree day that couldn’t have been scripted any better for this most perfect of returns.

Getting out of the car to pick up my credential stirred the soul as it brought back memories of years gone by.

Road America and I for CART/Champ Car races have had something of a checkered past. I’d been due to go in 2001 but had a last-minute commitment come up; I finally went for the first time as a fan in 2003 and it was a water-logged deluge that delayed the race and forced us to go home early; finally in 2007, the first race I’d actually covered on site after turning 18, as we know, it was the final straw until next year.

But knowing the sound was real yesterday morning – hearing the pop of the gears on downshifts into Turn 14 and the hard acceleration up the hill out of the final corner – made the reality that this wasn’t a dream, wasn’t a facade, actually sink in.

Heading to pit lane for the first time, there were fans lining the catch fencing, and a number of familiar faces on the pit lane side of the wall as you’d expect.

Watching Simon Pagenaud light it up upon leaving pit lane was great. People can say “oh, these aren’t the Panoz DP01s,” and they’re right… they’re not.

They’re approximately 12 freaking mph faster in the corners than the beloved, hallowed 1,000-horsepower beasts that shaped the face of the earth and were speed demons in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

And if, as Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull figures is possible, that 1:39.8 mark set by Dario Franchitti in 2000 could fall next June.

Driver comments yesterday said it all about how much this place means to them.

“I think it’s real important to be here,” said Team Penske’s Will Power. “There’s a lot of history here. I think it’s important to carry that on. The Indy 500, we have Milwaukee, we have Long Beach… this is a no-brainer in terms of history for how long we’ve been racing.”

“It was awesome, man. Good to be back,” added Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “You forget how damn fast it is in these cars. It’s very quick. Way quicker than I remember the Champ Car being on cornering side. It’s cool. Gonna be a lot of fun.”

From fellow young American Josef Newgarden (visor cam, done by INDYCAR, linked below): “Man I love this place. It’s awesome. It’s first time I’ve driven anything with power and grip. It’s incredible. It’s so fast. It’s all high speed corners. Yes some low speed corners. But every corner is fast. High commitment, very flowy track. You can’t mess up the rhythm. I like that it’s penalizing. You have to be precise. It’s just a damn cool track.”

Tony Kanaan sums it up nicely: “If you follow every single interview that I’ve done, when people ask me; if you could choose three or four tracks to come back, Elkhart was always one on my list.”

Forget the times that were turned (Dixon estimated a 1:43.0 was his best, which ultimately led the days running).

Just appreciate the moment.

The cars hauling ass through the trees, on the brakes, and accelerating again, just sounded better.

The lines at The Gearbox for food were 20 to 25 people deep, as fans awaited their double brats and potatoes.

The grounds, while not packed, certainly had a decent number of folks around the 4.048-mile facility – Turn 5 in particular was a hot spot.

Tuesday’s test laid the groundwork for a successful event next June 23-26, when not just IndyCar, but the Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTS ranks join the party.

Unlike in August, this was the re-introduction IndyCar at Road America truly deserved, as the first chapter in the renewed love story of a series and its cars, to a facility and its fans.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.