Photo: IndyCar

What to Watch For: IndyCar at Road America (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Leave a comment

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – IndyCar is set for its triumphant return to Road America today, with the KOHLER Grand Prix (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) finally occurring after a long buildup.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to watch for ahead of the ninth race of the season, which is labeled as Round 10 owing to the postponed Texas race being moved to August 27.

TIRES, TIRES, TIRES

Usually it’s fuel strategy that is the telltale sign of a race but at Road America it’s likely to be tire strategy, with fall-off evident after five or six laps and not nearly that big a delta between Firestone’s red alternate softer compounds and the black sidewall primary tires.

Say some of the drivers:

Scott Dixon: “I think with the tires, it’s hard to know. It seems the blacks maybe go off a little bit. I haven’t experienced any real degradation with the reds yet, so the reds could be the hot tire to have. But everybody is a little bit different, but I think that the biggest thing is there’s so many unknowns because for everyone here it’s a new tire and new configuration.”

Will Power: “It’s going to be interesting. Actually the compounds are pretty close, the red and blacks, they’re only one step away from each other. I don’t think you’re going to see a huge gain on reds.

“It will be more interesting in the race because you’re seeing cords really early in the front tires, you know, almost after like nine laps or something. That’s going to be more controlling that, especially on the reds because they’re a softer compound.

Graham Rahal: “Like Will said, the blacks definitely show cords pretty quick in the run. They did at the test, too. When I was in the brake test, I was doing long runs, 14 or 15 laps over a fuel stint. They were hanging in there pretty good.

“Like Will said, it’s going to be tricky. We don’t know totally what it’s going to be like. It’s a risk, even to run reds in warmup, if they are magically better, grippier and more consistent, then you don’t want to use them.

“We’ll see. The tire deg seems to be pretty high from your first couple laps until lap five or six.

STRATEGIES

A definite three-stop race over 50 laps, the question that could emerge is whether anyone gambles to go to four stops, and tries to run harder, faster, to burn off the tires.

It’d need to be someone back in the field, a bit, to try it – but it wouldn’t surprise at all to see someone attempt to work an off-sequence strategy to perfection.

A GREEN TRACK

With an overnight into morning storm sweeping through the track, it’ll have dried the track of any rubber laid down from the last couple days. Still, there will be Cooper Tires rubber (Indy Lights) and Pirelli rubber (Pirelli World Challenge) set to be on course before IndyCar’s Firestones return later on.

PENSKE/GANASSI VS. THE FIELD

With drivers in six of the top seven positions, IndyCar’s proverbial powerhouse teams are poised to capture IndyCar’s Road America. It’s Team Penske in spots 1, 4 and 5 with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams in spots 2, 3 and 7. Only Charlie Kimball (P11) and Juan Pablo Montoya (P14) are outside the top seven from these two team’s proverbial four-packs.

If it’s a straightforward race with no crazy yellows or interesting strategy plays, you will likely see two or three drivers from these two teams on the podium. Throw a lottery of a yellow out there and things could get interesting.

THE JOSEF STORY

Josef Newgarden has been the big story of the weekend given his health and recovery from his collarbone and hand injuries sustained at Texas Motor Speedway.

Unfortunately a qualifying error where he lost control off the Carousel meant he caused a red flag and will start 20th.

How he recovers will be an interesting story on Sunday, but the fact he is racing at all speaks volumes to his dedication and determination.

Penske Acura duo of Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves win third straight

Ricky Taylor Helio Castroneves
IMSA
Leave a comment

Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves made it three consecutive victories in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, winning Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to close in on the points lead in the DPi class.

After Castroneves started on the pole position in No. 7 Acura, Taylor took the checkered flag by 0.607 seconds ahead of Felipe Nasr’s No. 31 Cadillac.

Aside from being three victories in a row for Castroneves and Taylor (who also won at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta), it was the third consecutive victory for Team Penske at Mid-Ohio, which is the home racetrack for Acura.

Penske is in its final season with Acura, which announced this week that it’ll field DPi cars with Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing next season.

“I’m just proud,” Taylor told NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch. “Helio did an amazing job at the start, kept his cool. It’s not easy starting on the outside, but he settled in, picked people off and put us in a position to jump the 31 on a stop.

“Then I felt like we were the strongest car on track when we had new tires. It was a real team effort.”

Helio Castroneves picked up Ricky Taylor and carried him several yards down the pit lane in celebration.

Helio Castroneves carries Ricky Taylor away from their No. 7 Acura while celebrating their victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (IMSA).

“This guy, I’m so proud of him,” said Castroneves, who will be returning to the NTT IndyCar Series next weekend. “The entire Team Penske, Acura, it’s a team, and today it was all about being cool.

“Last year, I had a little issue and lost my cool at the start of the race, and we threw the race away, so this time, if something happens, I know we’re going to come back, and here we are in victory circle.”

With three races remaining this season for the premier class, Castroneves and Taylor have moved to third in the standings, five points behind Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe, who finished third in the No. 10 Cadillac at Mid-Ohio.

Ranked three points behind in second is Pipo Derani, who is Nasr’s teammate.

The championship race could have been tighter as Acura Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya passed van der Zande for third after the cars banged together a few times with 10 minutes remaining.

But Montoya spun off course a few minutes later in Turn 1 and handed a podium finish back to the Wayne Taylor Racing car.

“Bashy, bashy right there,” van der Zande said. “Old school NASCAR racing, I guess. I’m not so used to that. He was very aggressive but also very very fast. It was a fantastic race for us.”

The final three races will be held at Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca and Sebring.

“It was a great third place with a lot of pressure from Montoya and Mazda and everyone really,” Briscoe said. “We’ll take the points and keep pushing. It’s so close. Can’t think too far ahead, but we’d love to get another win or two to finish out the season. There’s some really big races coming up, and this team tends to excel in the long races, so we’re looking forward to it.”

In other divisions at Mid-Ohio:

–Corvette Racing scored its first victory at the track in eight years as the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia won from the pole position. Teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner finished second in a class that featured only four cars because of the pullout of Porsche.

It was the fourth victory this season for the No. 3 and the fifth for Corvette, which also is 1-2 in the points standings with the No. 3 ahead by 17 points.

“It was a perfect weekend for our Corvette,” Taylor told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “The car rolled off the truck really well. This was one of the tracks where we never tested at, so the preparation by the team really set us up well. … We’ve been so strong on pace and reliability.”

Said Garcia: “It’s a shame that Porsche is not here as we want them back for sure. It was a brilliant job by everyone. Jordan did a fantastic job all day long, getting on pole and then getting a solid lead even if there were a ton of yellows. The C8.R worked perfectly again today.”

–The No. 14 Lexus of AIM Vasser Sullivan won in the GTD class, moving drivers Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth to the points lead. With four races remaining, Telitz trails the No. 86 Acura by two points, and Hawksworth is four points behind.