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.
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.
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.