IndyCar: KOHLER Grand Prix recap

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Now in its third year since being resurrected in 2016, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual trek to Road America has quickly become one of its most popular events outside of the Indianapolis 500.

Crowds in 2016 and 2017 were quite strong, and the 2018 crowd seemed to be even better by all accounts. And drivers such as Graham Rahal took notice, as evidenced by the below tweet:

Road America has always been one of the genuinely great road courses in the entire world, and its return to the schedule was always long overdue, and the reception they’ve had in the years since returning is evidence of that.

What’s more, it’s produced its share of gripping storylines, and Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix was no different.

A look back at major storylines from the weekend at Road America is below.

Newgarden Rights the Ship

Josef Newgarden celebrates his victory at Road America. Photo: IndyCar

Josef Newgarden may not have been hitting the panic button ahead of Road America, but he most certainly needed some momentum after a string of poor results.

He entered the month of May leading the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings, but finishes of 11th, eighth, ninth, 15th, and 13th over the next five races dropped him to fifth in the championship, 68 points behind leader Scott Dixon.

Newgarden needed to put a stop to the cold streak, and heading to Road America seemed to be a perfect place to do it – Newgarden is on the record as naming Road America as maybe his favorite race track.

“I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there,” he said ahead of the weekend.

And that love affair was on display all weekend. Newgarden was fastest in every session except for one (Saturday practice, which Robert Wickens led) – he was fastest on Friday, took the pole on Saturday, and led all but two laps on Sunday on his way to taking an authoritative victory.

In short, Newgarden was in perfect form.

“It feels really good to get this day over with, the race for sure, not because you want the weekend to be over –  it’s been an amazing weekend, great fan turnout, incredible atmosphere. I took my time on the cool-down lap because of how packed the place was. I wanted to kind of enjoy it because it was just an amazing atmosphere,” Newgarden explained afterward.

And although from the outside it appeared that Newgarden needed a win to turn things around, he revealed that he wasn’t feeling much pressure.

“No concern. Just ready to go win. That’s what I thought,” Newgarden said of his mindset entering the weekend.

He added, “We just came here trying to get back on track. I think we had pace right from the beginning, which really helped. Then it was just a matter of managing it, making it a normal weekend. We sealed it off nicely a the end. No reservations coming in, just ready to go ahead it going again.”

Newgarden now sits fourth in the championship, 50 points behind Dixon for the lead.

Momentum Beginning to Slip Away from Power

Will Power’s KOHLER Grand Prix never got going. Photo: IndyCar

While Newgarden was turning things around in Road America, his Team Penske stablemate Will Power suffered a second consecutive DNF in a race that never really got going for him.

Power started second, but was in trouble from the outset – an apparent header problem bogged him down when the green flag waved and he dropped like a rock through the field before heading for the pits at the end of Lap 1.

While his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team tried making repairs to get him back out, the problem quickly resurfaced, and Power and co. were out of the running.

It also marks Power’s fourth DNF of the year, a troubling figure given that the season is only ten races old, and leaves him 65 points behind Dixon in the championship – Power currently sits fifth in the standings.

“It is unbelievable the amount of DNFs I have had this season,” Power lamented. “I have never had this many in my career in such a short period of time. Yep, that’s racing. Goes one way and then the other. As quickly as it is down, it can swing the other way quickly in a good way. When I think about it, we came into the Month of May, I think, fifth in points and left as the leader, so it can change, man.”

Power is more than capable of bouncing back, and he has the speed and experience to do so. But, if he falls short of a title this year, the run of DNFs in the first half of the year may leave him kicking himself.

Rossi Ruffles Some Feathers

Alexander Rossi was involved in some intense battles in the KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi has developed a reputation for an aggressive driving style that has earned him plaudits for much of the year – see his performances at ISM Raceway, the Indianapolis 500, and Texas Motor Speedway – but Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix saw him earn the ire of a couple drivers, chiefly Robert Wickens and Takuma Sato, for his aggressive style.

On Lap 1, Rossi battled hard with Wickens inside the top five, and the 2016 Indy 500 winner pushed the standout rookie wide exiting Turn 6 – fans will also remember that these two infamously came together in the final laps of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March.

Wickens said of their battle, “I made a move on Rossi in Turn 5, and suddenly I was P3. I thought it was all happy days from there, but Alex got back on the inside of me in Turn 6 – I gave him space, he pushed me off, and I fell back to sixth.”

Later in the race, he did the same thing in the same corner during a battle with Sato.

Sato levied a bit of criticism Rossi’s way, highlighting the combative nature of their incident.

“In high-level, professional racing, you shouldn’t really be bumping each other,” Sato asserted. “Obviously, I gave (Rossi) room enough and he came inside. He just couldn’t stop and (he) came into me and bumped me. He did exactly the same thing to Wickens at the start and I’m surprised the stewards didn’t take action. I’m OK with side-by-side, just don’t touch me.”

Rossi ultimately suffered suspension troubles when the left-front camber shims of his No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Honda came loose, relegating him to a 16th-place finish.

Misc.

  • Spencer Pigot earned a much-needed eighth place effort in his No. 20 Direct Supply Chevrolet. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver had only one top 10 entering Sunday’s race (10th in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit) and needed a solid, clean day at Road America, which he got. Pigot will look to build on this in the second half of the season.
  • Sebastien Bourdais saw another chance at a podium go by the wayside due to circumstances beyond his control, as a gear selector issue forced an early pit stop, and he never recovered. He eventually finished 13th.
  • Alfonso Celis Jr. had a problematic weekend in his IndyCar debut – he crashed in Friday practice and was the slowest qualifier in the field. However, he drove a clean race on Sunday and gained valuable experience in the process. It may not look it, but finishing 20th with an incident-free race should go in the books as “Mission: accomplished” for the Mexican driver.

The Verizon IndyCar Series takes a week off before heading to the Iowa Speedway for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 (July 8, NBCSN).

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.