IndyCar: KOHLER Grand Prix recap

Photo: IndyCar

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.


  • 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).


After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”