After a nine-year hiatus, North American open wheel racing returns to the open roads of Wisconsin and the four-mile Road America circuit for Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix. Times have certainly changed in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the circuit has seen minute changes in its scenery. For instance, the famous Bill Mitchell Bridge at turn 13 is gone, however another bridge is in its place entering the all important Carousel section. A new race winner will be likely be crowned as only one former winner will be present on the 22-car grid on Sunday.
However, one of the retired former winners of course is back as a team owner with four chances to win on Sunday. Although a victory for Michael Andretti’s son Marco would be a very popular one, the best shot for an Andretti Autosport victory could very well come from either Ryan Hunter-Reay or Carlos Munoz. Hunter-Reay has had two previous runs at Elkhart Lake, with top ten finishes in each event. Munoz’s all out driving style also could be useful here likewise, as the long straightaways and tight corners provide multiple opportunities to gain ground.
Team Penske is also worth a look, despite the fact that the Captain has only three victories at this venue. Helio Castroneves is another current full time pilot with multiple starts at Road America and has had mixed success in four attempts. After failing to finish in his first two tries, Castroneves like Hunter-Reay has posted two top ten efforts in his last two efforts, albeit with the last race run coming in 2001. Of course, Castroneves will have to outrun current championship leader Simon Pagenaud and multiple road race winner Will Power to get all the way to the top step of the podium this time around.
Chip Ganassi Racing, fresh off a debut win this past weekend at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, returns to Road America looking to claim its third win at the four-mile layout. Two of its three drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan have open wheel experience in Wisconsin road racing, the New Zealander finished fourth here as a rookie in 2001, while TK has two fourth place results at Road America in 1998 and 2002.
The most recent winner from nine years ago also returns in the form of Sebastien Bourdais, now with KVSH Racing. Bourdais led all but two laps in earning the race win in 2007, after also coming close in both 2004 and 2006. The Frenchman has enjoyed two straight winning weekends having claimed the first leg of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit three weeks ago and last weekend across the Atlantic Ocean in France, he co-drove a Ford GT to the GTE-Pro class win at the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans. Currently 14th in the current IndyCar Series points table, a win could vault Bourdais into the top ten with just seven races remaining after the Kohler Grand Prix.
Driver health is also a hot topic of concern entering the Kohler Grand Prix weekend, as the question of whether or not Josef Newgarden will return to action is up in the air. Newgarden was the victim of a savage crash two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway suffering shoulder and wrist injuries. However, the Tennessee-native is hopeful of being cleared to compete at Elkhart Lake. If Verizon IndyCar Series officials do not give him the go-ahead, J.R. Hildebrand will takeover the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet ride for Ed Carpenter Racing, which will once again feature two cars as Spencer Pigot will drive the No. 20 Chevrolet.
Qualifying could greatly influence the way the race plays out on Sunday, however with the long lap nature of Road America a few fuel mileage gambles could yet be rewarded or punished come race day.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for continued coverage of IndyCar’s return to Road America.