Road America Preview
There was just something about the expansive 4.048 mile, 14-turn road course that drew my attention the first time I ever saw it on television. The multiple passing zones, the long straightaways, the sharp turns and the elevation changes have always held my attention.
I can remember watching the 1991 race held in late September. The summer of 1991 was excessively hot and brutal in Tennessee. It was still as hot in late September as it was in July. As I sat on my couch to watch the CART race at Road America and to escape the sweltering heat, it was not lost on me how most people on television were wearing sweatshirts and windbreakers. It was a cloudy day and the leaves already had a tinge of orange in them. The fall-like weather at Road America looked like a Godsend to me. The excellent racing, the cool weather and the beautiful layout combined to create a scene where I said to myself – “I will go to a race there, before I die”.
A few life disruptions just a few years later made that goal an impossibility for a decade or so. By the time my life had stabilized to where it would be possible to go to Road America, there was no longer any open-wheel racing taking place. When I heard last summer that the Verizon IndyCar Series would be returning to Road America – we started making our plans.
CART first started racing at Road America in 1982, when the not-so-famous Héctor Rebaque collected his first and only CART win driving for Gerald Forsythe. Aside from that relatively anonymous winner, some of the most famous names in racing have taken the top step of the podium at Road America. Names like Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Zanardi and Dario Franchitti have all seen victory lane there.
Many drivers in this weekend’s starting field have raced at Road America, either in CART and/or Champ Car, but only one has won – Sébastien Bourdais, when he won Champ Car’s last race there in 2007.
For years, when asked which track the drivers would prefer the series add to the schedule – the answer was invariably Road America. I’ve heard that most drivers consider it to be the most like the European circuits than any other American track. What that means, I’m not really sure. Personally, from what I’ve seen on television; it reminds me of Spa-Francorchamps – home of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Road America was built in 1955 in the tiny little village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It is located about twenty miles west of Sheboygan, where Susan and I are staying. We arrived in Sheboygan late yesterday afternoon after an uneventful nine and a half hour drive from Nashville, but did not venture out to the track. From what I can tell; the track is in the middle of nowhere, which makes it very appealing to me.
Everyone in racing I have talked to says we will absolutely love it at Road America. I keep hearing how good the food is there. I love cheese, beer and bratwurst (not necessarily in that order), so I should be in heaven this weekend. If our meal last night is any indication, I am in for a feeding frenzy for the next few days. We ate at The Duke of Devon Pub in Sheboygan, down on the riverfront. It was not typical Wisconsin fare, but more of English pub food. It was good, nonetheless.
One surprise was the temperature. A cold front went through here on Wednesday night. We left behind weather in Nashville that was supposed to hit 98-degrees yesterday. It was already 86 when we woke up at 4:30 to prepare to hit the road. We could see the temperature readout on the car dropping the further north we got. By the time we reached Sheboygan at 5:00 pm; it was cloudy, breezy and 66-degrees. I quickly put on jeans instead of my shorts and donned a jacket for the night out. My body wasn’t used to such chilly conditions. It is supposed to warm up through the weekend and be about 83-degrees on Sunday.
Aside from the food, I’m also looking forward to getting together with friends of this site and meeting some of you for the first time – especially longtime reader, Ron Ford. Maybe I can coerce Ron into posing for a picture so we can all get to finally meet him. Others have let me know they will be attending this weekend. If you spot us wandering about the grounds, please flag us down.
After Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix, Susan and I are headed across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and over to Traverse City, Michigan for some rest and relaxation before heading south to a one-night stop in, you guessed it – Indianapolis. We’ll squeeze in one more visit to the track and some of our usual haunts before heading home. Don’t be looking for any posts here after Monday. I’ll be taking a break from here as well, until after the Fourth.
But we will be posting here all through the race weekend, reporting on practices, qualifying and our own thoughts and opinions of this massive facility – with photos. As always, for more photos and frequent commentary – follow us on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog and @MrsOilpressure.
As for this weekend’s race, I have no idea who would be favored. With the long straightaways, will Honda be favored? Do the elevation changes favor Chevy teams? Which power supply will do better with the multitude of ninety-degree turns?
Logic would point to either points leader Simon Pagenaud to continue his road course magic, or his fellow countryman Bourdais – who is the only Road America winner in the field and is fresh off an emotional victory in his hometown of Le Mans just last weekend. Both of those drivers have Chevy power in their cars.
For whatever reason, I’m thinking Honda may bring the better package to Road America. With a win at Indianapolis and two poles in the last two ovals, Honda has proven that they’ve gotten their act together on the ovals. This weekend, they can regain their credibility on road courses.
I am going to go with the only Honda driver in the field that has stood on the podium at Road America – Graham Rahal. It was about this point last year that Rahal caught fire. I think he will have a good second half of the season and it will start with an American winning at Road America in the Kohler Grand Prix.
Please check back here later this morning for the first of our many updates throughout the day and weekend.