Alfonso Celis Jr.

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – It certainly wasn’t the opening day Alfonso Celis Jr. was hoping for in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Making his debut this weekend in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, Celis brought out the only red-flag stoppage during two practice sessions on Friday when he took a wild ride off course in the No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet. Celis went off track in the high-speed Kettle Bottoms area of the 4.014-mile permanent road course, bouncing through the grass and going airborne briefly before the car settled back onto the ground and slid rearward into a tire barrier in Turn 12.

Celis was not injured but the rear wing was knocked off the car in the impact and was finished for the session.

"Today was going pretty well until the last practice,” said Celis, who completed just 17 laps on the day and wound up last among the 23 drivers on the combined timesheet. “The day started off well for us. I was happy with the balance and I am still happy with the balance. We worked on some changes and I was happy with the direction we were going in.

“The second practice was going pretty good up until my incident. It is really unfortunate we have now lost this track time, but we will work hard and bounce back for (Saturday)."

Celis, 21, was previously a Formula One test driver and made his Indy Lights debut for Juncos Racing at Barber Motorsports Park in April. He’ll have a final opportunity to turn important laps in the final practice at noon ET Saturday ahead of Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 4 p.m.

INDYCAR won’t return to ISM Raceway in2019

ISM Raceway will not be a venue on the 2019 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, the track and INDYCAR announced on Friday. The series has raced at the mile oval outside Phoenix 64 times since it opened in 1964 – including its most recent run of races from 2016-18.

INDYCAR issued the following statement on the decision:

“INDYCAR has enjoyed its time racing at ISM Raceway, but attendance in the past three years has been disappointing despite considerable investment from both sides. Track president Bryan Sperber and his team have been terrific partners and are developing a beautiful facility, and INDYCAR will reconnect with them when conditions are right for both parties. Meanwhile, INDYCAR is moving forward with building a terrific schedule for the 2019 season.”

Sperber agreed that both parties will seek a way for the Verizon IndyCar Series to race at the track again. ISM Raceway is among 12 racetracks operated by International Speedway Corporation.

“We have enjoyed having INDYCAR at our venue for the full three years of our agreement,” Sperber said. “The series officials and teams have been tremendous partners. INDYCAR will not be on our schedule in 2019, we’re currently taking a pause to review schedule options for the future. INDYCAR is currently discussing with ISC other potential venues and opportunities for next year. We’d like INDYCAR to be on our calendar in the coming years, and we will work with INDYCAR to find a date that will help deliver a successful event.”

Remembering Wheldon on his 40th birthday

Many in the INDYCAR paddock took time Friday to remember Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who died in a 2011 crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon would have turned 40 on Friday.

Former teammate Tony Kanaan smiled when he thought of his close friend and the party that would have taken place at Road America to honor Wheldon on his notable birthday.

“For sure, it would have been a big party – especially being he is turning 40,” Kanaan said. “Trust me, we would be rocking tonight at the racetrack and the camping ground.

“I always remember him with a lot of joy. I think that’s how he wanted to be remembered. I said that many years ago when he passed. I had my time to grieve, to get over, and then after that I needed it to be happy because that’s what he wanted us to be.

“We’ll celebrate for him,” Kanaan added. “I’m pretty sure he’s celebrating up there with a lot of his buddies as well.”