Starting Lineup (including tire choice)
NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are gearing up for one of the most picturesque, driver-centric racetracks in the country: Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
These athletes and the jubilant crowd are in for an interesting day of on-track action as weather could play a big factor in today’s 55-lap race. When the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR takes the green flag at 12:45 p.m. (ET), the chance of rain is just 3 percent. But as the race goes on, the chances of rain get higher. At 2 p.m. (ET), the chance of rain jumps to 24 percent, and at 3 p.m. 59 percent, according to Weather.com.
Firestone Racing is supplying five sets of rain “gray” tires for use in today’s race, if needed. These tires use a grooved tread pattern that improves grip and control, preventing hydroplaning. The decision of if and when to take rain tires, and who can manhandle these machines in wet conditions the best, could throw an interesting wrench into this race.
You can catch the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at noon (ET), live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network. You can listen to radio broadcasts live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205, INDYCAR.com, and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.
Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action.
A Champion’s Racetrack
Race drivers love this 14-turn, 4.014-mile permanent road course because its fast straightaways, flowing corners and elevation changes challenge the world’s best. It’s also a track that requires perfect laps. The slightest mistake will penalize a driver, even a simple missed corner entry or wide corner exit.
That’s why only the best tend to succeed at Road America. In 31 INDYCAR SERIES races at Road America, 25 times the winner was a series champion or a future champion. Just look at some of the winners from this circuit:
Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Scott Dixon, Danny Sullivan, Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, Cristiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power and Josef Newgarden.
Seven times the Road America winner has gone on to win the Astor Challenge Cup in the same season: Mario Andretti in 1984, Michael Andretti in 1991, Villeneuve in 1995, Zanardi in 1997, da Matta in 2002, Bourdais in 2007 and Dixon in 2020.
Since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned to Road America after a brief hiatus in 2016, the series has made six starts at the track, and all but two have been won by series champions: 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi in 2019 and Felix Rosenqvist in Race 2 of last year’s doubleheader.
There are six former series champions in the field this weekend in Newgarden, Dixon, Power, Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay. You should expect all these drivers to contend for the win today.
Start Up Front for Success
Qualifying is of the utmost importance at Road America, and while it doesn’t always result in a win, it always results in success.
Eight drivers have won at Road America from the pole in 10 races: Mario Andretti (1983, 1984, 1987), Sullivan (1989), Tracy (1993), Villeneuve (1995), Junqueira (2003), Bourdais (2007), Power (2016) and Newgarden (2018).
While a pole sitter hasn’t won at Road America since 2018, the first-place starter has still enjoyed success recently, specifically in 2020’s doubleheader weekend.
In Race 1, NTT P1 Award winner Newgarden led a race-high 25 laps before settling for a 14th-place finish. The following day, Pato O’Ward backed up his first career NTT P1 Award by leading a race-high 43 laps and finishing second.
In the last 10 INDYCAR SERIES races at Road America, only once has the winner started outside the top 10: Alex Tagliani started 13th in his 2004 win. And only two more times in that span has the winner started outside the top five: Dixon and Rosenqvist in 2020.
So, if you’re looking for a group of drivers to put in your INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge Driven by Firestone team, it would be risky to look outside the top five starters of Newgarden, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey, Power and Alex Palou.
Who Can Best Save Their Stuff?
The battle within the battle today at Road America will be with the Firestone Firehawk race tires.
When do drivers opt for the primary “black” tires that have more durability over a long run, and when will they take on the alternate “red” tires that are grippier and provide more speed over the short run?
The top eight drivers on the starting grid, including NTT P1 Award winner, are starting on alternate tires. INDYCAR rules mandate that every driver must spend at least one stint on each compound of tire in a race.
This battle is at the forefront of everyone’s minds this weekend, as that was the strategy that lost Newgarden Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit last weekend. Newgarden attempted to push his “reds” farther than they could go in the final stint, and O’Ward used his “blacks” to pass Newgarden with just three laps remaining.
It was a reverse of what happened in this race last year: O’Ward attempted to make his alternate tires go the distance in a dominant performance in Race 2 of Road America’s doubleheader. Meanwhile, Rosenqvist caught O’Ward on primary tires and worked his way past with two laps to go.
Tire degradation has been the phrase of the weekend, as both primary and alternate tires are experiencing fall-off that challenges the world’s best drivers. The longer drivers go on tires, the more worn they become and the harder it is to drive.
It means these athletes are going to have to work overtime today as they fight grip levels all day long, but it’s great news for the race fans in attendance and those watching at home, as it will be a great show. The only question is, how will the potential rain impact that?