Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

Event Preview: The Kohler Grand Prix at Road America

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will make their much-anticipated debut at Road America for the Kohler Grand Prix, continuing the 2016 season. The event is slated for June 23-26, 2016.

About the Race

The Kohler Grand Prix is round nine of sixteen for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016.  It is, however, the tenth race start, with Texas having been rained out, and its completion slated for August. The event is held on a permanent road course, one of six such races on the calendar. This is a new event for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The race will consist of 50 laps for a total race distance of 202.4 miles. Standard road course qualifying procedures will apply.

Support races include action from the Pirelli World Challenge, the Pro Mazda Series, US F2000 and the Indy Lights Series.

About the Track

Road America is a 4.048 mile paved road course that features 14 turns. The course features many elevation changes as it winds around grassy hillsides and through wooded areas. The Verizon IndyCars are expected to top 200 mph on the long front straightaway.  With areas named Thunder Valley, The Kink, and the Carousel, the facility is largely regarded as the finest road racing course in North America.

In addition to the road course, there is also a karting facility on the grounds, a family fun-zone complete with a zip line, and plenty of room for camping. All tickets are general admission, offering spectators the chance to move about the grounds that have the capacity to accommodate 150,000 fans.

Located on 640 acres in Elkhart Lake, just northwest of Sheboygan, WI, the facility has been in operation since 1955. The track location is rather remote, although it lies midway between the large population centers of Green Bay and Milwaukee. The track complex is owned wholly by Road America, Inc. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series, Road America also plays host to NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, the SCCA Trans-Am Series, the IMSA Weathertech Series as well as several club racing, motorcycle, and vintage events.

Event History

While the Verizon Indycar Series has never raced at Road America, the track first appeared on the schedule for the CART Series in 1982. The event was a driver and fan favorite and it remained on the schedule through CART’s 2004 sale to OWRS/ChampCar.

The event nearly disappeared in 2003 following a widely publicized series of lawsuits between the track and the sanctioning body over the payment of fees. Mario Andretti stepped in, successfully mediating the dispute in order to save the event.

Without a promoter, the track was left off of the schedule in 2005, but returned in 2006. Road America was one of the tracks that fell by the wayside after 2007 when OWRS was absorbed by IndyCar.

Hector Rebaque, a relatively unknown F1 privateer from Mexico, won the first CART race, and it stands as his one and only series win. The record for most wins is shared by three drivers with Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Michael Andretti winning three times apiece. Mario Andretti has two additional wins at the circuit in SCCA F5000 in 1974 and 1975.

The list of Road America winners contains many familiar names like Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Cristiano da Matta, Dario Franchitti, and Jacques Villeneuve. As a matter of fact, two men named Jacques Villeneuve have won at Road America. The 1995 Indy 500 winner took back-to-back wins in 1994 and 1995 on the course where his Uncle Jacques had claimed a victory in 1985.

One of the names you won’t find on the list of winners is Unser. The Unser family seems to be snake-bitten at Road America in a similar fashion that the Andretti’s are ‘cursed’ at Indianapolis. Big Al was leading in 1982 when his fuel tank ran dry on the final lap. Al Jr crashed while leading in both 1985 and 1986, ran out of fuel in 1988, and was passed on the penultimate lap in 1991. He seemed headed for a certain victory in 1996 when his engine expired in a cloud of smoke just two turns short of the checkers.

The Verizon IndyCar Series held an open test at the course during the 2015-16 off-season, and was met with high praise from the drivers and teams.

About the Field

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed top-to-bottom lineups we have seen in years.

22 drivers will take the green in Road America. There may be one substitute driver on the grid, as J.R. Hildebrand will be filling in for Josef Newgarden in the ECR Chevrolet if necessary. Newgarden is recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

The only driver entered that has won at the track is Sebastien Bourdais who took a victory at the final Road America ChampCar event in 2007.  Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Will Power and Helio Castroneves have all competed on the circuit during their CART or ChampCar days, but for the rest of the field, it will be their first race at Road America in an IndyCar.

Seventeen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and six are Indy 500 winners. Four of the drivers will be contending for rookie of the year honors: Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly, Max Chilton, and Spencer Pigot.

Drivers in the series represent ten different countries around the globe, making it a truly international field.

About the Series

The current Verizon IndyCar Series was born out of the Indy Racing League, which absorbed the rival ChampCar World Series in 2008. In the years since the reunification, the series has seen slow, but steady growth.

Over the past several seasons the racing produced by the series has been second to none, and the Championship battle has gone down to the final race.

Without the benefit of a gimmick like the Chase, the Verizon IndyCar Series has produced enough close racing and drama to satisfy the racing fan.

The positive growth in recent years bodes well for the Series that is owned by Hulman and Company. The centerpiece of the series is the Indianapolis 500, which celebrated its historic 100th running this season.

Teams in the series use a common chassis, the Dallara DW-12, named in honor of the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the development testing of the car. The chassis has aerodynamic components that differ according to the engine manufacturer.

Chevrolet and Honda are the engine partners for the Series with each supplying a 2.2 Liter V-6 turbocharged engine to the teams that are capable of producing over 700 hp at 12200 rpm. All cars in the series run Firestone Firehawk tires.

Where and When to Watch

Tickets for the Kohler Grand Prix can be purchased here. Open seating tickets cost $60.00 for a race-day admission and  $140.00 for a weekend ticket. Single day tickets are $20.00 for Thursday, $30.00 Friday, and $50.00 for Saturday.

Television coverage will be provided by NBC-SN. Practice will be televised Friday at 12:00 noon EST, with qualifying being shown Saturday at 5:30 pm EST.  Race coverage will begin at 12:30 pm EST on Sunday.

Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Timing and scoring can be found at www.indycar.com and fans can keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar Mobile app provided by Verizon Communications.

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,

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