Photo: Joe Skibinksi: INDYCAR

Event Preview: The KOHLER Grand Prix

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will return to Road America for the KOHLER Grand Prix, continuing the 2017 season. The event is slated for June 23-25, 2017.

About the Race

The KOHLER Grand Prix is round ten of seventeen for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.  The event is held on a permanent road course, one of six such races on the calendar. This will be the second race at Road America for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The race will consist of 55 laps for a total race distance of 222.64 miles. Standard road course qualifying procedures will apply. The defending race winner is Team Penske’s Will Power.

Support races include action from the Pirelli World Cup, Pro Mazda Series, US F2000, the Mazda MX-5 Cup and the Indy Lights Series.

About the Track

Road America is a 4.048 mile paved road course that features 14 turns and 176 feet of elevation changes. The course winds around grassy hillsides and through wooded areas. The long straightaways will see the IndyCars top 200 mph before braking. 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. Road America is also home to some of the best track concessions you will ever find, as the intoxicating smell of grilling bratwurst, Italian sausage, and half-pound hamburgers permeates the air.

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 club racing meetings, private tests, motorcycle races, vintage races, and several non-automotive events.

Event History

While the Verizon Indycar Series has only raced at Road America once, the track has a rich history of open-wheel racing that dates back to 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.

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 event was in jeopardy of being cancelled 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. In 2008, when OWRS was absorbed by IndyCar, the Road America was one of several former ChampCar venues that fell by the wayside.

After a long absence of open wheel cars, the much-anticipated announcement was made that the Verizon IndyCar Series would debut at Road America in 2016. The event was a smashing success with the track management estimating that the crowd was every bit as big as CART’s heyday in the 1990s.

About the Field

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed, top-to-bottom lineups in all of racing.

21 drivers will take the green flag in Elkhart Lake. Will Power is the only former winner in the field.

Joining the series regulars will be Esteban Gutierrez who will be substituting for the injured Sebastein Bourdais in the Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Guiterrez also ran for the team in Detroit and will run the remainder of the season, making him eligible for the Rookie of the Year award.

Schmidt Peterson driver, Mikhail Aleshin, has his status in doubt for the weekend as he is working on Visa and immigration issues that are preventing him for entering the United States after traveling to LeMans France.  Canadian Robert Wickens is on hand to practice, and perhaps race in Aleshin’s place if necessary.

The reigning Series Champion is Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske. Pagenaud, who hails from Poitiers, France, is in his third season with Team Penske, and 2016 marked his first series title. The current points leader is Scott Dixon, who is looking to add a fifth season championship to his resume.

Fourteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, five have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and six are Indy 500 winners including Takuma Sato, who won the 101st running two weeks ago.

Drivers in the series represent thirteen 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 steady growth in attendance and television ratings.

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 ran for the 101st time in May. Mark Miles is the Chief Executive of Hulman and Company, and Jay Frye is the President of Competition and Operations for the Verizon Indycar Series.

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. The 2017 rules called for a freeze on aero-kit development, in anticipation of a common aero package for 2018.

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. Pricing ranges from $80.00 for a one-day Sunday ticket to $170.00 for a weekend ticket. Ticket pricing includes garage access and parking. Race fans under 16 are free with a paying adult.

Qualifying and Race Day Television coverage will be provided by NBC-SN. The race will be shown live at 1:00 PM EST on Sunday. Coverage of practice can also be found streaming on the Verizon IndyCar Series You Tube Channel, Facebook Page or at

Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Fans can also 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,