Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 2023 Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

A brand new era for Road America will commence this weekend as the popular, picturesque road course will have a different look compared to last year.

It’ll mark the first time INDYCAR will run in Elkhart under the freshly repaved surface, similar to what they’ll encounter in the finale at Laguna Seca in September. Therefore, some unknowns heading into the eighth round of the championship trail.

One driver that won’t make the trip to Wisconsin is Conor Daly, who after two-plus seasons at Ed Carpenter Racing, has parted ways with the team. Daly will keep himself busy with gigs in Nitrocross with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Niece Motorsports.

In his place will be former INDYCAR champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’ve only made one start after the 2021 season which was this year’s Indy 500 where he finished 11th.

Aside from the driver swap, some drivers look to continue with their momentum of strong runs, including championship leader Alex Palou, who has won two out of the last three races and pole positions. The Spaniard leads the standings by 51 points over his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson.

Mired back in 10th is Felix Rosenqvist, who’s fresh off scoring a much-needed podium at Detroit and noted how crucial it is to enter Elkhart Lake with momentum. Performance has not been the issue, but race finishes have curb stomped the Swede from being a title contender as he’s 125 markers behind Palou as the second half of 2023 draws closer.

“We’ve been pretty much up there every weekend. We had three DNFs which hurt,” said Rosenqvist.

“It seems this year in the championship a lot of the top runners have had tough races as well. I think we can recover if we keep the momentum going. It’s nice.

“I think all the boys and girls on the 6 car, Arrow McLaren, really deserved it. We’ve been up there sniffing for a long time. Hasn’t worked out.”

Any more rough outings going forward will solidify the pretenders apart from the genuine contenders for the Astor Cup. As some racers are already running out of time in staying in contention with Palou as another superb run from him could really spread the trail real thin.

As usual, time will tell as the 27-car field look to acclimate themselves on the repaved road course and hope that after 55 laps, they’ll be the ones on the top step of the podium.

By the Numbers

What: Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 8 of 17

Where: Road America – Elkhart Lake, Michigan (Opened: 1982, first INDYCAR event was 1989)

When: Sunday, June 18

TV/Radio: USA Network 1:00 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 4.014-mile road course

Race Length: 55 laps, 220.55 miles

2022 Road America Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started 2nd, 26 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Dario Franchitti – No. 27 Team Green Honda (1:39.866, 145.924 mph – August 19, 2000)

From the Driver’s Seat

Ryan Hunter-Reay – No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

“I enjoy the Road America, kind of old-school kind of throwback road course, big undulations sometimes in the pavement, exit curbings that drop off, just stuff like that where it’s pretty old school where it’s the complete opposite of what you’d see in Formula 1 and things like that.

“Unfortunately at some point they had to do it. There were some areas that just needed the attention and decided to go the whole way. Hopefully it’ll be good for the racing. I have no idea, though. I couldn’t comment to that because we didn’t test there.”

Last Time in Elkhart Lake

Josef Newgarden entered Road America with a chance of completing the third leg of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge. He’d already won on an oval (Texas) and street course (Long Beach), so all he needed was a road course triumph to lock up the million-dollar bonus.

In order for Newgarden to set himself for such goal, he first had to deal with pole sitter Alexander Rossi. On the opening lap, Jimmie Johnson spun into the gravel and fried up his engine due to trying to avoid Tatiana Calderon, bringing out an early caution.

Three laps later, Johnson’s teammate Alex Palou also faced trouble after contact with his other teammate Marcus Ericsson sent him into the gravel, bringing out another caution.

Once the madness ended, Newgarden had another chance in catching Rossi on a restart, but wasn’t successful. He’d get yet another chance after a crash by Will Power brought yet another caution on Lap 8. Still no dice in beating Rossi, thus the game of pit strategy became the theme going forward.

Lo and behold, the first set of green flag stops made a massive difference as Newgarden would put himself ahead of Rossi.

However, a late-race caution with eight laps to go for Pato O’Ward’s engine failure gave Rossi a chance to fight for his first win since Road America in 2019. Newgarden had a strong jump on the restart which initially altered due to yet another caution as Helio Castroneves laid his car to rest on the grass.

Both men fought hard when the race restarted with just three laps remaining, but again Newgarden was match as Rossi now had to fend off Ericsson for second, which didn’t panned out.

Once the dust settled, Newgarden completed the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge bonus. In return, it was half million for Team Penske and another half million for Newgarden’s charity of choice.

“My team really put me in position on that first stop. Rossi was not going to be easy to beat today. I felt like he was very strong. I felt like we were a little bit better than him, but he was by no means going to be simple to go by,” said Newgarden.

“That first stop is really what set the tone for us. Once we got in position, it was about getting through the lap markers, the alternate strategy quicker than him, building a gap, maintaining it. I felt like our PPG car was hooked up and had it from Team Chevy on the power side pretty much as always this year.

“Really comfy. To be able to win this million bucks, give half of it to charity, is very cool. Very, very cool. I’m sure our recipients are going to be thrilled with that.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 16

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (4:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, June 17

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (10:55 a.m. to 11:55 a.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (1:55 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, June 18

  • NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – Peacock)
  • Indy NXT Race (11:05 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. – Peacock)
  • Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America (1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – USA Network)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.