By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
This weekend’s stop of the NTT IndyCar Series will certainly be a busy one. Not only they’re running the longest track on the tour, they’ll have plenty of track activity to dial their car up for Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix.
That isn’t the main story going into the ninth round. Instead, it’s a pair of injuries that’s stolen the headlines. Rinus VeeKay, who’s currently fifth in points, and defending Road America winner Felix Rosenqvist won’t be competing.
VeeKay underwent surgery on his left clavicle after a cycling training accident Monday. Rosenqvist wasn’t medically cleared to compete this weekend after last Saturday’s crash at Detroit. It’s allowed Oliver Askew and Kevin Magnussen to fill in their respective machines.
In the case of Magnussen, he’ll be one of five rookies trying to tackle the 4.014-mile road course.
Along with Magnussen, perennial NASCAR backmarker Cody Ware will also make his series debut. Rather than partake at Nashville Superspeedway, he’ll drive Dale Coyne Racing’s third entry. DCR is the team Cody’s father Rick Ware is affiliated as Coyne and Rick Ware co-own Romain Grosjean’s No. 51 Honda.
Grosjean will look to bounce back from a horrid doubleheader at Belle Isle. Not because of his performance, but failing to finish both of them late in the going.
These are among the major angles that stand out for the upcoming 55-lap race. Of course the question remains, are we going to see another battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren SP?
As I tend to say, time will tell because one man would like to crash the party. That being Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, who’s tied with VeeKay in points. Another goal Pagenaud will be eyeing on is scoring his first podium in Elkhart Lake.
In seven previous starts, the 2016 champion has finished no better than fourth in 2017. A valid point that he didn’t noticed when asked about how difficult is to have a strong points day.
“If you’re a little bit off in one corner, you’re losing a lot of lap time,” Pagenaud told Motorsports Tribune during Wednesday’s Zoom call. “You just got to nail it, nail the setup, nail your driving. You just got to be fast as soon as you get there.
“That’s what we’re going to do. Obviously it sounds like a million dollar answer, but we just got to be fast and it will take care of itself in the end.”
At race end, Pagenaud hopes he’s the one that brings Penske its first win all season. For now, most eyes are on both Alex Palou and Scott Dixon. The Ganassi duo will look to deliver big and cut some of Pato O’Ward’s points lead.
O’Ward is fresh off of becoming the first repeat winner of the year and hitting on all strides. For Palou, a single position or even a pole can really keep this title chase more fascinating.
Dixon on the other hand, he’s 36 markers behind but a guy never to count out on any given race. People should know that at this point, but this season has been unpredictable with another half of a racing campaign to go.
By the Numbers
What: REV Group Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 9
Where: Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (Opened: 1955; First INDYCAR Race: 1982)
When: Sunday, June 20, 2021
TV/Radio: NBCSN Noon ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211)
Track Size: 4.014-mile road course
Race Length: 55 laps, 220.55 miles
2020 Race Winners: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started ninth, 16 laps led) (Race No. 1) & Felix Rosenqvist – No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started seventh, 8 laps led) (Race No. 2)
Track Qualifying Record: Dario Franchitti – No. 27 Team KOOL Green Honda (1:39.866, 145.924 mph – August 19, 2000)
From the Driver’s Seat
Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
“Definitely a fan favorite. Also a driver favorite, for sure. I think we’re very lucky to race on some of those old-school American road courses. This one definitely is at the top of the list. You still have kind of grass next to the track and walls. It’s kind of high-risk, high-reward, which is how it should be.
“The race I think for this formula right now, it always races very well because of the long straights, big braking zone. Strategy will be key as always. Tire prep, understanding what you need is always going to be key.
“The fans will be amazing. So cool to see them back here this weekend. Everybody loves to get to Elkhart. Such a fun place to be.”
Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet
“Now we’re focused on the championship. We’re fifth. We’re in a good position. We’re not far from Pato. Certainly we need to win races. To win a championship, you’re going to need to win races. I think we’re right there.
“The momentum is growing within our team on the 22 side. As you saw, Team Penske, we almost won. We really should have won that race, race one. Performance is there as a team. I think the boys are just rolling right now.”
Last Time at Road America
Chip Ganassi Racing owned last year’s doubleheader weekend in Elkhart Lake. Dixon ended up winning Saturday’s portion which put him 3-0 with future teammate Palou getting his maiden INDYCAR podium.
However, it was the following day that saw two young guys that became teammates who put the series on notice.
O’Ward and Rosenqvist put on an amazing show in the closing laps. Both drivers were eager of getting their first IndyCar victory in their sophomore seasons. O’Ward was the class of the field, leading from the pole position but tire wear and potential lap traffic became a hindrance.
Rosenqvist would cut the gap down until finally with two to go, he made the race-winning pass on O’Ward. The Swede went on to score his only victory to date as O’Ward crossed the line in second.
The victory was a long time coming for Rosenqvist, who after the race felt the entire No. 10 team put everything together. Something that’s been lacking up to that point.
“We went all for it. We had super pace, and the car was fantastic. It’s four out of four for Ganassi, which is huge. We had so much pace,” said Rosenqvist.
“We kept closing in half a second every lap. And then when they said Pato was on the used reds (Firestone alternate tires), you obviously get a lot of faith that he might drop off in the end, and that’s what happened. I just wanted to stay cool, and then we went for it, really.
“I used all my push-to-pass on one lap and got him. So, it was a really good fight with him there. I got a little squirrelly coming out of Turn 5 there, but a good show and good fun. We came out of our pit (stops) in clear air. Whenever this guy (strategist Barry Wanser) gave us clear air, we were really fast. We showed that before. What amazing feeling.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, June 18
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (5:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, June 19
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (11:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (2:30 a.m. to 3:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, June 20
- REV Group Grand Prix (12:00 p.m. – 55 laps/220.55 miles – NBCSN)