Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: REV Group Grand Prix Doubleheader at Road America Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Doubleheader madness is about to kick the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series up a notch as Road America will be the first of three venues hosting two races on a single race weekend with the others being Iowa Speedway (July 17-18) and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (September 19-20).

That in mind, it’ll be a hellacious time period for the competitors who’ve already dealt with multiple challenges ranging from the Aeroscreen making cars much warmer to finding ways of stopping the magnificent trio of Mike Hull, Michael Cannon and the man to beat in the championship trail – Scott Dixon.

Should the 39-year-old points leader win Saturday’s REV Group Grand Prix, some tremendous feats will be accomplished. Not only Dixon would become the first driver to pull an INDYCAR three-peat since Simon Pagenaud in 2016, but start 2020 with a 3-0 record, something that hasn’t been done since Sebastien Bourdais in 2006 (Champ Car).

If Dixon does win Saturday, but also ends up sweeping 4.014-mile road course the next day, history will be made as he’ll also join Bourdais (2006) and A.J. Foyt (1964) as the only drivers to go 4-0. Foyt went on to win an unprecedented and likely unreachable mark of 7-0.

“It feels great to get the start to the season we’ve had,” said Dixon. “The team has put a lot of work into the program and we’ve unloaded with fast cars in both races so far. I’m glad we’re getting into racing every weekend.”

Unlike the previous two races, fans will be allowed to witness the action and potential history unfold as 22 other competitors are hoping to stop Chip Ganassi Racing’s ace racer.

Some drivers are looking at the doubleheader with a goal of turning things around, including last year’s winner Alexander Rossi, who’s currently 23rd in points following two poor outings due to reliability issues at Texas and Indianapolis.

“It’s been a tough start to the year with two mechanicals, but that is behind us now,” said Rossi. “We have four races in the next two weekends, which will give us a chance to come back. We’re focusing on race wins for the AutoNation/NAPA team, and looking forward to welcoming fans back to the track this week at Road America.”

By the Numbers

What: REV Group Grand Prix Presented By AMR, NTT IndyCar Series Races No. 3 & 4 of 14

Where: Road America – Elkhart Lake, WI (Opened: 1955, first INDYCAR event was 1982)

When: Saturday, July 11 & Sunday, July 12

TV/Radio: NBCSN 5:00 p.m. EST (Saturday) & NBC 12:00 p.m. EST (Sunday) / Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211)

Track Size: 4.014-mile road course

Race Length: 55 laps, 220.8 miles

2019 Race Winner: Alexander Rossi – No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda (Started second, 54 laps led)

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

“I’m excited about going to Road America and for the first time, we are going to open up the gates. I look forward to it,” said Simon Pagenaud, the last driver to win three straight INDYCAR races.

“It is a great place to have people and for them to camp and see us racing around that beautiful track. Very excited that and for us, being back in Menards backyard. It is very important. In Wisconsin we always want to do well for that reason.”

Last Time at Road America

Total domination is what can easily describe last year’s INDYCAR race at Road America as Alexander Rossi wasted no time to pass pole sitter Colton Herta in Turn 1 and never looked back, leading all but one lap to score his second and last win of 2019.

Rossi beat Will Power by a convincing 28.439 seconds as he described his No. 27 NAPA Honda as the best machine he’s ever raced following a “hurtful” qualifying the day before.

“These NAPA guys, what we did overnight, seeing what we were missing in qualifying yesterday, and qualifying hurt; but to be able to go do that (dominate) today was sensational and a huge thanks to the NAPA Andretti Honda team. Man, after thinking about it, that’s probably the best race car I’ve ever driven,” said Rossi.

“It was just a win that we needed to do. We’ve been there and thereabouts, but the Penske cars were getting the upper hand on us. To be able to go out and win a race the way we did and state our intentions.”

Rossi’s annihilation didn’t meant the action was lacking as Scott Dixon had his work cut out for following a Turn 5 spin on Lap 1. The five-time series champion would rally back to finish fifth after passing Hinchcliffe and Herta during the final two laps as Dixon’s tires were well managed compared to those two competitors.

“I think had we not had that issue at the start, getting turned around and losing 10 or so seconds, we may have been fighting for the podium today with the PNC Bank car,” said Dixon. “We had to kind of work our way back to the front all day. It is what it is, though. It happened and all you can do is put your head down and start to gain back that time.”

Herta had a rather frustrating afternoon once losing the lead to Rossi. Among the ire was a lengthy pit stop and then on Lap 21, Herta found an opening to get by Simon Pagenaud for seventh but the two made contact in Turn 5.

Both soldiered on with their afternoons, but Herta’s result wasn’t what he had hoped for as he crossed the line in eighth after his tires were completely shot and couldn’t battle with anyone.

“We struggled on the Firestone red (alternate) tires, which caused us to lose a few spots at the end of the race,” Herta after the race. “But overall, the No. 88 GESS RNG Biogas Capstone Honda guys were great all weekend. The car was so quick, it was a lot of fun to drive it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, July 11

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice (11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
  • NTT IndyCar Series REV Group Grand Prix Race No. 1 Qualifying (2:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. – NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold)
  • NTT IndyCar Series REV Group Grand Prix Race No. 1 (5:00 p.m. – 55 laps, 220.8 miles – NBCSN)

Sunday, July 12

  • NTT IndyCar Series REV Group Grand Prix Race No. 2 Qualifying (10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
  • NTT IndyCar Series REV Group Grand Prix Race No. 2 (12:00 p.m. – 55 laps, 220.8 miles – NBC)

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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.