It was appropriate that the driver nicknamed the Iceman would win at a track carved by glaciers. In a season where nothing is as it should be, the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America did its part. Practice and qualifying told us that the race would be complete Penske parade. Penske cars were the top four in practice sessions and qualifying. Everyone expected the race to finish that way as well. The team did finish in consecutive spots, only the first Penske was in second place.
Scott Dixon passed Josef Newgarden on the restart following the first of two brief caution periods and led most of the race from there. Newgarden pulled within half a second at the finish. Helio Castroneves led early from the pole but Newgarden passed him shortly after the first pit stop. It seemed Castroneves’s car wasn’t quite the same after the tire change.
Most cars opted for a three stop strategy, which seemed to fit the new race distance of 55 laps. Many thought four stops might be needed. Alexander Rossi chose to go with four stops. It would have worked had there been one more full course yellow and head the caution periods been longer. The yellow was out for only three laps the entire race. Rossi’s tangle with Tony Kanaan didn’t help his chances either.
Dixon is the eighth different winner this season in ten races. His 41st career win puts him just one behind Michael Andretti in victories and sets Dixon on a nice path toward his fifth championship. It is a bit of a surprise that this is the frist win of the year for both Dixon and his Ganassi team. He now has a 34 point lead over Simon Pagenaud with seven races left.
Ed Jones continues to have a strong rookie season. He fought an ill handling car all weekend to finish seventh and stay in the top ten in points. I thought entering the season his Indy lights success was mainly due to driving for one of the top teams, but I was wrong. This kid can drive.
I was able to do more track exploration this year. The thing I was most aware of was the sounds at the track. During Friday afternoon practice I stood on the straight leading into turn 5. The cars carry a lot speed into the turn, and the popping of the turbo as they downshift is exhilarating. It was fun to see where each driver shifted in relation to the 100 foot marker. Then I realized when the cars were not in view, they can be heard all around the track. I could hear them downshifting on the back of the course out of sight. I have not noticed this at other tracks.
Sitting on the hill above turn 5 I love listening to the echo of turbos popping as the cars go under the bridge. It sounds like gunshots. The sound of the engines as they race up the hill bounces of the trees.
I watched Saturday practice from the inside of Canada Corner. There are spots here that allow for very close viewing. I loved watching the brakes glow as they entered the turn. It was fun seeing how each driver dealt with the bump in the middle of the turn.
I was curious to see if this year’s attendance would even come close to last year’s massive race day crowd. It did. The Friday and Saturday crowds seemed to be smaller, but race day attendance was very close to last year’s crowd. There seemed to be fewer campers this year when I visited friends there Friday night.
In only two years road America has become my favorite road course. I could write thousands of words about what an amazing place it is, but I’ll stop now. I figure in 47 years I will have seen the entire track. If you haven’t been, make plans for next year now. You will never view road courses the same way again.