Random Thoughts on Road America

Another trip to Road America is in the books, and just like the previous three – this one did not disappoint. I realize that sometimes Susan and I go overboard in our raves about this track (I say “this” because we are still sitting in the Media Center as I type this), so I’ll try to keep the raves to a minimum.

As I said in Sunday’s wrap-up, this was a great race if you were an Alexander Rossi fan. If you were a fan of another driver or just a casual fan tuning in – not so much. Rossi essentially made the winning pass in the first turn of the opening lap. If you love dominating performances, Sunday’s race was for you. If you like edge of your seat competition for the lead, you probably wanted to change to The Weather Channel. One friend of ours in the Media Center, that probably would prefer to remain nameless, said he didn’t know a Formula One race was going to break out. That’s how little suspense there was at the front.

But the race was not void of suspense elsewhere. On the trackside video boards and with my own eyes, I saw some great battles going on throughout the field – just not for the front. Even after Rossi had taken the checkered flag, there was great side-by-side racing between Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe.

And now the points race has really tightened up. Rossi trails Josef Newgarden by a scant seven points. Pagenaud is a distant third and not really a consideration at this point. The championship will most likely go down to the wire between Newgarden and Rossi. May the best driver win.

But I would be guilty of spreading a little too much sunshine if I said this was a great race. I enjoyed it because we were here among this great setting. But if I were sitting on my couch at home watching it, I may have dosed off at the end.

TV Coverage: I’ve obviously not seen the TV coverage of the race, as we are still in Wisconsin as I type. I’ve not seen anything negative on social media about it, so NBC must have done a good job. Few people post compliments on social media, but they are always ready to pounce with complaints. Since I saw no complaints, I’ll assume it was OK. We will watch it later this week.

Foyt Troubles Continue: At first, It looked as if Tony Kanaan was going to have a good day. He started dead-last, but quickly made his way past several cars and he looked like he was on a charge just a couple of laps in. By about Lap 15, he was up to seventeenth from twenty-third. Quite honestly, I’m not sure what happened, but he fell back to a twenty-first place finish. Combine that with the twentieth-place finish by Matheus Leist and the nightmare at AJ Foyt Enterprises continues.

With the next race almost three weeks away, all bets are off as to what changes might happen there – but I bet some do, whether it’s on the race strategist side, the engineering side or the driver side. For whatever my opinion is worth, I don’t think either driver needs to be changed. That’s a band-aid approach for a problem that runs a lot deeper than who’s behind the wheel. But I bet we will see some major change at Foyt’s team before the NTT IndyCar Series arrives in Toronto.

Mixed Bag: While Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi won the race in dominating fashion, it was certainly a mixed bag for the overall team. Ryan Hunter-Reay failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying and started fifteenth. Then, he ran into the back of Scott Dixon on the opening lap and was lucky to not incur a penalty. He ended up with a very uneventful eleventh-place finish, which kept him mired in seventh in the championship.

But that was still better than the days that Zach Veach and Marco Andretti had. Veach started fourteenth and finished eighteenth. It seemed like every time I looked up, he was losing a battle with someone on the track. Marco qualified tenth, but went out with mechanical issues on Lap 18 and finished last.

Good Day: It was a quiet, but successful, weekend for Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott Dixon advanced out of the first round of qualifying, but an engine issue prevented him from even taking part in the second round, so he started twelfth. Felix Rosenqvist seemed lost in qualifying and started eighteenth. But Rosenqvist was in several battles on track. Unlike Veach, it seemed like every time I looked up, Rosenqvist was winning those battles. With no cautions, Rosenqvist moved up on his own from eighteenth to finish sixth.

To me, Scott Dixon was even more impressive. Starting twelfth, Ryan Hunter-Reay punted Dixon in Turn Five, completely turning him around into the runoff area. By the time Dixon turned himself back around, he was in last place and far behind the last car in the field. Without the aid of any pit strategy or cautions, Dixon made it all the way back to fifth. With two laps to go, he was still fighting hard with Colton Herta, James Hinchcliffe and teammate Felix Rosenqvist. After a rough start to the day, Chip Ganassi had to be smiling for both of his drivers.

Salvaging a Decent Day: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing began the day with tons of optimism. Both of their drivers had made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying, Takuma Sato was coming off of a pole position at Texas, where a self-induced mistake cost him a good finish and Graham Rahal was driving the best looking new livery in the field.

Graham lived up to his part of the bargain. He started fifth and finished fourth – giving Josef Newgarden a run for his money for third place near the end of the race.

Takuma Sato, on the other hand, was going off track every time I looked up. While we were sitting there in the early part of the race, Sato went off into the gravel trap losing several positions in the process. Then he lost a battle with (I forget who) coming out of Turn Three, and lost several more positions. He must have caught fire when I wasn’t looking, because I was shocked to learn that he came back to finish tenth, even after a fourth pit stop, when most others only pitted three times.

LED Issues: So what is the real issue with the LED panels? At Texas, we all noticed that instead of showing the drivers current place in the race or pit stop times; they simply showed the car number. When that was brought up on Trackside, it was explained that they were going to do that for the ovals so people could see the car numbers better, but they would still give track information at road and street courses.

Well, this weekend they were still showing car numbers on a road course. I don’t know what is going on with the LED panels, but why can’t they be fixed. When they were first introduced in 2016, they worked great with no issues. It stayed that way until they tried to get cute in 2018 with more advanced panels that could show multi-colored moving graphics. By the Month of May last year, they had been abandoned and cars just had their car numbers painted where the panels used to go. For 2019, IndyCar announced that they would return to the simpler panels, similar to the ones in 2016-17 that just gave basic information.

But they are still not right. Throughout the early part of this season, there would be some cars with blank panels, while others would have “88” displayed as all of the elements were lit up. Now we are back to electronic car numbers. What is the real story and why can IndyCar just not go back to what they had in 2016?

Drive of the Day: There are many candidates that I can name for drive of the day. If I had watched the television coverage, I may be able to come up with a couple of more – but based on what I saw, I have a pretty good idea how this should go.

Some might say that Alexander Rossi had the drive of the day, simply because he dominated the entire field from the drop of the green flag. That may be a fair point. Others might point to Scott Dixon making his way from the back of the field, after being spun on the opening lap to finish fifth.

But I’m going to go with Felix Rosenqvist. He was out to lunch in qualifying and started eighteenth. He has never raced an IndyCar here before and had the pressure of Chip Ganassi’s wrath hanging over him if he crashed again. But he drove hard all day, not only bringing the car home in one piece – but also finishing sixth. That, in my opinion, earns Rosenqvist the Drive of the Day.

All in all: Even though some may have thought this race lacked a lot of suspense, I saw a lot of good racing behind the race leader. The weatherman cooperated, much like at Indianapolis this year. Although it started raining fairly hard in Victory Lane, the rain defied all predictions and stayed away until after the race was run.

And in case no one has noticed, I finally got one of my predictions right when I said on Friday that Alexander Rossi would win. Some might say that wasn’t going out on much of a limb, but remember – Rossi’s best finish in an IndyCar at Road America was thirteenth, back in 2017.

But had they put a tractor-pull on track, I would have been happy so long as it was at this track. This is a very special place for us. Yes IMS is still tops, but Road America has quickly developed into one of our favorite destinations. And notice I didn’t say racing destinations. Once we’re retired and if we can afford it, we’d like to spend a few days on each side of the race up here. We love this part of Wisconsin – we just don’t want to be here in the winter.

Please check back Wednesday as we revisit Road America one last time before turning the page toward Toronto. We will have final thoughts along with a slew of photos from the entire weekend. Once again, thanks to those who followed along with us through the weekend.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Road America”

  1. The reality lives up to the hype, Dad and I both agreed that this was possibly the most enjoyable and entertaining weekend we’ve ever spent at a race track, and we’ve spent a lot of weekends at a lot of different tracks. The scenery is beautiful, the crowd was huge and friendly, and the facility looks and feels like a state park. We took in different races from about a half dozen different spots and every one of them was fantastic! I mean, really fantastic, and really varied.

    We were too late to get a golf cart but we took our pedal bikes and had no problem covering all kinds of ground and getting from one point to another quickly. A couple of hills were a bit tiring but not too bad and there really weren’t many of them. And of course getting to watch a couple support races with George and Susan was the icing on the cake. Not to mention the delicious food!

    A HUGE thank you to Ballyhoo for making it possible to give my dad his best Father’s Day present ever (his words). Judging by his comments I’m quite sure we will be back next year…….it not sooner.

    I had my big camera with me, plan to sort through some of the folder this morning and get them uploaded to my Google Drive, I’ll share the link when it’s ready.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    I heard the word “slew” a lot when spending time on my uncle’s farm in Indiana, but I have never heard anyone say “slew” in Wisconsin until now. Thanks for bringing that with you.

  3. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    Herta had an entertaining drive from a fan perspective, he fell back to 2nd and due to fueling issue (first stop) fell all the way down to, I think, 11th and came back up to 8th and by the last pit stop he was behind Rahal at 5th but with Red tires and the last three laps made a difference with him being at 5th dropping down to 8th. His team made a wrong decision of starting him on used Red tires at the beginning of the race, then had the fuel rig issue then put him on Red tires for the last stint. Too many mistakes by the team and he still ends up at 8th. George… TV coverage showed lots of racing behind Rossi and it was wild with drivers pouncing on each other. Only problem was they were covering the race for 6 minutes and then commercials were on for three minutes, I kept timing it, and this was the sequence of coverage vs commercials, pretty pathetic. Atleast side-by-side coverage saved the day.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Herta’s late race move to take 5th back from Hinchcliffe with chunked tires and the last of his push-to-pass was a fantastic piece of racing. Like his failed attempt on Dixon at Texas, it was risky but not overly reckless and certainly not dirty. It was, of course, ultimately for naught, but it sure is fun watching Herta attack. He’s almost young Paul Tracy-esque.

      Guys who dominate races usually win championships, but it’s guys who pass a lot of cars who usually win fans.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Consider how costly it is to have cameras placed at intervals around a 4 plus mile track like Road America, lodging and meals for reporters, and other expenses like helicopters. Somebody has to pay for that. I am completely OK with having commercial interruptions if we can get network coverage. The same will likely be true at Mid-Ohio. Use commercial time wisely: Beer and pizza.

  4. Mark Wick Says:

    My only way to watch races live is with the in car cameras available on the INDYCAR app. The options for this race were Rossi and Dixon. I have one on my Android and one on my iPad. I follow the overall race at Race Control on my PC.
    I was able to see the whole race from the perspective of those two drivers (without commercials). I didn’t know why, but I saw Dixon spin and saw tire smoke from a car behind him and thought there was going to be a pile up.
    Then, he got the car turned around and pointed in the right direction and accelerated and I could almost hear him thinking “OK, here we go” as he gained speed. I could feel that he knew he would catch up and then just keep passing cars, and I was able to see him do that throughout the race.
    If I could watch the races on TV, I would be missing a really interesting experience.

  5. Here’s a link to my Google Drive with pics from Road America. These are taken with a Nikon D5 with a 70-200 lens, there’s some areas there where you can get pretty close and get some neat angles. Enjoy!


  6. Carburetor Says:

    AJ Foyt was my hero driver in the 60s and 70s, but his team really has become an embarrassment at this point. Not sure if AJ needs to step out completely or if he has it in him anymore to step all the way in, but serious issues must exist, because we know Tony K has not lost his edge to this degree.

    I’m thankful for NBC, but I agree with others, the commercials are pretty intrusive. They don’t even give you a 50/50 split on the side-by-side ones, it’s more like 60/40 with the 60% screen area given to the product. I understand capitalism and this is the price we pay, but it is a bit more difficult to follow the race as closely as I would prefer. I ended up simultaneously listening to the SiriusXM radio broadcast in order to fill in the gaps.

    Kudos to Rossi–he kept pushing the lap speeds even when he did not need to. Pretty exciting race though from 2nd on back….

  7. regarding NBC…they got good ratings since there was little
    competition that time of day and this time of year. the media
    which i follow did complain about the “packing” of commercials
    during the last (10?) laps. i look forward to your evaluation.

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