Road America Preview

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One reason our marriage works is that Susan and I are so different. I am a planner. Once a plan is in place, it is carved in stone as far as I’m concerned. Susan, on the other hand, values spontaneity. I’ve always thought that spontaneity was vastly overrated; mainly because it requires plans to change, and change is bad!

Our plan was to drive to Road America yesterday and arrive sometime late Thursday afternoon. We aren’t flying this year because the flights are more than double what they normally are. So we decided a couple of months ago that we would leave Nashville about 7:00 am Thursday morning and arrive late afternoon.

That was the plan until Tuesday night, when Susan came up with the idea to leave Wednesday night, right after I got off work, and stay somewhere in Indiana. I initially said no to the idea, but I figured as much as she’s been through this year – why not give her what she wants. So we have actually been here since just after about 3:00 pm, Thursday.

One reason why Mrs. Oilpressure wanted to get up early was for the track walk on Thursday afternoon. This is intended for drivers and teams to walk the track in order to make note of all the special nuances of the 4.048 mile natural terrain road course. They also open it up to any fans that happen to be on the grounds. Best of all, they allow anyone to drive their golf carts on the track. We always rent a golf cart here, so that is a treat that really started our race weekend off right. As much fun as that is for me, Susan seems to get a bigger kick out of it than I do. Being the dutiful husband I am, I’m glad to make her happy…and me, too.

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This does not feel like Wisconsin weather. Yesterday’s temperature topped out over the 85° mark. I can remember coming here when the highs were in the low 60s and the wind would make it feel like December in June. It is supposed to be over  90° today (Frday). Fortunately, it is supposed to cool off as the weekend goes on. I think Race Day temps on Sunday are supposed to be in the mid-70s at the drop of the green flag, however a chance of rain has crept into the Sunday forecast over the last couple of days.

There is a lot to do between now and then. Aside from the NTT IndyCar Series, the Road to Indy is here this weekend, as well as the Radical Cup Cars. If you have never seen them race, you should. Unfortunately, the Miata Cup cars are not here this weekend. They can provide some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere.

Cody Ware will be making his IndyCar debut this weekend, driving a third entry for Dale Coyne. To be honest, I’m not too familiar with Ware’s NASCAR career, but I’ve not heard anything outstanding about it. I’ll be curious to see how his first race goes.

Jimmie Johnson has been taking a lot of flack on social media. The haters are really starting to pile on. It’s funny how some fans love to kick people while they are being humbled. Johnson knew what he was getting into and was very public about how much he had to learn and unlearn. I think fans read this as some sort of false modesty from a seven-time NASCAR champion. He was never a threat to contend, but he actually turned some competitive laps at Belle Isle. He’s a fast learner and will eventually get this down to where he is decent. Road America is a good place to hone his skills. It’s certainly not an easy track, but it has long straightaways and is not anything like Belle Isle was for a beginner like Johnson. I look for him to have a relatively decent showing this weekend.

Some of the storylines of the weekend center around who is not racing this weekend. Rinus VeeKay was injured in a bicycle crash earlier this week, when he suffered a fractured clavicle. The injury required surgery and the Dutchman will miss this weekend’s race. In his place will be Oliver Askew, who drove for Arrow McLaren SP last Sunday, replacing Felix Rosenqvist after his terrible crash on Saturday. After Askew was named on Tuesday to replace VeeKay, it was determined that Rosenqvist is still smarting from his incident last Saturday at Belle Isle. With Askew not available to the team that unceremoniously dumped him last fall; they have named Formula One refugee Kevin Magnussen to drive the No. 7 McLaren this weekend at Road America.

It will be a Haas Formula One reunion this weekend at Road America, with Magnussen driving for McLaren and Romain Grosjean driving for Dale Coyne. Grosjean has adapted to IndyCar racing very well, so far. Let’s see if Magnussen adjusts as quickly.

It’s a shame for Rosenqvist. He is having a terrible season this year, after switching from Chip Ganassi Racing over to Arrow McLaren SP. After missing Sunday’s race at Belle Isle, he will now miss racing at the site of his lone IndyCar win – as he came out on top of a memorable battle with Pato O’Ward in the second race of a double header at Road America last year. Now he will be sitting on the sidelines, watching someone else drive his car at the site of his greatest accomplishment in IndyCar.

So who will win Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America? Could Pato O’Ward avenge his heartbreaking loss from a year ago and win his second IndyCar race in a row, and his third in the past seven weeks? It’s quite possible. Scott Dixon won the other race last year in a snoozer, but he seems to have cooled down some after winning at Texas. He has won this race twice, since the NTT IndyCar Series returned here in 2016. But I don’t think he will win Sunday. Alex Palou is the points leader. He finished third and seventh in the two races last season in his rookie year. He could very well come away with his second win of the season.

What about Team Penske? Will Power and Josef Newgarden both have wins here, but Team Penske is winless this season. As strange as that sounds, I think their winless streak is going to extend at least into July.

After winning at St. Petersburg, Colton Herta has been very fast at times in various races, but has also inexplicably disappeared at the wrong times recently. He sat on the pole two years ago as a rookie, but lost the lead coming out of Turn Three and eventually finished eighth. Last year, Herta finished seventh and fifth respectively, in the double-header weekend. I think Herta will have another strong showing, but he won’t finish on the top step of the podium.

That top step will be taken by Alexander Rossi. The last win by Rossi was Road America two years ago, when he was untouchable. He dominated the 2019 race. He was the driver that blew by Herta in Turn Three of Lap One and never looked back. Rossi led fifty-four of the fifty-five laps and won by twenty-eight seconds over Will Power, in second place.

At the time, Rossi was in the midst of contract negotiations, and it was believed to be between Andretti Autosport and Team Penske. Rossi ultimately signed with Andretti and his fortunes tumbled before the ink was dry. In the two seasons since Road America of 2019, Rossi has had only seven podiums with no wins and a lot of bad luck – some self-inflicted, but much from team mistakes.

I think Rossi sees this weekend as a way to purge a lot of bad feelings and a place to get back on the right page after two years of frustration. This is nothing more than a gut feeling, but I really think Rossi and his team will finally get the job done this weekend.

We will be here all weekend and will be posting here throughout the weekend. Except for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is our favorite track on the schedule. Not only is it a beautiful setting and an historic track, but we love Wisconsin in the summer. If you like to eat (and I do), Wisconsin is paradise. We already know of where we will be eating on Friday and Saturday nights. Of course, no track rivals Road America for the food at the concession stands. Each stand is independently operated, so they all offer different selections. But rest assured that cheese curds and bratwurst are all in good supply.

With it being our favorite track, we sometimes have to force ourselves to pull away from the fun to go back to the media center to write. But we will do our best to provide racing coverage, as well as giving a good sense of flavor of the track.

On a personal note, just both of us being here is a sense of accomplishment. Last year’s race weekend was pushed back to July 10-12, due to the pandemic. On Tuesday July 7, Susan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although we were absolutely devastated with what appeared to be a certain death sentence for her, she made the decision to continue with our plans to go to Road America – thinking it might do us some good to get away. Two days after her diagnosis, we were on a plane to Milwaukee.

She was right. It was therapy for our souls to have a nice distraction. But to be honest, silently I felt that it would be Susan’s last trip to Road America. Only 20% of those of Susan’s age with pancreatic cancer survive beyond a year. The median survival rate for an advanced case is three and a half months. My father lasted for six and a half months with the same disease. As we rode around in our golf cart enjoying the race weekend, I couldn’t help thinking about the immediate future and it scared me to death.

But as you know, she has responded extremely well to her treatments. She endured twelve rounds of grueling chemo over six months, then had successful surgery in February and finished up six weeks of radiation just a week after the Indianapolis 500. Although the chemo nearly killed her, she never had any unexpected complications through any of her treatments. Her hair is growing back and she is feeling better every day.

It’s a cliché, but we have learned to take life one day at a time. At this point, every day is a blessing. We are realistic enough to know that this disease can resurface at any time, but for now, it appears she is well on her way to recovery. To be one of only 20% to make it this far is an accomplishment. To have everything trending upward and not have her just hanging on at this point is close to a miracle.

As much as we have enjoyed our previous five trips to Road America, I would be lying if I said this one wasn’t a little more special. This time (almost) a year ago, I thought it was her last visit to Elkhart Lake. I am savoring the fact that she is back.

If this extra-long preview wasn’t enough reading for you, please check back throughout the race weekend. We will both be posting about the race activity and our experiences through the weekend. You can also follow us on Twitter for comments, photos and videos. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Road America Preview”

  1. Great minds think alike. I picked Rossi too.

  2. Susan’s easy-going attitude surely helped her battle this year, I too am happy to see you both back at RA together for another year! I am a planner myself and I know I can be my own worst enemy in the fun department. Have a great trip, I hope your prediction is right, and Pato is right behind Rossi this weekend earning points!

  3. Leslie Bissell Says:

    Have a wonderful weekend George and Susan!

  4. Tony Geinzer Says:

    I am sure the Haas Exes are More Common in IndyCar than a Welcome Freshmen Reunion With the Taras, which Jill Setter Rusk’s Contract Dispute cost them a Season. I am happy to see another Season of Mr. and Mrs. Oilpressure at Road America, even though it always seems out of place not being in the Fall. (That is largely because of the CART Years and that was Wally Dallenbach, Sr.’s Draw to deter people from the Packers.)

  5. So very thankful Susan is doing so well. Can’t wait to see you both.

  6. So glad y’all are there and got to do the track walk/ride. What a fun idea! Sounds like the change in plans worked out great and you could also consider it Susan’s Victory Lap and at the perfect place to cherish it. Best to you both and we’re all hoping you have a great weekend up nort’ ‘dere.

    Penske is (over) due. Watch out for that Menard’s car in it’s native territory. Pagenaud will be on the podium, but I think the Hitachi Chevy of Jose Nuevo will break the Penske perfect streak of winlessness this weekend, and joining them to sweep the podium clean will be Scott McLaughlin.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Glad that you and Susan are back at Road America. I think for Father’s Day, I’m going to ask if I can watch the race live.

  8. James T Suel Says:

    very happy to see you and Susan having a great time. Should be a great weekend for you!!

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