ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Quickly, the drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series got a reminder of what having Road America back on the schedule for 2016 is like after Tuesday’s test session.
“It was fun,” Tony Kanaan said. “The last time I here was 2002 and it’s always been one of my favorite tracks. If you guys follow every single interview and people ask me if I could choose three or four tracks I could come back to, (Road America) was always one of my list.
“I’ll tell you what. The first lap today, it was fun.”
Kanaan was not alone in the feeling of it’s great to be back at Road America.
“The track is a lot of fun,” Scott Dixon said.
The test session drew praise from the drivers that it was good to be back and they can’t wait for the race weekend, which is June 23-26. It also drew praise from fans who have waited since Sebastian Bourdais’ triumph in 2007 for IndyCar to return to Road America.
And the fans didn’t disappoint as an estimated 2,000 gathered throughout the 600-plus acre facility sitting on lawn chairs and the tops of campers to watch. During the lunch break, about a 1,000 of those fans were in the paddock area getting autographs and pictures taken with the drivers, who were astounded to see that many people at a weekday morning and afternoon test session.
Several fans said it was great to see the cars back and to hear their aesthetically pleasing sound echo through the woods of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. It was common for fans who were watching the test in the famous Carousel, but could hear the cars go through different parts of the track.
“It’s an awesome track, it’s really fun,” Will Power said.
The test session was a success for the drivers, the fans and the track. In addition to the testing by the teams, with the only major team not in attendance being Andretti Autosport, the event helped raise money for the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund. The cost was $20 for fans and half of the proceeds were donated to Wilson’s family. Wilson died Aug. 24 after he collided with a piece of debris in a crash by another car at Pocono.
As for the business of the test, the drivers were pleased with how the test session went. Most of them were around 1:41, 1:42, 1:43 in lap times. The track record, which was done in the defunct Champ Car Series, is 1:39.
The ChampCar had more horsepower and less downforce.
“The style of racing in this car will be phenomenal,” Dixon said. “I know I’m excited for it and I know a lot of people that are. This is a track that drivers, deep down, is like an Indianapolis. You want to make the most of this place and try to win here. It means a lot.”
Among the teams at the test were Ganassi, Penske, Carpenter/Fisher-Hartman and Foyt.
For some, it had been eight years since they whipped around the 14-turn, 4.038-mile road course, which opened in 1955. For others it had been almost 15 years.
But they all had a common denominator: the track hadn’t changed much.
It was still fast, just like they remembered it, and it was challenging, just as they remembered it.
The biggest change has been the type of car.
But that didn’t take long to get used to, either, as most of the drivers were at full speed like they were in qualifying or race mode after only a couple corners.
“Definitely a lot of good memories came back,” Kanaan said. “It’s awesome to be back.”
Kanaan said he and Dixon forgot how long the Carousel was, Turns 9 and 10.
“That corner, it’s always been one of my favorite corners,” Kanaan added. “But, not coming here for 12 years, you kind of forget that part. I got a good wake-up call already.”
The biggest difference several of the drivers noticed was the straightaway speeds weren’t the same like they were in the ChampCar days. However, the corner speeds were quicker. These cars also had more downforce, which caught some drivers by surprise in the high-speed corners, like the Carousel and the Kink.
It wasn’t quite like riding a bike for Scott Dixon, the 2015 series champion.
The four-time series champion last raced at Road America in 2002 with CART.