IndyCar's James Hinchcliffe writes about Road America's gorgeous, challenging track and the rainout in Texas.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Hey guys. Hinch here, coming to you from one of the world’s great racetracks, Road America. After a three-week respite, we’re back to race pace on Sunday. After an eight-year break, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America for the running of the Kohler Grand Prix. The green flag drops at 1:15 p.m. eastern. You can catch all the action on NBCSN. For me, the day can’t come soon enough.
Racing an IndyCar around Road America has always been a dream of mine. It’s just such a classic racetrack—a four-mile, 14-turn piece of history. It wasn’t designed using some formulaic approach. It was designed by racers. It’s not all on big, clear, parking lot-type property. It runs through the woods. There’s elevation, something you don’t quite see at new tracks anymore.
We were up here last week to kinda prep for this weekend and, again, I gotta say it was great. There are so many diehard IndyCar fans in this part of the country. Losing Milwaukee on the calendar, I think maybe it breathed a little bit more life into this race than there would’ve been already. We’re hearing that tickets for general seating and camping spots are sold out. I mean, everybody’s excited to go racing. But, as ever, I’m just that much more eager than most.
My last start, at Texas, was one for the almanac. Obviously, that’s not how weekends traditionally go for us. We knew entering the weekend that the weather wasn’t looking super cooperative. But you always hold out hope. Friday was a pretty standard day. We got our practices and qualifying in. But all the while, everyone was preoccupied with Saturday’s rainy forecast and wondering if we were gonna be able to get this thing in or not. Incidentally, it was not to be.
It’s a shame. The weather at race time cooperated just fine. The initial problem was the track itself. The wet weather that blew through in the days before had left the ground so saturated, which made it tough to get going. And then once the skies opened up again and stayed that way, we had to make the decision to postpone the race—which is not uncommon in oval racing. Me, Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden wanted to show our appreciation to the many fans who waited for us in the rain. So we waded into the grandstands for an impromptu autograph session. It was quite a scene.
Finally on Sunday we got going, albeit a little bit later than originally planned. (Again, blame Texas’ sponge-like track.) I managed to qualify the Schmidt Peterson No. 5 Arrow machine in 10th and pick up positions fairly easily. We had just gotten through our first round of pit stops and were trucking along. And then Josef and Conor come together in Turn 4.
It’s never easy watching any kind of accident in IndyCar. As confident as we all are getting into these cars and doing what we do, we’ve seen some absolutely horrendously massive shunts end with drivers walking away with bumps and bruises. And we’ve seen some that look far less severe where the outcome is quite a bit more serious. Put another way, you just don’t know someone’s OK until you know. We were sad to see Josef get hurt, but I’m glad it wasn’t more serious than a fractured right clavicle and right hand.
The time that it took to fix the SAFER barrier—which, along with the roll hoop, was key in sparing Josef from greater harm—really put us behind. Had that crash not happened, we probably would’ve had just enough time to get more than halfway through the 248-lap race and call it day. Instead, the storm clouds pulled in and parked, forcing another long pause after 71 laps.
At that point, it was obvious that we weren’t going to get back on track. With testing here at Road America on the following Wednesday and a race weekend to prepare for, we really didn’t have the option of staying another day and trying again—which is what we would’ve done normally. So we’ll pick it back up again on Aug. 27. It’s the first time I can remember the series leaving a race midway through and trying to go back later. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that I’ll restart from the pole position.
As for this Sunday’s race I’m hoping we can work our way to the sharp end of the grid here at Road America, which doesn’t lack for passing zones. In particular, the run down the hill in Turn Five figures to be the most action packed. Watching cars blast through the Carousel flat out at 140 mph is something that everybody should witness at some point in their life. And down at Canada corner, you can see us kinda emerge out of the wilderness into another big brake zone and hit the big climb up the hill on the front straight.
There are just so many elements to this track, and spectators are free to roam across all of them. Here, people don’t sit in grandstands—clearly, an idea that nobody ever got around to here. No, people hop in their golf cart or on their bike and ride across everything Road America has to offer. Really, every part has its own awesome trait. You should really see it at some point.
As for the race itself, that’ll be a trickier affair. I’ve won here a couple times—in 2004 in Formula BMW and in 2005 in Star Mazda—so I obviously wouldn’t mind that experience again. Qualifying is going to be incredibly difficult. With four miles to cover, a lap is going to be long. Time really adds up. Fuel windows will be very short, which could remove an element of strategy. Any small deficiency in the setup is going to look massive on the stopwatch compared to other places we go.
The teams that are running up front will definitely be able to take some satisfaction in knowing that they’ve really maximized absolutely everything to the nth degree because that’s what it takes to be successful at this place. I know I’ll be doing everything on my end to make this weekend the sweetest yet.
James Hinchcliffe is a veteran IndyCar driver and your new best friend. You just don’t know it yet. Check out his website, Hinchtown.com or follow him on Twitter @hinchtown. There could be some Hinchtown Hammerdown in it for you.