Pruett’s Cooldown Round: Road America

IndyCar drivers with the ability to find something special and take over a race are extremely rare. Josef Newgarden certainly fits that bill and with his third win of the season, the Team Penske rider has once again stated his intention to become a three-time champion by the end of the year.

Newgarden’s wins are rarely of the flashy sort, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s almost impossible to beat at eye level. He’s the only driver with two wins this year, let alone three, and with teammates Scott Mclaughlin and Will Power each winning one, Penske has gotten off to a rollicking start as it seeks to win its first championship since 2019.

Chevrolet also deserves a big round of applause for its return to title-fighting form. With six wins from eight races – with Pato O’Ward’s win at Barber adding to Penske’s tally – the Bowtie leads the Manufacturers’ Championship 678-618 ahead of Honda.

POINTS

Would anyone fancy leading the championship for more than one race? Road America’s 55-lap frenzy resulted in the sixth consecutive hand change with the overall lead as Will Power’s ugly day returned Marcus Ericsson to the top of the points after briefly holding it and losing after the Indy 500.

Across eight races, the leaders to exit each race were:

St Petersburg: Scott McLaughlin

Texas: Scott McLaughlin

Long Beach: Joseph Newgarden

Hairdresser: Alex Palou

Indy GP: Willpower

Indy 500: Marcus Ericsson

Detroit: Willpower

Road America: Marcus Ericsson

With his win, Newgarden moved up from P5 to P3 in the overall standings (-32 points to Ericsson). Power’s memorable race came with a drop to P2 (-27) and despite his crash to 26th in the race with engine problems, Pato O’Ward wasn’t badly affected in his climb from P3 to P4 (-45). The same goes for Alex Palou, who finished last on Sunday, only dropping from P4 to P5 (-47).

Scott Dixon remained in P6 but continued to lose ground (from -53 to Detroit to -69).

To conclude, let’s take a moment to commend the work of Newgarden to get from P16 in the Championship to P3 at Round 1, and Rossi’s rise from P20 at St Pete to P7 (-75) by the halfway point of the Season. Felix Rosenqvist deserves the same praise for his move from P17 to P8 (-90).

CHEVY CRUNCH

Those crunching sounds coming from the rear of Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP Chevy weren’t as costly as first thought. A Chevy spokesman confirmed the Mexican’s engine fired and ran with no issues in the paddock after the race, but the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 should be ripped out and shipped back to Detroit for a full inspection by Chevy Racing and hopefully to be returned to O’ Wards No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP entry to avoid a grid penalty.

Eric Gilbert/Motorsport Pictures

ME8 RISES

In 2020, Scott Dixon was the dominant driver on the Chip Ganassi Racing Team as he won his sixth championship. There were a few occasions where his teammates finished ahead of the #9 Honda, but not many as Dixon was the top CGR rider in most races. The baton was passed to CGR rookie Alex Palou last year who not only won the title but also became CGR’s first home driver at most events.

The baton has been passed again at least in the previous eight rounds, with Marcus Ericsson leading the four-car team home at half of the races (Texas, Indy GP, Indy 500 and Road America).

There’s no question Dixon and Palou will attempt to regain control in the coming months, but if Ericsson’s bullish form of late – including Sunday’s clash with his team-mate – tells us anything, it’s that he’s on a mission is to make big things this year and not worry about playing well with others. The changing tides within CGR are sure to make for something interesting to follow for the rest of the year.

SIMILAR TO HERTA

Andretti Autosport piggybacked Ericsson’s rise to top performer at CGR and witnessed a similar evolution between Herta and Rossi. Of the 16 races in 2021, Herta was the clear leader with race results, owning Andretti’s best performance in eight appearances. In 2022, with three pieces, it is even between them; Grosjean was the first driver to come home on the other two occasions.

The notable trend here is that Herta has only been Andretti’s top performer at one race since Texas in March – when he won the Indy road course in May – and since then it’s been Rossi, Rossi and Rossi again.

DEVELOP DEVLIN

It’s fair to say that Devlin DeFrancesco hasn’t covered himself in multiple glory this year, but should he be parked as Will Power suggested post-race? The Andretti Autosport rookie found himself in the crosshairs of another veteran after Sunday’s chaotic sequence when he and Power made contact twice within three corners. The young Italian-Canadian driver blamed Power for the first wheel-banging incident at Turn 3 and at Turn 5 it was Power on the receiving end of contact who fired his car into the wall.

Both drivers pointed at each other. Power suggested paying back at a future race, but those were empty words unless he wants to lose hope of winning the championship. So was it nothing more than a proverbial storm in a teacup, or should IndyCar take further disciplinary action beyond the stop-and-go penalty imposed?

Parking DeFrancesco will in no way help him improve. Despite his youth – he’s only 22 – DeFrancesco has a wealth of experience, having raced junior open wheel and sports cars around the world. However, what DeFrancesco lacks is mileage in big open-wheelers, and this is where I think the reputation for leaving Indy Lights after a season consistently demonstrates the lack of experience he needs most. Therefore, lifting him out of the seat would only make the problem worse and destroy his confidence.

No disrespect to Devlin, but he’s no O’Ward, Herta or Kirkwood, who only needed a year of Lights to be ready for IndyCar. Going backwards isn’t the answer for DeFrancesco; He’s here and needs to find the right balance of aggressiveness and caution that was lacking in Texas and again last weekend.

Today, Takuma Sato is revered for his “No Attack, No Chance” mantra, which has led him to six IndyCar wins, including two at the Indy 500. Turn the clock back to his 2010 rookie season, however, which came after 90 Formula 1 racing and it’s easy to forget how ugly it was for Taku as he raced on his way to turning 21.

I’m not saying DeFrancesco wants to be everything Sato has developed over the years, but he’s hardly the first rookie to make big mistakes in his IndyCar debut. Let’s give him more time to see how he develops.

PROUD

IMS/IndyCar sent a cool message during Road America weekend that highlighted its efforts to participate in Pride Month activities in the Indianapolis area in June.

“[On Saturday], we will have about 30 company representatives who will be at the Indy Pride Parade on Mass Ave. go for a walk downtown,” it said. “On Sunday we celebrate a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the Fastest Seat in Sports at Road America. She will be a member of the US women’s hockey team, which champions diversity and inclusion efforts in the sports world. We also received our local Indy Pride Chapter leadership in May and they will be coming to IMS for another visit this month in honor of Pride Month.”

For those who have questioned why Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda sported proud colors in May instead of June, it was down to the timing of DHL’s sponsorship package for the year.

Grosjean’s car had a different main sponsor in June with Zapata in Detroit and UniFirst last weekend, so DHL went early last month with the rainbow livery on the No. 28’s sidepods, but the Swiss-born Frenchman continued to represent him by giving the same DHL -Rennen wore a suit with the Pride colors at both events.

Grosjeans consistent colors. Motorsport images

VARIOUS

Jimmie Johnson’s spin and stall into the gravel trap at Turn 3 on Lap 1 resulted in the loudest collective groan I’ve heard at a media center this year.
Hey, a neat and orderly start has happened at Road America! Who thought that?
Sharp observation from Michael Edlund:

My friend Russ Thompson, NBC’s Supreme Intergalactic Stat Lord, has been tracking driver penalties since 2014. I know this because I asked Russ if the four penalties Tatiana Calderon received at Road America is a record for a single event by a rider. Based on the 2014 season, the answer is yes.

Tati was relegated to the back of the field on lap 10 for speeding in the pits. She was run through for another speed violation on lap 39, ordered to relinquish a position on lap 48 for not maintaining pace car speed, and received the same penalty on the next lap. She also lost an enormous amount of time in pit lane when her car stalled, reignited, staggered forward a few inches and stalled again. When the car pulled away successfully, 90.7 seconds was spent in the pit lane, nearly three times their other stops, leaving the #11 Chevy a lap behind. With this problem and all the penalties combined, she spent 225.6 seconds in the pit lane. Scott Dixon, whose No. 9 Ganassi team was fastest of the day, spent a total of 97.0 seconds on the track…

Calderon would be credited P25.

Up until April it would have been crazy to claim Rossi would become the best Andretti rider in the Championship but here we are in June with him in P7 leading Herta in P11 and Grosjean in P12.

As we rode along Road America in a golf cart with fellow journalist Jack Benyon, we encountered a happy family on a golf cart in front of us and saw IMS President Doug Boles turn and wave from behind the wheel. It was a reminder of how much Boles loves racing – he wasn’t at the track on business; it was simply about enjoying the sport in another iconic location. Some of the country’s nicest and most passionate racing fans gather at Road America, and if you’ve never been there, be sure to attend next year’s race.

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#Pruetts #Cooldown #Road #America

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