IndyCar veterans and newbies thrilled after test at Elkhart Lake's iconic track.
IndyCar’s two main contenders for the 2015 championship and its latest American race winner were left exhilarated by today’s 11-car IndyCar test at Road America.
CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden described his first trip in seven years to Elkhart Lake’s famous 4.048-mile facility as “freaking awesome,” Team Penske’s title runner-up Juan Pablo Montoya described it as “cool, just really good fun,” while reigning and four-time champion, Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing said, “It’s still an amazing track to run hard at.”
And all three were blown away by the spectator turnout for a one-day test. “It was pretty amazing,” remarked Montoya. “I think this race [slated for June 26 next year] is going to be a big hit. The fans here in Wisconsin are really passionate.”
Teams were remaining cagey about lap times although it’s understood that Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power got into the 1min43.0s, the latter while trying various compounds on behalf of Firestone.
Newgarden, who this year enjoyed a breakout season with the Ed Carpenter/Sarah Fisher/Wink Hartman-owned CFH team and scored two wins, was lost in admiration for not only the exhilaration of driving the Wisconsin track but also its tough nature.
He said: “It’s a real shame we haven’t been there for so long – my last time was in a Skip Barber car in 2008, I think. It’s the country’s premier road course facility, and the fun factor is just fantastic. But it’s also a real challenge to put a whole lap together and completely punishing.
"If you mess up on one corner, you pay the price all the way along the next straight, and there are a lot of those and they’re long.”
Montoya agreed, and also drew attention to the changes he’d felt when last racing a CART Indy car there in 2000. “These cars are quite draggy down the straights, but where we’re getting a lot of time from is the speed we’re able to take through the corners. In the old car, it was fairly sketchy here and there, you were having to pedal the car quite a lot. Today, Canada corner was flat, in the Carousel I was upshifting to fifth!”
Dixon, who last raced Road America in 2002, noted that although there are still “places where you could have a huge shunt if anything goes wrong,” the updates to fencing and other facilities were an improvement.
“The downside of that is that some of the parts where you had reference points from 13 years ago don’t mean jack now. But yeah, the challenge is the same, and it’ll be tougher on race weekend. With the extra grip from the soft red tires, that’ll allow us to probably trim out some more, so I think you’ll see times come down quite a lot.”
Asked if it would make a good racing circuit, Newgarden paused before saying: “Well I don’t know until we actually run there. I mean, I thought the Indianapolis road course was going to be good because of its long straights, but I’m not sure it’s that great. But Road America has fast corners onto the straights, so I’m thinking we should be able to pick up a tow a lot sooner along them.”
“To be honest, we spent a lot of time experimenting with downforce levels – big sweeping changes from high to low, and I’m pretty sure we haven’t yet found the right compromise.”
Montoya 'pleased to spin'
By contrast, Montoya felt he and his race engineer Brian Campe quickly found the right package for the track, although JPM was quick to take the blame for the spin he had at Turn 14 with 40 minutes to go.
“I wouldn’t normally be so happy with a day where I spun, but it’s weird; actually I was pleased to feel that I was pushing hard enough to spin!" he said. "Until you reach the limit, you always wonder what you might be leaving on the table.”
More minor errors induced by low-downforce packages, Dixon and Montoya concur, will likely create good racing at Road America.
Said Dixon: “It would be quite easy to go too far on trimming out, and obviously that’s when it becomes easier to make mistakes,” while Montoya said, “These straights are so long, if you get the previous corner wrong, it’s going to hurt you for a long time. I think that will create quite a lot of passing opportunities.
“But it’s funny the things you forget about when you go back to such a long track,” the 2000 CART champ added. “Like, a tank of fuel burns off in just 12 or 13 laps. And the installation laps take forever. On my first out lap, I was running through the checklist – brakes up to temp, tires up to temp and so on and I got everything where I wanted them, and there was still half a lap to go!”
“It was great to be back at an iconic venue,” said Dixon. “I hope it’s not at the expense of Milwaukee because that’s another iconic track and I thought the fan turnout there was quite good this year. Plus it’s an oval and we need to make them work.
"But at the end of the day, we have to race where we’re wanted, and I think the fans and the drivers are pretty much 100 percent positive about going back to Road America.”