IndyCar drivers enjoy Road America test session
By NICHOLAS DETTMANN
Full Throttle Magazine
At times in Tuesday’s Verizon IndyCar Series test session at Road America, it was hard to tell who was more happy to be back: the drivers or the fans.
An estimated 2,000 fans turned up to watch the series wind through the 14-turn, 4-mile road course for the first time since 2007 and it was an astounding sight to see, according to several drivers.
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,” Penske driver Will Power said.
For some, it had been eight years since they whipped around the 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,” Ganassi driver Tony Kanaan said. “It’s awesome to be back.”
Kanaan said he and teammate Scott 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 was fun,” Kanaan said. “The last time I was 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,” Dixon said.
And the fans didn’t disappoint as they 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.
“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.
Getting around Road America wasn’t quite like riding a bike for Dixon, the 2015 series champion. The four-time series champion last raced at Road America in 2002 with CART.
He joked the one thing he remembered well was the entrance to pit lane.
“It is obviously familiar in the fact you know where the corners go,” Dixon added. “But the general feel of it and how the car should feel is quite a bit different.”
There are IndyCar drivers who have recent experience at Road America, just not in an IndyCar.
James Hinchcliffe, who wasn’t at the test session as he is still recovering from his injury before the Indianapolis 500, competed in a sports car event at the track last year.
Simon Pagenaud is another with recent experience. He won an American Le Mans Series race at Road America in 2013.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Power said. “I think it’s important to carry that on.”
IndyCar raced at Road America annually from 1982-2007.
“I think it’ll be good racing,” Power said.
It was also good for several of the drivers to be back in the car in general. Their last track activity was nearly a month ago at Sonoma. It was there where Dixon won the championship, overtaking Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the points all season.
“That one was definitely a surprise,” said Dixon, who won the championship in a tiebreaker over Montoya. “It feels great. I think we’ve lost championships like that before in ’07 and ’09 as well where we didn’t really get it right in the last race and ended up not getting it.”
“To get the fourth championship means a lot,” Dixon added.
Four weeks later, Dixon and Montoya are already thinking about 2016 and it started Tuesday at Road America.
“It’s good to be back in the car, especially when it’s at a place like this,” Dixon said.
Another test session is scheduled for Sept. 28, but is closed to the public.
Follow Nicholas Dettmann on Twitter: @dettmann_wbdn
Photos courtesy Nicholas Dettmann