Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

Michael Levitt/Lumen

Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

Insights & Analysis

Pruett's cooldown lap: Road America

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IndyCar drivers with the ability to find something extra and take over a race are exceedingly rare. Josef Newgarden certainly fits that bill and, with his third victory of the season, the Team Penske driver served another notice of his intent to become a three-time champion by the end of the year.

Newgarden’s wins are rarely of the flashy variety, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s nearly impossible to beat on equal terms. He’s the only driver with two wins this year, let alone three, and with teammates Scott Mclaughlin and Will Power adding one apiece, Penske’s off to a rollicking start as it seeks to earn its first championship since 2019.

Chevrolet also deserves a big round of applause for its return to title-contending form. Six wins from eight races — with Pato O’Ward’s victory at Barber adding to Penske’s tally — has the Bowtie leading the Manufacturers’ championship 678-618 over Honda.

POINTS

Would anyone care to lead the championship for more than one race? Road America’s 55-lap romp led to the sixth straight change-of-hands with the lead in the standings as Will Power’s ugly day returned Marcus Ericsson to the top of the points after briefly holding it and losing it after the Indy 500.

Through eight races the leaders leaving each race have been:

St. Petersburg: Scott McLaughlin

Texas: Scott McLaughlin

Long Beach: Josef Newgarden

Barber: Alex Palou

Indy GP: Will Power

Indy 500: Marcus Ericsson

Detroit: Will Power

Road America: Marcus Ericsson

With his win, Newgarden improved from P5 to P3 in the standings (-32 points to Ericsson). Power’s forgettable race came with a drop to P2 (-27) and despite his fall to 26th in the race with engine issues, Pato O’Ward wasn’t heavily affected in his move from P3 to P4 (-45). Same for Alex Palou, who finished last on Sunday and only fell from P4 to P5 (-47).

Scott Dixon held station in P6 but lost more ground (from -53 after Detroit to -69).

Let’s close by taking a moment to praise the work put in by Newgarden to go from P16 in the championship at Round 1 to P3, and Rossi’s climb from P20 in St. Pete to P7 (-75) by the halfway point of the season. Felix Rosenqvist also deserves the same praise for motoring from P17 to P8 (-90).

CHEVY CRUNCH

Those crunchy sounds heard from the back of Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP Chevy weren’t as costly as first suspected. A Chevy spokesperson confirmed the Mexican’s motor fired and ran without issue in the paddock after the race, but the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 was due to be yanked and sent back to Detroit for a full inspection by Chevy Racing and hopefully returned to O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP entry to avoid a grid penalty.

Rough day for Pato O’Ward… Richard Dole/Motorsport Images

ME8 RISING

In 2020, Scott Dixon was the dominant driver within the Chip Ganassi Racing team as he went on to win his sixth championship. There were a few occasions where his teammates finished in front of the No. 9 Honda, but not many, as Dixon was the top CGR driver at the majority of the races. The baton was passed last year to CGR newcomer Alex Palou who not only won the title, but also became the first driver home for CGR at most events.

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

There’s no question as to whether Dixon and Palou will look to take control back in the coming months, but if Ericsson’s bullish form of late—including the clash with his teammate on Sunday—tells us anything, it’s that he’s on a mission to do big things this year and isn’t worried about playing nicely with others. The shifting tides within CGR certainly make for something interesting to follow for the remainder of the year.

SIMILAR FOR HERTA

Piggybacking off of Ericsson’s rise to top performer at CGR, Andretti Autosport has seen a similar evolution take place between Herta and Rossi. From the 16 races in 2021, Herta was the clear leader with race results, owning Andretti’s best performance on eight outings. So far in 2022, it’s even between them with three apiece; Grosjean has been the first driver home on the other two occasions.

The trend of note here is how Herta’s only been Andretti’s top performer at one race since Texas in March—when he won on the Indy road course in May—and since then, it’s been Rossi, Rossi and Rossi again.

DEVELOPING DEVLIN

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

Both drivers pointed fingers at each other. Power suggested payback was on the cards at a future race, but those were idle words unless he wants to lose any hope of winning the championship. So was it nothing more than a proverbial storm in a teacup, or should further disciplinary action be taken by IndyCar beyond the stop-and-go penalty that was assessed?

Parking DeFrancesco won’t help him to improve in any way. Despite his youth—he’s just 22—DeFrancesco has a ton of experience, having raced throughout the world in junior open-wheel and sports cars. What DeFrancesco lacks, however, is mileage in big open-wheelers, and it’s here where I think the call to leave Indy Lights after one season is repeatedly exposing the lack of experience he needs most. That’s why taking him out of the seat would only exacerbate the problem and kill his confidence.

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

Today, Takuma Sato is revered for his “No Attack, No Chance” mantra that’s led him to six IndyCar wins, with two of those coming at the Indy 500. Wind the clock back to his rookie season in 2010, though, which came after 90 Formula 1 races, and it’s easy to forget how ugly it was for Taku as he seemingly hit everybody and everything but the pace car on the way to 21st in the standings.

I’m not saying DeFrancesco is primed to become everything Sato evolved into over the years, but he’s is hardly the first rookie to make big mistakes during his IndyCar debut. Let’s give him more time to see how he develops.

PRIDE

IMS/IndyCar sent over a cool note during the Road America weekend that highlighted its efforts to take part in June’s Indianapolis-area Pride Month activities.

• On Saturday, we’ll have 30 or so company reps walking in the Indy Pride Parade on Mass Ave. in downtown.

• On Sunday, we’ll celebrate a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the Fastest Seat in Sports at Road America. It will be a member of the US Women’s Hockey team riding in support of diversity/inclusion efforts in the sports world.

• We also hosted our local Indy Pride chapter leadership during the Month of May and they will be coming to IMS for another visit this month in honor of Pride Month.”

For those who’ve asked why Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda sported pride colors in May rather than June, it was due to the timing of DHL’s sponsorship package for the year.

Grosjean’s car had a different primary sponsors in June with Zapata at Detroit and UniFirst last weekend, hence DHL going early with the rainbow livery on the No. 28’s sidepods last month, but the Swiss-born Frenchman continued to represent by wearing the same DHL racing suit with the pride colors at both events.

Grosjean’s consistent colors. Motorsport Images

MISC

• Jimmie Johnson’s spin and stall into the Turn 3 gravel trap on Lap 1 led to the loudest collective groan I’ve heard in a media center this year.

• Hey, a neat and orderly start happened at Road America! Who’da thunk?

• Keen observation by Michael Edlund:

• My friend Russ Thompson, NBC’s Supreme Intergalactic Stat Lord, has kept track of 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 one driver. Dating back to the 2014 season, the answer is yes.

• Tati was ordered to the back of the field on lap 10 for speeding in the pits. She was given a drive-through on lap 39 for another speeding violation, told to surrender a position on lap 48 for failing to maintain pace car speed and handed the same penalty on the next lap. She also lost an immense amount of time on pit lane when her car stalled, was re-fired, lurched forward a few inches and stalled again. By the time the car successfully left, 90.7s were spent on pit lane, nearly triple the length of her other stops, which left the No. 11 Chevy a lap down. With that problem, plus all the penalties stacked together, she spent 225.6 seconds on pit lane. Scott Dixon, whose No. 9 Ganassi team was fastest on the day, spent a combined 97.0 seconds on the lane… Calderon would be credited with P25.

• Through April, it would have been crazy to suggest Rossi would become the top Andretti driver in the championship, but here we are in June with him holding P7 leading Herta in P11 and Grosjean in P12.

• While tooling around Road America on a golf cart with fellow journalist Jack Benyon, we came across a happy family on a golf cart in front of us and saw it was IMS president Doug Boles turning and waving from behind the steering wheel. It was a reminder of how much Boles loves racing — he wasn’t at the track for business; it was simply to enjoy the sport at another iconic venue. Some of the nicest and most passionate racing fans in the country congregate at Road America, and if you’ve never been, please make it a point to attend next year’s race.

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