ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – As if the Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers didn’t have enough on their plate trying to achieve the proper setup for today’s KOHLER Grand Prix, they woke up this morning to rain that soaked Road America.
The final warmup session, which teams hoped would give them 30 minutes of dry conditions to sort out what has been a baffling weekend for most in determining how to make the car work over a stint on the demanding, high-speed, 4.014-mile permanent road course. Instead, just two drivers – Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal – went on track briefly for an abbreviated 20-minute session on rain tires.
CLICK HERE: KOHLER Grand Prix starting lineup/tire designation
Bourdais, in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Chevrolet, posted the only officially timed laps – two, with a best of 2 minutes, 11.3498 seconds (110.015 mph), nearly 30 seconds slower than the pole-winning time logged Saturday by Team Penske’s Will Power. For Bourdais, the track time was more to build assurance in his car than anything.
"The track was a lot drier than I thought it would be,” Bourdais said. “The car felt really good. We wanted to check our brakes, which we changed again, the third time this weekend. The car was braking straight, so I am more confident with the car now.
"The (rain) tires were really good. They are the same tires for the road and street courses. They are pretty soft for the road courses, which gives you a lot of grip. I really like the tire that Firestone gave to us."
The wet conditions, though, prohibited teams from working on their setups for dry conditions expected in this afternoon’s race (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). It was clear following qualifying on Saturday that most were still struggling to make their cars work and tires last through a full stint – expected to be about 12 laps around the lengthy circuit.
“It's going to be interesting with push-to-pass and tire degradation,” said pole sitter Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. “The tires are probably going to degrade and, the more you use the curbs, the more it degrades them. And it's going to be very hot, so maybe the tires will degrade a lot over that 12 laps and you may not even make it (through a full stint).”
Scott Dixon, the four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, will start alongside Power on Row 1 in the No. 9 Clorox Chevrolet. The 39-time Indy car race winner who will be making his 200th consecutive start said he, too, is uncertain on tire wear.
Firestone has played the balancing act this weekend, bringing tire compounds durable enough to stand up to the demands of the long, fast circuit, yet thin enough in tread depth so as not to overheat internally and blister. It is a fine line.
“I think with the tires, it's hard to know,” Dixon said. “It seems the blacks (primary tires with black sidewalls) maybe go off a little bit. I haven't experienced any real degradation with the reds (alternates with red sidewalls) yet, so the reds could be the hot tire to have.”
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan starts third in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevy and shares the same concerns, especially when some drivers begun struggling with car handling early in a stint.
“It's going to be an interesting race,” said Kanaan, who will extend his Indy car record for consecutive race starts to 258 today. “We do have a good car and I think we'll be very competitive, so we'll see what's going to happen. You often see when you go to a race and some people have cars that only last three or four laps, they're fast, but then they start to go backwards, and especially I think managing the tires is going to be a big thing.”
Drivers to watch coming from the middle or rear of the pack include: Bourdais, winner of the last Indy car race at Road America in 2007, starts 12th; Juan Pablo Montoya, starting 14th in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Takuma Sato, starting 15th in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda; Josef Newgarden, starting 20th in the No. 21 Direct Supply Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy; and James Hinchcliffe, starting 22nd and last in the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Officially, the KOHLER Grand Prix is the ninth race of the 16-race Verizon IndyCar Series season since the Firestone 600 was suspended June 12 and will be completed Aug. 27. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is the championship leader heading into the race with an 80-point lead over Dixon and 86-point advantage on Helio Castroneves, who will make career start No. 320 today to tie Al Unser for fourth all time.
KOHLER Grand Prix fast facts:
Track: Road America, 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course
Telecast: 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network
Start engines command: 1:07 p.m. ET
Race distance: 50 laps/200.7 miles
Fuel: 70 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol