ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – It’s uncharted territory for Helio Castroneves and the rest of Team Penske – a race weekend without owner Roger Penske.
Penske, the team owner and longtime strategist for 42-year-old Castroneves, is out of the United States on business and missing today’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Castroneves will start from the pole position for the 50th time in his Indy car career but won’t have Penske’s familiar voice in his ear. Team officials said it is the first time the owner will miss a race since he didn’t stay for the completion of the 2011 event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that was red-flagged after 14 laps by wet track conditions and completed the following day.
Race strategist responsibilities for Castroneves will fall to his race engineer, Jonathan Diuguid, who will take on the dual role. Tim Cindric, president at Team Penske, said Diuguid will have company on the pit box to lend a helping hand in guiding the No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet. Team technical director Ron Ruzewski will also be on hand.
“Ron Ruzewski, who called (Juan Pablo) Montoya’s races (at Indianapolis in May), is also in Helio’s pit,” Cindric said. “So, between Ron and Jonathan, I’ve got every confidence. I think this race is good in which it’s good to be upfront. It’s going to depend on how many yellows there are and what the tire strategy is and how it all turns out.”
Castroneves was 13th fastest in this morning’s warmup practice, but called it business as usual in his pit box.
“Even though R.P. is not here, he's still here,” said Castroneves, seeking to halt a three-year winless skid that stretches 53 races. “Even though he's not physically here, he's still here. The foundation he lays down to everybody in my group especially, it's already there.
“I feel that we know what we need to do. We just got to give this one to Roger, and it will be great to win for him, for sure.”
Castroneves’ stiffest competition may well come from within his own camp. Team Penske locked out the field by stealing the top four spots in Saturday qualifying. Defending race winner Will Power starts second in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden is on the inside of Row 2 in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Chevrolet and reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud on the outside of the second row in the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet.
Scott Dixon, the championship leader after nine races, starts fifth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. However, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion had fuel pressure issues in his car and was unable to turn a lap at speed in the morning practice.
Today’s race marks the 27th for Indy cars on the scenic road course in east-central Wisconsin. Hector Rebaque won the first Indy car race at the track in 1982.
KOHLER Grand Prix race facts:
Race 10 of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule
Green flag: 1:17 p.m. ET
Track: Road America, a 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Race distance: 55 laps / 220.77 miles (five laps longer than 2016)
Fuel: 80 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol for each car
Fuel stint: 13-14 laps (for three-stop race)
Push-to-pass: 200 total seconds to use, with a maximum length of 20 seconds per activation. When activated, it provides approximately 60 extra horsepower during the activation. Push-to-pass cannot be activated in the race start or any restarts unless they occur in the final two laps or last three minutes of a timed race.
Tire regulations: Each entry must specify which Firestone tire specification – primary (black sidewalls) or alternate (red sidewalls) – it intends to start on in a dry-condition race. During the race, each car must use at least one set of primary tires and one new set of alternate tires for a minimum of two laps each.
TV: NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, with coverage beginning at noon ET
Radio: Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, available on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209 and IndyCar.com, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET