Race Weekend Central

2023 IndyCar Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America Preview

The iconic venue at Road America with its rolling hills and vast green landscape is the next stop for the 2023 IndyCar season.

The four-mile, 14-turn road course is a favorite on the schedule for drivers and fans alike. If you haven’t been, and own a camper or tent, get on reserving a spot early when tickets go on sale. The track is like a state park with racing as its natural wonder.

And the on-track show there is great to watch.

After the marathon from the beginning of May to the last race at Detroit, the focus for IndyCar teams and drivers shifts from the chase for the Indy 500 crown to the second target, the Astor Cup. Current points leader Alex Palou is on a tear, winning two of the last three races as well as taking pole and its unique 12 bonus points at Indianapolis. The Spaniard has to be feeling good rolling into Road America, a track he won at in 2021 and where he put the series on notice with a third place finish in 2020 with Dale Coyne Racing.

Fresh Pavement

When drivers hit the track on Friday, it will be on newly paved asphalt over the winding Wisconsin countryside. With new pavement comes great grip which will no doubt increase speeds. A new track record is possible. Go ahead, mimic Tom Carnegie in your head, it’s allowed.

The Points Chase

Palou is in a comfortable position after Detroit, with a 51-point cushion over teammate Marcus Ericsson. Both Chip Ganassi Drivers have maintained their top-10 consistency through the season, but the Indy 500 pole and additional win has Palou on top over Ericsson. Head-to-head in their history at Road America, the duo competes very well there. In fact, a run-in early in last year’s race with Ericsson knocked Palou out of contention while they were racing near the front.

The other three drivers in the top-five in points must hope Palou faces some challenges in Wisconsin to close the gap. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is the defending winner and has two wins so far this season, so he’ll want to get the extra point for pole and maximize his time up front. Scott Dixon has had a prototypical year – not taking up the headlines but a glance at the standings makes you realize he’s ran well. His only poor finish this year was the contact with Pato O’Ward at Long Beach, an incident for which the Arrow McLaren driver was wholly unapologetic afterwards.

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Speaking of O’Ward, he finds himself right behind Dixon in the points. While the drivers ahead of him are nailing the consistency, O’Ward is feast or famine. His aggressive style, which has earned him fans, has also knocked him down in the championship. The last two races he didn’t finish due to crashes while in the hunt for a good result and he now sits 82 points behind Palou. Road America has fit O’Ward’s modus operandi though, with great results like in 2020 when he almost took his first career win, to last year when his engine expired and finished 26th.

Captain America Returns

The news of Conor Daly’s release at Ed Carpenter Racing isn’t terribly shocking when looking at the results. A top-10 at the Indy 500 is Daly’s only one this year and the team is 20th in entrant points, two spots above the Leaders Circle cutoff which guarantees nearly $1 million dollars at the end of the season. Unfortunately, the entire ECR operation has had poor performance this year as the other full-time car of Rinus VeeKay has one other top-10, also at Indianapolis, and Carpenter has run poorly in his oval-only appearances. For Carpenter, it seems logical a change was needed now for their sponsor BitNile and to try to stay in the Leaders Circle payout window.

Enter Captain America, Ryan Hunter-Reay. The 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner spent 12 years with Andretti Autosport and last drove more than one race with another team in 2009 with AJ Foyt Enterprises. He steps into the No. 20 BitNile Chevy with loads of experience to help aid Carpenter in figuring out what ails his team. It’s probably not in the realm that he will be up front but keep an eye on how his first race with a new team goes as they search for some improved performance.

Two Winners at Chip Ganassi And They Aren’t Dixon

You heard that right. Palou and Ericsson are winners in 2023, Dixon is not. Know how often two drivers in Ganassi’s shop have won before Dixon did in a season? Checking the notes… Never. Since 2002 when Dixon moved over to Ganassi’s team in CART after the third race of the season, Dixon has always been one of two drivers on the squad to win (unless it’s 2004 and the team goes winless with Toyota power, but let’s not focus on that). Granted, Ganassi didn’t always run three or more cars, but when they did, Dixon was getting a win at some point before a third car. Arguably the greatest driver of the current IndyCar generation is going to be hungry, and after some run-ins such as the previously mentioned O’Ward incident at Long Beach and also Will Power at Detroit, the gentlemanly New Zealander might have to turn it up a notch and show the kids out there you won’t like it when he’s angry.

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Leaders Circle Update

As previously mentioned, there’s a fight for the top-22 in the entrant standings. Currently Helio Castroneves sits 22nd, two points ahead of the No. 30 of Jack Harvey and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Rookie Agustin Canapino is three points behind Castroneves, and that million-dollar payout would be a great help to the Juncos Hollinger Racing team next year as they continue to run with few sponsors on their sidepods. While the championship fight is ongoing, so will be the struggle to stay at the cutoff or above.

20thNo. 20: Hunter-Reay+8
21stNo. 29: Devlin DeFrancesco+7
22ndNo. 06: Castroneves80 points
23rdNo. 30 Harvey-2
24thNo. 78 Canapino-3

The Other Million Dollar Prize Post-Detroit

Palou’s Detroit street course win gave him two of the three discipline requirements for the $1 million PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge prize. With an earlier win at the permanent road course GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis he is one oval win away from sealing the deal. However, he will have to wait until the doubleheader at Iowa in July to see if he can grab the check.

In the meantime, only Newgarden can snatch it from Palou’s grasp before Iowa, but he will have to be almost perfect to do so. With an oval win already (ahem, Indianapolis anyone?), a victory in one of the two upcoming road courses – Road America or Mid-Ohio – and at the street race in Toronto will outdo Palou. That’s a challenge the young Tennessean has to like considering he won last year in Wisconsin and has six top 10s at Mid-Ohio. Then there is Kyle Kirkwood and Ericsson lurking in the shadows, with one street course triumph apiece. A road course win over the next two races will make them feel good heading to the cornfield utopia of Iowa in July.

Frontstretch Race Prediction

For Detroit, the prediction was O’Ward first, followed by Palou and Dixon. Well, Palou won, so wasn’t far off there and if O’Ward didn’t hustle the car into the concrete barrier, he might have garnered a podium. So, feeling good right now on that one though doubtful that sustains. For this week, let’s go with these three:

  1. Alex Palou (the Spaniard is on fire)
  2. Josef Newgarden
  3. Scott Dixon (you won’t even realize he is there until the results are published – classic Dixon)

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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