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Winners and Losers: IndyCar Grand Prix of Road America

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones


Will Power took his first victory in two years and four days in the 2024 IndyCar Grand of Road America on Sunday. It ended a 34-race winless run after Power failed to win a race in a season for the first time in 16 years in 2023 amid a difficult year off-track. 


Power’s Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin stood beside him on the rostrum as they completed a sweep of the podium. There were plenty of highs and lows through the field, assessed by DIVEBOMB below…


Winner: Team Penske


It is worth putting into perspective the scale of Penske’s achievement of sweeping the podium on Sunday. It was only the 14th time in IndyCar Series history that such a thing has been managed. And 10 of those have now been courtesy of Penske, most recently at Sonoma Raceway in 2017.


To get it this right is an incredibly difficult feat. Yet it comes mere weeks after locking out the Indianapolis 500 front row, offering further evidence of the exceptional quality control car-to-car at Penske, as well as the level of their three drivers. Josef Newgarden had a major crash, logged at 95G, late in qualifying but his backup car proved just as quick.


Penske have made a big leap in performance on road and street courses in 2024. Scott McLaughlin was their only road-and-street winner last year and made a team-high seven Fast Six appearances despite being the least experienced of the trio, with Will Power only once making the Fast Six and Newgarden only three times. 


This year, Power has already made four road-and-street Fast Six appearances in six attempts, with Newgarden only missing out on the pole shootout once. All three drivers have a win to their name inside seven races - Newgarden’s coming on an oval but having dominated the St. Petersburg race that he was ultimately disqualified from.


It was nothing short of a beatdown in the race at Road America, with McLaughlin - third-best Penske - still eight seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher and reigning champion Alex Palou. The overcut strategy ultimately reigned supreme, with Power leapfrogging both teammates after his final stop following an excellent stint on the troublesome alternate tyres.


Power had been knocking on the door of victory all year, finishing second three times before finally clinching his 42nd career victory, drawing him level for Michael Andretti for fourth all-time. He crashed out of the Indy 500 but otherwise holds a worst finish of sixth inside the first seven races and leads the championship standings.


There was a poignant note to the victory too. Power’s wife Liz almost passed away due to a life-threatening infection in early 2023. There was a further health scare ahead of the Road America weekend last year, when Power’s stress levels and emotions really came to the fore and he questioned whether he should continue racing.


Only one year later, it was incredibly heartwarming to see the unbridled joy as he celebrated with Liz and son Beau as he returned to the winners’ circle at the same track one year on.


And after a year of off-track toil and distraction last year, this feels like the true start of the attempted defence of his championship success from 2022.


Archie


Winner: Andretti Global


It’s particularly hard what to judge as a good weekend for Andretti in 2024, and Road America is no exception. There’s been a consistent case of an encouraging performance yielding very little, whether in or out of their driver’s control, but it does feel like a first win in 2024 is just around the corner for the team.


Maybe the sticking point is Colton Herta, who feels like the focal point of the inconsistent nature of the team. Herta hasn’t had smooth weekends recently at Indianapolis and Detroit, and it wouldn’t get any smoother after he was hit by Josef Newgarden on Lap 1. But once again, Herta showed the maturity that he lacks at times when he went off-strategy, rounding out the day with a sixth place finish.


Herta was understandably slightly disappointed, given he had the potential to win for the third weekend in a row, but it’s results like these which are more impressive in the bigger picture, not the results where overzealousness prevails in places like Detroit. Maybe the championship is a stretch too far, but Herta was impressive once again.


Kyle Kirkwood now has as many top five finishes that aren’t wins, as top five finishes that are. And it feels like he’s turning a new page too. Kirkwood remains the driver with the ‘best worst’ finish this season, and is displaying consistency he lacked abundantly last year. That sees him sixth in the standings after a fifth place at Road America - a result which feels like was maximised.


‘A Marcus Ericsson day,’ was the watchword of Ericsson’s performance when spoken about on the DIVEBOMB IndyCar Podcast last year. A result which wasn’t flashy or incredible, but consistently quiet to bring home a good result. And maybe Ericsson has lacked those results coming into the team, but Road America maybe felt like it was the first time he’d achieved that in the Andretti stable, with a ninth place finish. It’s not been the start to Andretti life Ericsson had envisioned, but results like these are only going to bolster confidence.


Yes, the facts don’t lie. Andretti have only had three podiums this season, and are still winless. But it’s undeniable that they’ve improved from a performance standpoint. These are also starting to convert to stronger, and crucially, more consistent results. What they do desperately need though, is a win.


Dan


Winner: Romain Grosjean


Amidst a week where Juncos Hollinger Racing were in the limelight for all the wrong reasons, their on-track display was much more to smile about, led by a seasons-best finish for the team, and Romain Grosjean, as he brought home a seventh place finish, at the same venue where his Andretti Autosport career fell apart last year.


Grosjean’s weekend did not start well. He crashed in Turn 14 on his first practice lap, ending his running for the day, and after Saturday’s weather-affected events, he would not see dry running until warm-up on Sunday. And after the incident which looked like it had only further compounded Juncos’ woes, Grosjean displayed a level of maturity and excellence that hasn’t been seen since his early IndyCar days with Dale Coyne Racing. Qualifying 14th was a very impressive effort, owed to Grosjean’s experience.


And after avoiding the opening corner chaos, a well executed strategy brought home the Frenchman a seventh place finish - his best since Nashville last season. Grosjean said ‘it feels like we deserve more,’ but was ‘very proud of where he ended.’ As noted by Grosjean, he was competitive with the likes of the Arrow McLaren’s and Andretti Global cars, something that Juncos have been unable to do on a regular basis.


It must be said that Grosjean’s opening few races with Juncos have been a breath of fresh air after a frustrating two years of Andretti. The enthusiasm that was shown at Dale Coyne Racing is starting to creep back into Grosjean’s character. The two top ten finishes he has achieved this year is the same amount he had at this point last year, in addition to a first finish at the Indianapolis 500.


After the week that Juncos have had on track, they needed something more positive to take away from Road America, and Romain Grosjean certainly provided that.


Dan


Winner: Graham Rahal


Graham Rahal has quietly had a solid start to the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL). He is joint-14th in the standings with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Armstrong and ahead of Ganassi’s Linus Lundqvist too - both podium-sitters this year. 


Rahal is only 20 points behind teammate Christian Lundgaard, nine points adrift of Andretti Global’s Marcus Ericsson - second-place finisher in Detroit - only 36 points out of the top 10. He has finished no lower than 17th across the opening seven races. 


There have been frustrations. He made the Fast 12 in three of the first four races but has felt there has been more on the cards at times and has not yet made the Fast Six. When in these better starting positions, he has occasionally fallen back somewhat. But on weekends of not-so-good qualifying performances, he has put in some impressive recovery drives.


The Indianapolis 500 was one particularly laudable performance as he made his way to a 15th-place finish after narrowly avoiding successive years of being bumped to start 33rd. And now adding to a ninth-place finish in Long Beach, he has a second top 10 to his name this season after the Road America weekend.


It was not straightforward at Elkhart Lake. Qualifying 24th was disappointing in wet conditions, which took away some of RLL’s road course strengths. This was compounded by a venture off into the gravel at Turn 1 in the race after seeming contact with Dale Coyne Racing’s Luca Ghiotto.


But Rahal made steady progress back through the field and was very happy with his race car. Coming home 10th, he was the field’s biggest mover and has a rare sense that he avoided misfortune when it mattered most. He feels he could have as many as six top 10s if things had gone his way in the early part of the season. So there may be more to come.


Rahal continues to remind people he is not on the doorstep of retirement and still has lots left to give for his family team, who continue to show strong on road and street courses.


Archie


Loser: Chip Ganassi Racing


Road America truly felt like a weekend of two halves for Chip Ganassi Racing, but once all is said and done, it’ll be a weekend that the team wants to forget rather quickly.


The wet-to-dry qualifying session posed an additional challenge to the field, particularly Ganassi, with three drivers in their five driver stable never previously driven an Indy car in the wet prior to the weekend. The qualifying performance certainly didn’t suggest that. All five cars made it into the Fast 12, with Linus Lundqvist taking a surprise first career pole, with Marcus Armstrong and Kyffin Simpson also achieving career-best qualifying performances.


It would come undone extremely quickly on Sunday though. Armstrong would start well, and was onto the back of teammate Lundqvist exiting Turn 1. Lundqvist would check up ever so slightly, Armstrong careering into the back of the Swede, spinning both cars out, and earning himself a penalty for avoidable contact.


It wouldn’t get any better with Simpson, running just outside the Top 10, finding himself the victim of a clumsy move by Christian Rasmussen, his day ending on Lap 5 in the Turn 14 barrier. Armstrong’s day would also come to an early end with a mechanical failure mid-way through the race.


The reliable hands of Scott Dixon didn’t prove particularly reliable either. The Kiwi would drop like a fly on his stint on the unpreferred alternate tyre, forcing his hand into an awkward strategy, finding himself an underwhelming 21st at the flag, and losing his championship lead to race winner, Will Power.


As Álex Palou always seems to do, he brought home a good result though. It was a particularly quiet day, with Palou having little to no chance of overhauling the might of the Penske’s to come home fourth.


Ganassi might look back on this weekend with some confidence. It was showing to be a promising weekend for both their rookies, before their days were ended through no fault of their own, and Palou remaining very much in the championship mix. But at the end of the day, points matter. And when you leave a weekend with minimal of them, it only hurts everyone in the longer picture.


Dan


Loser: Alexander Rossi


Road America has traditionally been a strong track for Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi. He won in 2019 and picked up two further podiums in 2020 and 2022 while with Andretti Global, also securing pole position in 2022.


And he headed into the Road America weekend in good form this year - possibly the best patch of his stint with Arrow McLaren so far. 


Rossi has had some qualifying struggles in the opening rounds, with the race car generally better. He started 15th, 13th and 16th in the first three races, with similar in Detroit with a 17th-place start before a Lap 1 incident. This necessitated some hard work to get through the field, with Barber an anomaly as a messy weekend ended early with a loose wheel. 


Otherwise, he had finished inside the top 10 in every race leading up to Road America. May was very strong, with a first Fast 12 qualifying appearance on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before qualifying as the best non-Penske car for the Indianapolis 500. 


After finishing fifth in Detroit despite an early incident, Rossi came into Road America fifth in the championship and only 10 points behind teammate Pato O’Ward. It had looked as though he had really found his feet and was developing some real consistency that was not always evident last year. And that appeared to be continuing at Elkhart Lake.


Rossi topped his qualifying group in the wet before failing to transfer to the Fast Six in the improving conditions. But the race saw him running on the edge of the podium at times and safely inside the top 10.


But things started to snowball. Rossi lost time in a mid-race pit sequence before a wiring issue led to a debilitating wastegate failure. He ultimately dropped down the order to finish 18th and has fallen four positions to ninth in the championship - now 22 points behind O’Ward and 74 back from leader Will Power.


Archie


Loser: Rinus VeeKay


It feels like Rinus VeeKay has often been near enough in the ballpark early in 2024 after a tough 2023 for Ed Carpenter Racing, in which VeeKay only once finished inside the top 10 on a road or street course. It feels as though the team has made a step forward in 2024, though VeeKay does not necessarily have the results to show for it.


The Dutch driver started the season in strong fashion with an eighth-place finish - five places higher than his best street course result last year. But then misfortune took hold.


Poor luck in the Thermal Club exhibition event foreboded what was to come as VeeKay was wiped out in the opening corner of his heat race having started third. Barber then saw him top a practice session and appear in the pole position fight before his session was ended by an electrical issue; contact at the start earned him a penalty and limited his progress to 17th.


The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course - the location of VeeKay’s only win - saw him reach the Fast 12 before again being caught up in contact at the start before suffering a tyre issue and being sent a lap down. His Indianapolis 500 campaign was heroic, recovering from a qualifying crash to start seventh before a penalty in the race limited him to ninth.


The story of misfortune only continued into Road America. Qualifying was average with a 17th-place start but he was having a very strong race tucked inside the top 10. But again he was sent laps down after the failure of a left-front suspension component, ending hopes of a good result. He sits 17th in the championship as a consequence.


There was misfortune on Christian Rasmussen’s side too as the rookie inadvertently rear-ended Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyffin Simpson, earning him a stop-and-go penalty - served under green flag conditions when running on the edge of the top 10. He felt aggrieved by the severity of the penalty as others were given drive-throughs under yellow.


Archie 


Loser: Reputations 


The week between Detroit and Road America was unquestionably shadowed by yet another tale of online abuse around the series, and once again, from Agustín Canapino’s fanbase directed at another driver. The whole situation is truly unacceptable. Even more so when it’s almost become a regular occurrence. 


Juncos’ and Canapino’s reaction to death threats directed at Théo Pourchaire was weak. Juncos lazily retweeted Arrow McLaren’s statement before creating one of their own several days later, whilst Canapino’s simply diverted the blame away from his fanbase, stating he had not personally seen the threats.


The McLaren-Juncos alliance unsurprisingly ended quickly, the papaya flares on the Juncos’ cars quickly turning into black. Things would only take another turn when Canapino was pulled out of the event, taking a ‘leave of absence for mental health reasons.’ It’s a bizarre explanation when Canapino was seen signing autographs just hours before practice was due to start. Reports have suggested that him and team owner, Ricardo Juncos, have fallen out. Reports state Canapino won’t be back in the car for the rest of the year. The situation remains unknown, and simply bizarre.


It’s particularly unfair to make a judgement if Canapino is playing victim, like many suggest, particularly when it comes down to mental reasons. But it’s hard to side with Canapino after he only worsened the initial problem after liking numerous tweets defending the Argentine fanbase.


Obviously this isn’t a good look on Juncos, this is even worse of a look on Canapino, but most importantly, it leaves a stain on the series. Here’s young Théo Pourchaire, in his fourth IndyCar race, subject to masses of online abuse. What precedent does that set straight away to any more young drivers looking at coming into the series? It’s hard for anyone to deal with, especially somebody just 20 years of age.


This will bring an external limelight on the series. A series which usually has such a close-knit fanbase, and strong community centered around it. IndyCar is steadily growing in attention, simply because it does so many things correctly. But from a casual standpoint, who wants to watch a series where fanbases seem to be at war so often, and the names that are well-known in Europe, like Pourchaire or Callum Ilott, have been subject to such treatment.


It’s a hard issue for the series to resolve. It relies on Juncos and Canapino. Whether that means Canapino is out of the car for the remainder of the season, that remains to be seen. However, this simply must not continue under any circumstances, something must change to take off that tough stain from an otherwise brilliant racing series.


Dan

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