Monday Musings – 2017 KOHLER Grand Prix

By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel

My new feature for The Open Wheel continues with a collection of random thoughts following the INDYCAR weekend at Road America for the KOHLER Grand Prix.

  • Not often a Dixon win is an “upset” – After Team Penske swept the Top 4 positions in two practice sessions and the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying it seemed almost definite that one of their big guns would win at Road America. However, Scott Dixon used a brilliant drive and some fortunate tire strategy with the timing of the first caution to get past Josef Newgarden and never look back. Dixon is notorious for a late-season charge and if this wins kicks that off it could be ominous for the championship race he already leads by 34 points. It was awesome to see Dixon’s celebratory donuts in Turn 5 on the cool down lap.
  • Castroneves fails to convert a pole to victory once again – Helio Castroneves had another great qualifying performance at Road America winning his 50th career pole in the Verizon IndyCar Series. That’s third best all-time. However, Castroneves hasn’t won a race since Belle Isle in 2014. He’s started from P1 12 times since his last race win. It shocks me that he hasn’t been able to convert his consistently fast practice and qualifying pace to race wins considering how many times he puts himself in excellent position. On Sunday, both Josef Newgarden and eventual winner Scott Dixon were able to use better fuel mileage to overtake the Brazilian in different circumstances. The ultra-fit Castroneves suffered from dehydration after the race and that could have played a factor on Sunday. It’s not as if he’s “lost it” by any means. He’s still as consistent as anyone in the circuit as evidenced by his third place position in the standings. His drive in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race this year was one of his best in a long time on race day. But for some reason he just hasn’t been able to find his way to victory lane. He’ll need to change that if he’s going to contend for his first career Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
  • Andretti to Chevy rumors coming at interesting time – Both Adam Stern & Bruce Martin had reports on the rumors floating around the paddock that Andretti Autosport has spoken to Chevy about a potential switch for 2018. Neither report has anyone involved on record confirming even a conversation but as Martin points out it was at Road America last year that the rumor emerged that Ganassi was in talks of switching to Honda. This move wouldn’t shock me at all. Sure, with Honda, Andretti Autosport has been the class of the field at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race over the last few years but Indy is the only race they’ve won in the last two years and they haven’t won on a road/street course since Belle Isle in 2015. This year they’ve been plagued by an absurd number of mechanical and electrical issues so it makes sense that they’d be looking around. That’s especially true when you look at the lack of balance of power on the Chevy side this season. Team Penske has been solid all year but both Ed Carpenter Racing and AJ Foyt Racing have struggled mightily and Andretti Autosport would have a big chance to solidify themselves as a top-tier team with Chevy.  All of the current Honda teams have seen dramatic improvement this year with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams coming into the fold and I’d imagine the combination of a universal aero kit and the innovation involved with an Andretti Autosport return to Chevy could produce a similar spark on the other side of the paddock next year.
  • Carlin’s Leist making Lights title charge – Carlin rookie Matheus Leist had a fantastic weekend at Road America in Indy Lights winning Race 1 and finishing P4 in Race 2. That’s three podiums, including two wins, in his last four races and five straight Top 5’s. He’s overcome his poor start to the season in St. Pete to now sit second in the championship standings behind only Kyle Kaiser. Chasing down the ultra-consistent Kaiser won’t be easy for Leist but he may have a great opportunity next up at Iowa. Leist won the only oval race of the season thus far at the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while each Juncos Racing car struggled for pace and Kaiser could only manage a P9. Carlin cars finished P1 and P3 last year at Iowa Speedway while Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing finished P6.