Return of Indy Cars highlights RA season

by Jeff Pederson
of The Review Staff

MANY OF THE TOP OPEN WHEEL racing drivers in the world will be on hand when the Verizon IndyCar Series makes its debut at Road America in Elkhart Lake June 23-26. - Photo courtesy of Road America MANY OF THE TOP OPEN WHEEL racing drivers in the world will be on hand when the Verizon IndyCar Series makes its debut at Road America in Elkhart Lake June 23-26. - Photo courtesy of Road America Road America is widely regarded throughout the world as one of the top racing venues in all of motorsports.

For the 2016 season, the picturesque four-mile, 14-turn road course carved through the wooded hills of Elkhart Lake is raising the stakes on its already lofty statue with the highly anticipated return of Indy Car racing and a host of new fan amenities set to greet race fans from just down the road to the other side of the world.

According to Road American Communications Director John Ewert, long time fans will immediately notice several improvements upon entering the main gate and visiting the highly-popular paddock area.

“We did quite a bit in the way of upgrades and improvements in the offseason that we think fans will really like,” Ewert said. “We have a new retail and visitors’ center inside the paddock, a rebuilt main gate and a new winner’s circle in the paddock.

“The retail center, which will be open year round, will serve as a focal point where visitors can gather, shop and learn about Road America’s history,” he said. “The winner’s circle will be more centrally located and we have added another jumbo television screen near the paddock, which is one of six jumbo screens on the grounds. The new main gate allows for easier entrance and exit to the grounds as well.”

Ewert says the additions, upgrades and improvements have been in the works for several years,

“Each of these projects are geared to our dedication to improve the overall experience for our fans,” Ewert said. “They are all part of our capital improvement plan. We’ve had a string of very good years in a row going back to 2012, with 2014 being our best year.

“Based on those successful years and through evaluating our numbers, we implemented the plans that we had been working on for the past several years,” he said. “I think the fans are going to be pleased with all of the new amenities that they will see this season.”

One of the most highly anticipated race weekends of the season is certain to be the return of Indy Cars to Road America after a nine-year absence June 23-26.

After last hosting Indy Cars under the banner of the former Champ Car Series in 2007, this year’s event will mark the first ever appearance of the Verizon IndyCar Series at the venerable facility.

“We are very excited to have Indy Cars back at Road America after not racing at the track for the past nine years,” Ewert said. “They had been at Milwaukee for many years and we began negotiating to get them back a while ago. We have them this year and hopefully for many years to come.

“Road America is widely regarded as the premier road course for open wheel racing and I know the Indy Car drivers can’t wait to get here,” he said. “Indy Car racing has had a resurgence in recent years, so much so that this year’s Indy 500 was a complete sellout. We are thrilled to be part of that upswing this year.”

Also on the card for the Indy Car weekend will be the Pirelli World Challenge featuring many of the world’s top sports cars, headlined by separate GT and GTS races along with the TC class. The Porsche GT Cup class will run alongside the GT and GT-A class cars over the course of the 12-race weekend.

Another highly popular weekend is sure to be the NASCAR XFINITY Series, which rolls into Road America Aug. 25-27, featuring many of stock car racing’s rising stars, who are looking to make their mark and pave their way to a spot in the elite NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The event has also been known to draw an influx of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars, including last year’s race winner Paul Menard, who is a native of Eau Claire.

Fans will also enjoy SCCA Pro Trans Am racing during the weekend.

“I would say the top series like NASCAR and IndyCar are generally our most popular race weekends from a fan standpoint,” Ewert said. “One of the big draws for us and what makes us stand out a bit from other tracks is the diverse schedule that we offer.

“In addition to open-wheel cars with IndyCar and stock cars with NASCAR, we have sports cars, vintage cars, motorcycles and a unique event like the June Sprints, which is really hard to describe. You have to come to truly get a feel for it. Our schedule truly has something for everyone.”

Sprawled out over 640-acres, Road America’s park-like grounds provide for a number of eye-popping viewing opportunities.

“The grounds are truly spectacular even for those that might not be huge race fans,” Ewert said. “There is a reason it is called ‘America’s National Park of Speed,” because there is so much greenery to enjoy with all the trees and the wilderness setting. There are various trails that people can walk and just enjoy being outdoors in a beautiful setting. In fact this year we have a new trail that runs through turns 11, 12 and 13.

“Also, race fans like the fact that they are not dedicated to a seat,” he said. “There are so many great viewing points around the track and everyone seems to have their favorite. Not to mention the access to the paddock that fans get at most events. They love having the opportunity to get right up next to the cars and drivers in the pit area and get an autograph or a picture.”

The fan experience is further enhanced by the various onsite camping areas and highly diverse concession options.

“People love to camp at the track and they appreciate the fact that it is safe atmosphere as well,” Ewert said. “Food and drink options are also big for us. We have 14 concession stands with really every type of food you can think of from burgers and root beer floats to a number of healthy options that we have added to the menu in recent years.”

Ewert says Road America is as much of a draw locally as it is for those traveling from far away.

“Our fan support is really all across the board with many local and regional fans from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota joining us every year,” Ewert said. “We get fans truly from all over the world as well that make it a point to come to Road America either annually or at least once in their lives.

“The track has also made a big impact on the local economy, which we are very pleased about,” he said.

The diverse schedule of events is set to provide for a jam-packed summer of racing at the 61-year-old track, which was the first permanent road racing course in the United States when it opened in 1955.

The MotoAmerica SuperBike Doubleheader comes to town June 3-5. One week later, June 10-12, vintage motorcycle enthusiasts will be on track during the AHRMA Vintage Motorcycle Classic and the Rockerbox Motofest will feature on-track action and a vintage motorcycle show.

The WeatherTech Chicago Region SCCA June Sprints, Road America’s longest-running annual sports car event, returns June 16-19.

The WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman presented by HAWK, takes place July 14-17.

The event has quickly grown to become one of the largest vintage racing events in the country.

A Historic CAN-AM race with an impressive field of cars is also expected to gather in celebration of CAN-AM’s 50th anniversary, plus the Nationwide Insurance Concours D’elegance will take place on Friday and Saturday night in downtown Elkhart Lake to round out the weekend festivities.

On Aug. 4-7, the IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge and WeatherTech® SportsCar Championship takes over Road America with the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase. Fans will get to see the IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge Series race on Saturday, Aug. 6, with the WeatherTech® SportsCar Championship race on Sunday, Aug. 7.

On Aug. 28, OPTIMA Batteries will hold one of its OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational qualifying events at Road America, affectionately known as the OPTIMA FACEOFF. The event includes autocross, road course, braking and acceleration challenges, plus a style and design competition and road rally.

The VSCDA Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival returns Sept. 16-18, featuring several impressive machines including many pre-war racers and CAN-AM enthusiasts reliving history at America’s National Park of Speed.

Coming again on Oct. 1-2 is one of the most intense and popular endurance challenges for amateur athletes, Tough Mudder, which includes a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course challenge that involves diving into ice-cold water, crawling through mud and running through bursts of fire.

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