By STEVE MEGARGEE AP sportswriter
ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (AP) — Competitive balance has defined the opening portion of this IndyCar season.
Road America’s history suggests the trend will continue Sunday.
There were six different winners in the first seven IndyCar races. The points lead changed hands six times. Each of the first eight events saw a different pole winner, the most since 1961; Alexander Rossi added his name to the Road America list.
“That says a lot about the series right now,” said Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson. “There are so many good drivers, so many good teams. It’s so hard to get it right week after week. Every weekend I would say there are at least 15 cars that can win the race that has their day.”
Ericsson is second overall – three points behind leader Will Power – heading into Sunday’s race at Road America. The permanent street course has produced a different winner at each of its last five IndyCar events.
Power took the points lead by winning at Belle Isle last week. Ericsson had won the Indy 500 a week earlier. Josef Newgarden is the circuit’s only two-time winner this season with victories in Texas and Long Beach. Scott McLaughlin won the opener at St. Petersburg, Pato O’Ward won at Barber and Colton Herta won the Indianapolis road course.
The list of winners does not include Rossi, who was on a losing streak of 44 races at Road America in 2019. But he won his first qualifying pole since 2019 and is looking to end his drought at Road America on Sunday.
“Of course it’s motivating,” said Rossi. “You never want to have an experience like that. We haven’t finished the work yet. We have to win. We have reached half of the target.”
There are 10 races left in the season and plenty of opportunities to break the record of 11 different winners set in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
“It’s probably the best thing that IndyCar has ever shown in terms of competitiveness,” O’Ward said. “Nothing is more difficult than IndyCar at the moment. There is no other series in the world that is as competitive. There is no other championship in the world that is so difficult to win from a driver’s point of view.”
IndyCar has never had a Road America winner further behind than 13th placed by Alex Tagliani in 2004. Since the IndyCar Series returned to Road America in 2016, all winners have started in ninth place or better.
“It’s a long distance,” said Newgarden, who will start second. “There is a lot of ground to gain. We’re pretty spread out. So if you start at the back, you are even more in the background here than on a smaller track.”
That’s bad news for Power, who will start 15th. But then again, Power won from 16th place in Detroit last week to reclaim the points lead.
FRAME INCLUDES TWO WOMEN
Simona de Silvestro and Tatiana Calderon both compete on Sunday, marking the first time an IndyCar event has featured two female drivers since de Silvestro and Pippa Mann competed at the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
This will be de Silvestro’s first IndyCar start of the season and 70th of her career. Calderon, a rookie, is making her sixth start of the season.
“It’s great for IndyCar, for women in motorsport, for basically everyone,” said Calderon. “The more the merrier. We are making steps forward.”
Felix Rosenqvist won one of the races in the Road America 2020 doubleheader but missed last year’s race after being injured in a crash in Detroit a week earlier.
Rosenqvist is now back and hoping to repeat his 2020 success – which could help him keep his job. The Swede is on a contract year with Arrow McLaren SP and paddock speculation has brought a number of different drivers to the seat, with Rosenqvist rarely mentioned as a candidate.
But he’s been doing better lately: Rosenqvist finished sixth at the Indianapolis road circuit, fourth at the Indianapolis 500 and tenth at Detroit.
“We think we made some good improvements specifically for this track that we knew we had to make,” said Rosenqvist. “Hopefully we can get back to back.”
COMING BACK FROM INJURY
Callum Illott and Kyle Kirkwood are both riding with injured hands this weekend.
Illot missed Detroit with a broken bone in his right hand sustained in a crash at Indy. Kirkwood injured his right wrist last week when he hit a tire barrier in Belle Isle.
“We’ve taken a pretty close look at my hand and there’s a lot less risk of further damage,” Illott said. “It’s still a factor, but the track surface at Road America is a lot less bumpy than Detroit.”
Illott went off course and hit a tire barrier in the second segment of qualifying Saturday, causing a red flag to be raised.
ROAD AMERICA EXPECTS AN OVERHAUL
This will be the last IndyCar race at Road America before it is resurfaced, although the course has a full 2022 schedule that includes a July 3 NASCAR Cup Series stop.
It will be the first time Road America has been repaved between the 1994 and 1995 seasons. Rossi said he welcomes the change because it should bring about better times.
“For us as drivers, we just want to go faster,” said Rossi. “I wish we could repave it right away and see how it turns out.”
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