PREVIEW: 2021 NTT IndyCar Series – REV Group Grand Prix

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Following an incredibly exciting Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit, the NTT IndyCar Series trades the concrete jungle of the Motor City for the lush forests of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin as teams prepare for the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America. Arrow McLaren SP‘s Patricio O’Ward leads the championship standings by one singular point over fellow young star Alex Palou 299 points to 298, following his win in the second race of the Grand Prix of Detroit. Palou’s teammate Scott Dixon flies the flag of experience in third place on 263 points, 36 behind O’Ward.

This weekend will also mark the return of Oliver Askew in substitution of Rinus Veekay, who is recovering from a broken left clavicle, and the IndyCar debuts of NASCAR Cup Series regular Cody Ware and Formula 1 veteran Kevin Magnussen, who will be replacing Felix Rosenqvist as he recovers from his crash at Detroit last weekend.

A track that is a favorite of both fans and drivers, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the REV Group Grand Prix.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 REV Group Grand Prix was a doubleheader event, with Josef Newgarden starting on the pole for the first race. A hectic start for Andretti Autosport saw Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach all go off track as Newgarden led the first stint. He pit from the lead on lap 13 for Firestone’s primary black-walled tyres, handing the top spot to Graham Rahal. On Rahal’s pit stop one lap later, he had issues getting fuel into the car and fell down the pack.

Newgarden cruised through the second stint as well, until he had issues on his second pit stop on lap 27, stalling the car not once but twice. Dixon, who pit two laps earlier, successfully worked the undercut to put him right in contention for the win with Newgarden’s teammate Will Power.

On lap 38, Jack Harvey lost the brakes on his Meyer Shank Racing Honda and found himself on a trip to the gravel trap in turn three, bringing out the first caution at Road America in three years. Everyone pit under the caution, with Dixon winning the race off of pit road to gain the lead. He went on to lead the rest of the race en route to victory.

Unfortunately for Dixon, as the saying goes, “cautions breed cautions” and that was exactly what happened. The first restart came with 14 laps to go, and before one green flag lap was turned the caution was back out again. O’Ward squeezed Conor Daly in turn seven, and despite saving the car at first, Daly ended up in the tyre barrier in a hard collision. Dixon led the field back to green with 11 laps to go, but once again the caution would fall on the same lap as A.J. Foyt EnterprisesDalton Kellett ended up in the gravel in turn 14.

Third time was the charm as no more cautions came after the restart with eight laps to go, and Dixon finally pulled away from Power to take the win. This race also marked the breakout of Palou, who finished third racing for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, his first career IndyCar podium.

(Photo Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar)

The second race saw O’Ward on the pole, flanked by fellow youngsters Colton Herta in second and Palou in third. The first lap was even more chaotic than the last, as Ryan Hunter-Reay collided with Power in turn one, sending him into the tyre barriers. In the same corner, Santino Ferrucci spun Harvey. By turn three, Power was involved in another incident, this time with Rahal. Power made contact with Rahal, sending him into the kerbs and into a spin, making hard contact with the end of a concrete barrier. Before the full spin, Rahal banged tyres with Rosenqvist, who wasn’t damaged by the impact. These accidents not only resulted in a caution, but penalties for both Power and Ferrucci.

After the restart on lap five, Power’s day went from bad to worse as he spun across the infield in turn thirteen and stalled in the final corner. He was able to get going again, but not before a caution.

The race restarted again on lap eight and O’Ward quickly shot back out to the lead as Herta and Palou clashed for second place. Lap twelve saw the leaders come in for their pit stops, with O’Ward finally relinquishing the lead on lap 15 to pit for new tyres, successfully overcutting Palou and Herta to keep the race lead. Rosenqvist, who pit on lap 17, was able to overcut Herta and take third place.

Palou began to lose pace in the second stint, allowing Rosenqvist to pass and begin to slowly stalk O’Ward. At the end of the race, O’Ward found himself on old red-walled alternate tyres, while Rosenqvist was on the primary blacks. With eight laps to go, O’Ward began to hit lap traffic in the form of Daly and then Kellett with four laps to go, allowing Rosenqvist into the fold as O’Ward struggled on his tyres. The final two laps of the race saw one of the best battles of the season between the now-teammates, as Rosenqvist and O’Ward made contact going up the hill into turn six before Rosenqvist finally made the move for the lead stick by turn seven on his way to his first career IndyCar victory. After retiring in the race the day before, the victory was made that much sweeter for the Swede. O’Ward finished second and Rossi rebounded from a poor first race to finish third.

(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar)

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

The biggest headlines this week have been the driver debuts and substitutions this weekend. Askew will yet again be IndyCar’s “SuperSub” and fill in for the injured Veekay. Askew did both races at Road America last year for Arrow McLaren SP, so has experience at the track. It will be a blow to Veekay in the championship however, sitting fifth, but his health is of utmost importance.

Making their IndyCar debuts will be Magnussen and Ware, who will fortunately have three full practice sessions to get acclimated to the circuit and equipment. Magnussen could surprise some people with his pace, but if his former Haas F1 Team compatriot Romain Grosjean is any basis of comparison, he could take to the sport very quickly. Don’t count out Ware either, who has an extensive background in road racing and finished fourth in the LMP2 category in the 2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

This track was the place where our current championship leaders O’Ward and Palou made a statement with their performances, and I expect them to be at the top of the running order once again. Newgarden and Dixon could also be right up at the front again as well, barring the pit stop issues that held them back in race one and two respectively. As always, their Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates will be threats to win.

These previews must seem like a broken record when it comes to this point, but Road America could be a great opportunity for Rossi to turn his season around. After three poor races to that point in the 2020 season, Rossi had a bright spot in his podium in the second race. In 2019 Rossi dominated, leading 54 of 55 laps. Could this finally be the weekend he turns his luck around?

Perhaps the biggest keys to this race are wreck avoidance and cautions. Can you survive the first lap melee of turn one? If a caution does come out, can you survive it again? Cautions breed cautions at Road America, and consistent wreck avoidance is paramount in those situations. Nobody wants to go home early with a wrecked racecar.

Pit strategy could also be something to watch, as the overcut was effective for many drivers last season. Also, what tyre do you want to be on at the end? Will anyone gamble like O’Ward did last year and finish on the reds? Or will they be scared away by the result? We will just have to wait and see.

(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar)

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?

Friday 18 June

1700 EST / 2200 BST – Practice 1

Saturday 12 June

1110 EST / 1610 BST – Practice 2

1430 EST / 1930 BST – Qualifying

1730 EST / 2230 BST – Final Practice

Sunday 13 June

1200 EST / 1700 BST – Race

WHERE CAN I WATCH?

Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, coverage for practice and qualifying will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, with the race being broadcast on NBCSN.

HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?

You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.