The NTT IndyCar Series is taking on Road America this weekend for the first time since the track received a full repave of the racing surface.
The new tarmac was laid down in exactly the same place as the old surface, but the fresh and smooth asphalt is giving drivers plenty of grip to work with.
In the first practice session, drivers were already three seconds quicker than last year’s pole time. Alexander Rossi set a fast lap of 1:41.7790 on Friday, and the consensus seems to be that the all-time track record could fall this weekend.
Dario Franchitti currently holds the honors with a lap set while driving in CART in 2000. He lapped the 4.01-mile course in 1:39.8660, and Friday’s times were less than two seconds off that pace.
With more and more rubber being pushed into the fresh surface, the grip levels will only climb higher throughout the weekend.
Pato O’Ward, who finished with the fifth fastest time of the day, described to Motorosportweek.com how much he enjoys the new track surface and how committed drivers have to be to take it on.
“Freaking awesome!” said O’Ward. “They did an unbelievable job. It’s silky smooth. There is tons of more grip. I see us going faster than the track record, especially on red [softer tires].
“It’s a joy to drive, it really is. It’s fast, and you can really enjoy what IndyCar has to offer here.
“I’m loving it. I’m a big fan of this getting repaved, for sure. It’s the same layout, but it ultimately is a different track just because of how much more grip there is. It reminds me of a lot of when they repaved Barber. It made everything so much better.
“It’s a high commitment track, I can tell you that. You need to commit, and when you commit to these corners, you can committed. You need a car to help you along the way. You can’t just manhandle it around. If one end is going before the other, it’s a freaking ride.
“I mean, you’re going through these corners in fourth gear in the Carousel, which is probably 140, 150 miles per hour. Turn 1 is flat. The braking zones are delayed.”
When asked if the sweeping Carousel that is comprised of Turns 9 and 10 could be taken flat, which was not close to possible in years past, O’Ward confirmed the rumors.
“I think so. On reds, I think it will be flat for sure. But it seemed like if you go off the line a little bit, it was a really, really big step in grip.”
The real test for the track record will be Saturday afternoon, when all 27 drivers lay down their best laps in qualifying.