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New Road America surface ‘like a dance floor’ as IndyCar drivers put down blistering laps

Nate Ryan takes a look at the upcoming Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, where two past IndyCar series champions got key wins in the past two years.

A Road America repaving has records poised to fall in the NTT IndyCar Series this weekend.

Alexander Rossi, who won the pole position last year at the track in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, turned the fastest lap in Friday’s opening practice and then confidently predicted even more blistering speed in qualifying.

“There’s more potential from the car and the tire, so you have to have probably a higher level of commitment than you did last year,” Rossi said after his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet toured the 14-turn, 4.014-mile road course in 1 minute, 41.7790 seconds. “It wasn’t a very clean run or laps by me, so I think there’s certainly quite a bit more in it, which is a good sign.”

INDYCAR AT ROAD AMERICA: How to watch, weekend schedule, entry lists

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds and times from the first session

The track qualifying record of 1:39.866 was set Aug. 19, 2000 by Dario Franchitti.

“We can do that,” said Rossi, whose top qualifying time last year was a comparatively slow lap of 1:44.8656.

All 27 drivers were at least 1.4 seconds faster than the 2022 pole position in practice Friday, taking advantage of fresh asphalt that had maximum grip.

“They did a good job,” Felix Rosenqvist, Rossi’s Arrow McLaren teammate who was eighth fastest, told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “It’s super smooth. It’s like a dance floor out there. It seems like every lap you’re getting more and more grip.”

David Malukas (1:41.8652) was second fastest, followed by points leader Alex Palou (1:41.9486), Scott Dixon (1:41.9544) and Pato O’Ward (1:41.9778).

Malukas’ No. 18 Dallara-Honda was among several cars that tested last week.

“Going into the season, we knew the road course setup was the struggle,” he told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch. “We found a few things at the test that clicked. It seems like we found something.”

Malukas said the repaving was “a massive change. Just so much more grip. This track was already one of my favorites before, but now it’s officially taken the top spot.”

Said Christian Lundgaard, who ranked seventh in practice: “It is a lot faster. It does seem to be very slippery offline. So I’m not looking forward to the row that’s going to start on the outside in Turn 1.”

After sending Scott McLaughlin for a wild ride during testing, the curbing in Turn 1 and around the track remained a hot topic.

Though the bump that McLaughlin hit has been addressed, Lundgaard said it remains pronounced and “a little hairy” after his No. 45 Dallara-Honda hit it.

And though the entire racing surface (including pit lane) has a shiny black layer of pavement, the curbing remained the same.

Rossi expressed some concern, particularly about cars still catching air through Turn 1.

“I know the series has tried to resolve that,” Rossi said. “I don’t know if it will be solvable for this weekend. It’s interesting. Like, they repaved the whole circuit, but they didn’t redo the curbs. That’s kind of cool, but it’s also a little bit strange.”

Said Lungaard: “A smoother track is always nicer to drive on, for sure. I do feel like they’ve done a good job on making the track smooth. I do find it odd that you spend the money to resurface the track but not put new curbs down. Now, after the new pavement, it definitely looks needed, that the curbs should have been replaced as well.

“But in general, the surface of the track is super smooth. It’s super grippy within the line. I’m pretty sure the teams and guys that tested here last week definitely helped increasing the grip.”