ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Wearing shades and a white firesuit that gleamed under a bright sun, Mario Andretti hopped out of the car after taking a few spins around Road America.
For a moment, it looked as if the IndyCar great, and the series itself, had never left this rural Wisconsin road course.
Andretti, 76, is still retired. But the open-wheel series is back.
The Kohler Grand Prix on Sunday marks the return of IndyCar at Road America for the first time since 2007.
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“This track has been here since the ’60s. We had the glory days of IndyCar here back in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Andretti said this week. “To be back, I think it’s what the series needs.”
The return of Road America kept an IndyCar stop in Wisconsin after another historic track in the state, the Milwaukee Mile, fell off the schedule. A series of different promoters struggled to draw crowds there.
The buzz felt a little different in the days leading up to race weekend in Elkhart Lake.
Kohler Co., which is based in nearby Sheboygan, is on board as a big-name sponsor. Attendance doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem. Drivers appear happy.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks in the United States, and I was bummed when we didn’t come here for many years,” driver Tony Kanaan said. “We’re back! We’re back for good, so I’m happy.”
A unique layout adds to the allure.
First, the venue looks more like a woodsy campground, with the track hemmed in by lush stands of trees and rolling hills.
As for the track itself, there are elevation changes. Fourteen turns. Fast corners and slow corners.
There’s a series of two turns in the middle of the 4-plus mile circuit called the “Carousel,” which leads into a short right turn called the “Kink.” That stretch leads into the “Kettle Bottoms” straight, which, taken together is a favorite section for Kanaan.