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2022 Sonsio Grand Prix: The Rookie Report

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(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

This past weekend, the IndyCar rookie class took to the scenic 6.515 km road course of Road America for the first time in the Sonsio Grand Prix.

Josef Newgarden survived the late race chaos to win, redeeming his heartbreaking loss at the track last season much like his Team Penske teammate Will Power did the weekend prior at Detroit. Championship leader Marcus Ericsson took advantage of late race restarts to finish second, while Alexander Rossi collected a second straight podium finish in third place.

Unfortunately for the rookies, the track is as beautiful as it is physically demanding, and for the majority of the class it was a difficult weekend. Only two rookies managed to finish in the top fifteen, while others struggled with on-track incidents, pit-lane issues, and more.

This weekend also saw the return of Callum Ilott, returning from a hand injury sustained at the Indianapolis 500 that kept him out of the Chevrolet Grand Prix.

So who was able to rise above the rest? Who found themselves in hot water with one of the series’ best drivers? How did Ilott fare in his return to the track? Let’s break it all down in this week’s NTT IndyCar Series Rookie Report.

CHRISTIAN LUNDGAARD – RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING

QUALIFYING: THIRTEENTH – RACE: TENTH (+3)

(Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

After weeks of below-standard pace, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing found the speed (and the strategy) to put all three of their cars in the top fifteen.

Lundgaard missed out on advancing to the second round of qualifying on Saturday by 0.01 seconds, setting him thirteenth on the grid. He maximized the three-stop strategy like his teammate Graham Rahal to earn his second top-ten finish of the year, even getting to lead a lap in the process.

Hungry as ever though, Lundgaard still feels like he left positions on the table.

“It’s a tough one honestly,” he said. “…I thought we had more than what we ended up having so I’m a little disappointed in that. You know it’s racing.”

The Dane still leads the Rookie of the Year standings with 140 points, putting him sixteenth in the championship.

CALLUM ILOTT – JUNCOS HOLLINGER RACING

QUALIFYING: TWELFTH – RACE: ELEVENTH (+1)

(Photo Credit: Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Ilott returned from his hand injury this weekend and picked up right where he left off, collecting his second-best finish of the year.

It didn’t come easy, crashing in the second round of qualifying and starting twelfth. But the British driver did everything he needed to do to keep his car clean while his team gave him flawless pit stops, leading him to an eleventh place finish.

“It was a crazy race, we just kept it clean and kept it cool,” he said. “A couple of things slowed us down in the beginning and then we got our momentum. To be fair the pace was good, I probably could have pushed a bit more in some areas. But honestly p11 is a good result and good points especially since I have been out of the car. We did a good job putting everything back together after qualifying.”

DAVID MALUKAS – DALE COYNE RACING W/ HMD MOTORSPORTS

QUALIFYING: FOURTEENTH – RACE: SIXTEENTH (-2)

(Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

After a very impressive run at Detroit, Malukas slid down the order at Road America thanks to an issue on pit road during his first pit stop.

“I was trying to get the maximum I could on pit entry and a car pulled out in front of me and I got spooked a little bit and I ended up locking up the brakes on entry to the pit box, so that cost us some positions,” he admitted.

Despite this, the American raced hard and fought his way back up the field after losing that valuable track position to finish sixteenth.

“It’s not the desired result, but there were a lot of good battles at the end, and I still had some push to pass while others didn’t,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. Road America never disappoints.”

DEVLIN DEFRANCESCO – ANDRETTI STEINBRENNER AUTOSPORT

QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIRST – RACE: EIGHTEENTH (+3)

(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

DeFrancesco had a weekend to forget at Road America, littered with penalties. On Saturday he ran out of fuel during a qualifying run, putting him down the order in twenty-first.

The troubles continued on race day for the Canadian driver, getting into trouble with Power on lap eight, spinning out the then-championship leader attempting a double fake move going into turn five. DeFrancesco was handed a penalty for avoidable contact.

Later in the race he was handed another penalty, this time for a pit road speed violation.

Despite it all, however, he came ahead with a net positive gain finishing eighteenth. After the race weekend, Power and DeFrancesco smoothed out their issues as well, and it seems all parties are on good terms after the incident.

However, these mistakes have followed DeFrancesco throughout his rookie year. He will need to work to clean these up to produce better results for the rest of the season.

KYLE KIRKWOOD – A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES

QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FOURTH – RACE: TWENTIETH (+4)

(Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Kirkwood was left looking for answers as to their lack of pace, especially after a solid run in the morning’s warm up. Late in the race he was running eighteenth, but after contact with DeFrancesco he slid a couple of positions to twentieth.

“We had a good strategy, everything executed properly, just didn’t really have the pace,” he said. “I can’t really tell you why we had the pace yesterday in the warm up and then we rolled the car out today and some things had changed. I’m not sure what but it’s a disappointing finish. Given yesterday I felt like we should have been fighting for a top-10 but at least we gathered some points up this weekend and were able to finish and kept the car clean for once so that was good.

Kirkwood, also dealing with a hand injury like Ilott, has had a string of disappointing finishing positions that don’t reflect his racecraft throughout the event. There are plenty of races left in this season, and if his team is able to find consistent pace while he can keep the car clean, the results will come for Kirkwood very soon.

TATIANA CALDERON – A.J. FOYT ENTERPRISES

QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIFTH – RACE: TWENTY-FIFTH (NO CHANGE)

(Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Calderon was dealt a serious blow after finding out that her engineer Danielle Cucchiaroni got sick the night before the race and wouldn’t be able to be on her pitbox. In his absence, she ran into a slew of pit road problems that plagued her race.

She ran low on fuel and lost time in the pits getting the car restarted because of the low fuel pressure, while also picking up two pitlane speed violations that resulted in drive-through penalties. She finished one lap down.

Already looking ahead, Calderon is looking forward to the next race on the calendar, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, because it was the first place she got to test an IndyCar.

“At least I know a little bit of the track and the feeling with this car,” she said. “So hopefully we can make a big step forward.”

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Lifelong sports junkie, currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Lead writer for Indycar at The Checkered Flag.
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