PLYMOUTH, Wis. (WFRV) – Road America is one of the most prolific road courses in the United States, with the likes of IndyCar and NASCAR both hosting races throughout the year.
NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, better known as the minor league, has been coming to the fast circuit since 2010, providing the sport with some dramatic finishes and great racing.
The NASCAR Cup Series held its first race since 1957 at Road America on July 4, 2021, and the overall reaction was positive enough to garner a spot on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
IndyCar, the most popular United States-based open-wheel racing league, just saw its first repeat winner since 2016 after Nashville-native Josef Newgarden led Team Penske to a win.
But what about the world’s most famous open-wheel racing league? The league with 20 of the world’s best drivers from the likes of Great Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, all the way to the ‘Flying Dutchman’ in Max Verstappen. Could Formula 1 ever make a pitstop at Road America?
Formula 1 has been adding new Grand Prixs to its schedule for the last several years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, some events had to be canceled, but this gave other tracks a chance to prove their worth.
Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia was added in 2021 alongside the Miami Grand Prix following suit in 2022. With Formula 1 announcing its plans to host a Grand Prix on the strip of Las Vegas in 2023, is there any room to ever have Elkhart Lake’s most famous track, one that is already on the schedule for the two biggest racing leagues in the United States, host a Formula 1 Grand Prix?
The short answer, unlikely.
Each team in Formula 1 is based in a different area of the world, meaning they have to get the team’s equipment across the world in a swift, quick manner. Ferrari travels from Maranello, Italy. Red Bull Racing travels from Milton Keynes, United Kingdom.
The nearest international airports to Elkhart Lake are Austin Straubel International Airport (KGRB) based in Green Bay and General Mitchell International (KMKE) based in Milwaukee. This is less than ideal for Formula 1 teams and although 50-70 miles doesn’t seem like a far distance to travel, teams have hundreds of employees, pieces of equipment, and many other pieces to move.
There are several red flags when it comes to the size, safety, and capability of Road America. First off, Road America doesn’t have enough run-off space for drivers if a mistake is made. This is a safety issue for the drivers and making adjustments to the track by adding additional run-off areas will only improve the chances for Road America to host a Formula 1 race.
The Paddock is one of the most pristine areas for drivers, team members, media, and fans. Road America currently doesn’t have that big of a pit lane and garage area to field modernized Formula 1 cars. There is just not enough compared to other potential venues in the United States and that is a huge factor in the decision-making on where the next U.S. Grand Prix will be.
Road America is labeled by the FIA as a grade two motor racing circuit. According to the FIA, in order to field a Formula 1 race, the track must be a grade one. To upgrade, Road America would have to undergo a complete resurface on the track, add run-off areas, expand the pit lane, and add additional grandstands. Officials at the course will have to complete those, all while maintaining the scenery and character of Road America, which could be very difficult.
Of all the other issues, none may be bigger than the hospitality aspect of Road America. It’s a great design for a course, and the grandstands are nice, but hotels will be a major issue. Each Formula 1 team employs hundreds of staff members. Add that fact to more than 150,000 fans in the stands, most needing a hotel room from Thursday-Sunday. There just simply aren’t enough hotels around the Plymouth area to hold a Formula 1 race.
You also have to consider funding for a Formula 1 Grand Prix and the tourism it brings. While Miami brought out popular celebrities, would Road America do the same? Probably not.
Not everything is all negative toward Road America and a potential date with Formula 1. Many of the drivers who have been vocal about branching out and adding other circuits have mentioned the Elkhart Lake course. Four-time champion and current Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel has made his point clear he prefers tracks that are already designed like Road America compared to the pop-up circuit in Miami around Hard Rock Stadium.
“Certainly the money that was spent to build this (The Miami Grand Prix) could have easily, you know, brought the standard up in great places, like Road America. And from a driving point of view, I think they would be a lot more thrilling,” said Vettel at a press conference in Miami.
iRacing, one of the world’s most profound racing simulators, allows you to take a Formula 1 car to Road America and the results are overwhelmingly positive. An average lap time of around one minute and thirty seconds falls in line with other Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The Wisconsin-based road course would be a prime spot for a Formula 1 race, but without the necessary upgrades and the improvement in hotels, we may only get to experience a Formula 1 car around Road America in a video game simulator.