Most drivers who have raced in the United States vouch for Road America as one of the most exciting road courses the country has to offer. Many compare the 4.04-mile track near Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin to the sprawling Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Among them is Bruno Junqueira, for whom Road America has added significance as a track where he took four wins during a career in Indycars and sports cars that really took off after breaking through there in 2001.
The fast 14-turn layout has three long straights where “you’re going at 200mph, so it’s a very good balance in terms of downforce level,” explains the Miami-based Brazilian. The pit straight, the back straight to the descent, turn 5 left-handed and the flat-out explosion through the turn 11 kink and under the trees at Canada Corner all provide opportunities for overtaking, with Junqueira tightening his final turn. 5 puts Conor Daly for the win in a 2015 IMSA race as his favorite example.
“You have at least four or five very fast corners in fourth and fifth gear, and there are no slow corners at all,” says the now 45-year-old, best known for his pole position at the 2002 Indianapolis 500. “You have a turn in second gear, turn 5, and minimum speed would be about 70 mph All other corners are third or higher.
“What I like about that track is that you have to have a really good flow. You never stop with anything, so it’s very fast and a lot of fun to drive.”
Junqueira’s love affair with Road America began in 2001, the first visit of the reigning international Formula 3000 champion. He had had a tough CART Indycar rookie year with Chip Ganassi Racing, initially teaming up with fellow F3000 graduate Nicolas Minassian, before the Frenchman was shown the door after one too many crashes.
Junqueira had taken pole for his oval debut at Nazareth and finished an encouraging fifth in the Indy 500, but other than a strong run in Detroit – where he finished second early before his gearbox filled up – his year had been one of frustration because he languished in the 19th for Road America.
Comparisons with Juan Pablo Montoya, who had won the title as a rookie in 1999, hadn’t helped – although Junqueira points out that he was dealing with “an entirely different circumstance” with a Lola-Toyota package that didn’t have a patch on the Reynard-Honda. Montoya had used in 1999, and without the advantage of a champion teammate in Jimmy Vasser to learn from as Montoya had.
Junqueira took a crucial maiden CART Indycar win at Road America in 2001, which helped him keep his Ganassi ride
Photo By: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
Pressured to keep his place for 2001, Junqueira was “so mad” when a potential front row slot at Road America was lost as the slippery track conditions that defined his group’s qualifying session eased for the second group, forcing him back. shuffled to tenth place. .
But amid an eventful race that got a red flag and became “a bet on pit strategy”, as Autosport’s Gordon Kirby described it, Junqueira came through to beat Michael Andretti after a late splash-and-dash. “A lot of drivers, including Junqueira, had no idea when the race would end until the last eight or nine minutes,” Kirby wrote.
Junqueira recalls “an amazing and deserved win” that helped to secure his career, finishing second in the standings with Ganassi in 2002 before repeating the result in the following two seasons with Newman-Haas Racing.
“When we got into turn 5 he tried to block me but I was already there. We didn’t touch, but he spun out and I passed and won the race. It was cool!” Bruno Junqueira
“It was a crazy wet-dry race,” said Junqueira, who now works in real estate but hasn’t locked the door. “One of my hallmarks as a driver is to be consistent and on this difficult day of wet and dry, crashes and everything, I was able to always stay in a good position to move forward and finally take the win. And I had the speed, I was very fast there.”
His affinity with the track was strengthened by taking a dominant pole in 2002, almost half a second ahead of Cristiano da Matta. He eventually finished third after falling behind Alex Tagliani’s car during the final caution period, who was simply too fast on the straights as da Matta stormed to victory.
The following year, again after a wet start that led to two red flags, Junqueira took pole again and there was no denying it. He led every lap and scored his first win for Newman-Haas Racing, a 1-2 lead over Sebastien Bourdais, and took the points lead over eventual champion Paul Tracy, who crashed on the first lap.
“It wasn’t an easy race because it was wet,” recalls Junqueira, “and actually the last few laps got dry, so the wet tires started sliding a lot.”
Junqueira again won Road America on wet in 2003, this time against teammate Bourdais
Photo By: Mike Weston / Motorsport Images
As his IndyCar career took off after suffering twice in three years the disgrace of being bought out of Indy 500 drives he qualified for Conquest Racing (2009) and AJ Foyt Racing (2011), Junqueira reveled successes in the LMPC division of the American Le Mans Series and later IMSA Sportscar Championship with RSR Racing.
He and Duncan Ende took a second win in the 2013 LMPC class at Road America and planned to repeat the trick in 2014 after Junqueira took pole, only for quirky Daytona Prototype tail-ender Scott Mayer to take Ende into kicking the wall while the latter was trying to pass Mayer’s faster machine.
Junqueira, however, made up for it in 2015, chasing Daly’s Performance Tech machine and pressurizing him on the last lap to make a spin for a satisfying triumph alongside Canadian Chris Cumming.
“He started blocking me like crazy,” recalls Junqueira. “When we got to turn 5 he tried to block me but I was already there. We didn’t touch but he turned and I passed and won the race. It was cool!”
Junqueira celebrates with teammate Chris Cumming after taking a memorable IMSA LMPC final round win in 2015
Photo By: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images