It’s a good feeling to be disappointed with second. For Josef Newgarden, it’s been a long time coming.
The promise and potential he’s been able to show flashes of over his first two seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series hasn’t yet been converted into a result, save for a pair of fifth place results this year (Brazil, Pocono). One finally came today, an elusive first podium for the 22-year-old who won the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.
Newgarden started fifth from a career-best qualifying effort (Ed: His best start is second, at Long Beach 2012, after grid penalties were applied), and moved to fourth early but ran wide at Turn 12 as the first signs of brake wear began to emerge. Additionally, what had been a solid opening six or seven laps on the Firestone red alternates went south quickly as the tires began to fall off.
He fell as low as 17th after he got caught up in an accordion effect accident at Turn 1, as he nosed into the back of Helio Castroneves.
But through a mix of cars needing to pit ahead of him, other cars having contact in Turns 1 and 3 and not needing another late pit stop, Newgarden was able to re-emerge in the top five.
“There was like six races worth of incidents, with so many things that happened,” he said. “That (first) one, yeah, I went into Turn 1 and thought it was clustered on the inside, so I followed Helio on the outside. Then the outside wound up being clustered too, and ran into the back of him, then I heard on my radio from Mike, take the runoff. He said right when I turned in. I could have turned around! But then there was another incident where I did take the runoff and gained positions. Then we got everything back. We got lucky.”
In the last 10 laps, Newgarden was consistently able to take out four to five tenths of a second on leader Simon Pagenaud. But the brake issue emerged again towards the end – Newgarden hung on for dear life to save what brakes remained and avoid contact – and he had to ensure he brought the car home in second place.
“We wanted to challenge Simon but we had a bit of a brake mishap at the end,” he said. “We were trying to keep the pedal solid. It’s hard to keep the cars cool. That definitely bit us at the end.”
Newgarden’s podium is the second for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team overall (Ed Carpenter’s win at Kentucky, 2011) and first ever on a road or street course. With the podium, Newgarden is the 18th different driver to score an IZOD IndyCar Series podium this season.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.