Josef Newgarden

IndyCar Notes: A test of firsts for Newgarden, Conway

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This week’s test session at Sebring International Raceway marked the first time working together for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s driver/engineer tandem of Josef Newgarden (pictured, from September’s Grand Prix of Baltimore) and Jeremy Milless.

Milless, who recently was promoted to chief engineer on Newgarden’s No. 67 Honda, has been with SFHR since the 2012 season and has a resume that includes previous stops at Panther Racing, Team Penske, and the former Team Menard.

SFHR was among a group of seven IndyCar Series squads that opted to do the two-day, pre-Christmas test at Sebring.

“The test in Sebring was a good opportunity to work with all the guys and bring Jeremy into a management role,” Newgarden said. “We worked really methodically and well through our test plan and achieved everything we wanted to.

“It was good to get where we need to be in our program before the holidays so that we can move into the new year and try to build from that.”

Ed Carpenter Racing, the lone Chevrolet-powered team at Sebring this week, also had its own particular “first” as Mike Conway ran his inaugural test in the No. 20 car that he’ll drive at all IndyCar Series road/street events in 2014.

According to ECR, the Englishman – who won one of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit races at Belle Isle Park this past season – turned more than 200 laps across both days of the test on Sebring’s short course layout.

“We ran through a number of things we had planned with Mike,” said Carpenter, who will only drive the No. 20 on the ovals this year. “It did feel different watching from the pit box for the last two days. But the team worked well with Mike on developing the car.

“It was a good start for us. We will study the information we learned and come back in January for another test there. Overall, I like the direction we are going.”

Team manager Tim Broyles praised Conway particularly for his feedback to the team’s engineers: “With a new driver, the biggest thing is getting communication squared away, but after the first day, we were all on the same page,” Broyles said.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish

It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.

Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.

As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.

His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.

The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.