Newgarden leads IndyCar Long Beach morning warm-up

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Josef Newgarden continues his Long Beach weekend prowess in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, after setting the fastest time in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach morning warm-up.

The Tennessee native clocked a flier of 1:08.3447; he’ll roll off from fourth this afternoon (race Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Sebastien Bourdais, who starts third, was second (1:08.7762 in No. 11 Mistic Electronic Cigarettes KVSH Racing Chevrolet) with pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay third (1:08.9968 in No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda).

Hunter-Reay had a near disaster in the morning when rookie Mikhail Aleshin spun in front of him, exiting Turn 6, and RHR took evasive action to the outside of the left-handed, uphill corner to avoid the SMP Racing-backed driver.

Will Power and Scott Dixon rounded out the top five. Justin Wilson only completed one lap in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry as he reported he did not have full power.

One red flag interrupted the 30-minute session, when an orange cone was offline in-between Turns 9 and 10.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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