Newgarden, Pagenaud went drifting at Long Beach

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One of the undercards on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend was the Formula Drift (a.k.a. FD) hosted the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, where drivers get sideways in drifting to end the days of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on Turns 9-10-11 of the 1.968-mile street circuit.

The actual FD event occurred a week earlier, April 4-5 and won by Chris Forsberg, but the Super Drift Challenge provided a showcase for FD drivers to bring their A-game on the actual TGPLB weekend.

And for grins and giggles, they invited two Verizon IndyCar Series drivers to check things out from the passengers’ seat. Enter Honda IndyCar aces Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, who have been doing a number of things in tandem this year already (also spent time with HPD simulator and motocross rider Trey Canard earlier in 2014).

For Newgarden, there was symmetry to sync up with Michael Essa, the 2013 Formula Drift champion. Essa’s BMW M3 produces more than 750hp – for reference, a tick more than Newgarden’s IndyCar in road or street course configuration – and was built by his shop, Essa Autosport, in Anaheim.

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Photos: Formula Drift

The pair met through Brett King, who paints both of their helmets, at an open house at Brett King Design. The drift car was there, Mike and Josef got to talking, and Mike offered to take him for a ride during the practice session. The practice session was for Saturday night’s Motegi Super Drift Challenge.

Once Newgarden’s ride was complete, Pagenaud took his turn in Essa’s passenger seat. It was a wild ride, as well.

They went onto interesting weekends in the IndyCar race – Newgarden was on pace for a podium before he got by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Meanwhile, despite getting hit by Will Power, Pagenaud rebounded to fifth.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “