IndyCar: Elusive first win continues to escape Newgarden, SFHR

2 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Like at Long Beach back in April, all the stars seemed set to align for Josef Newgarden and the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda team during Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And then, as it seemingly always happens, circumstances outside Newgarden’s control conspired to prevent the talented 23-year-old third year driver from capturing an elusive – and deserved – first career victory in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Although Newgarden started from second on the grid on reds, he then burned off the primaries for his second stint and was all set, back on the reds for the duration to hunt down then leader Scott Dixon.

He got close but not past the Ganassi driver, but was poised to jump ahead on fuel strategy. But unfortunately his plans were foiled in a Lap 65 pit stop, when a crew member fell down, his air jacks failed to engage and he hit an air hose – all of it culminating in a drive-through penalty that dropped him to 12th.

Yet just after Long Beach, when he could have had every reason to be visibly frustrated or incensed with what had transpired, Newgarden displayed maturity, temperament and calmness well beyond his years.

“We didn’t get it right; it’s a shame,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk and IndyCar Radio post-race. “We had such a strong car and man we had great strategy. It was a killer idea going blacks. We hung on (Sebastien) Bourdais, he was on reds, and then it fell right into our seat. I knew it was happening the whole time. You don’t always stick with the plan, and we did today. It was perfect. Everyone knew we were strong today and we had a shot to win. We’ve had a couple of those this year and a couple more to come.”

Race winner Scott Dixon hailed Newgarden’s drive, although Dixon was still saving fuel and able to hold back the challenge.

“Josef came at me with a pretty big charge, but we were saving a lot of fuel,” Dixon said. “Yet we could still hit the number we needed to achieve. So long as you’re good through (Turns) 1 and 2, it’s impossible to pass. Then you can save.”

The air in the media center was nearly sucked out upon Newgarden’s pit stop and then insult to injury. Yet again though, it was the Nashville native now residing in Indy who remained more upbeat than a wealthy number of people on the ground at Mid-Ohio.

This moment reminds me a bit of 2003, when another talented, up-and-coming driver named Michel Jourdain Jr. was poised to win his first ever Champ Car race at Long Beach, driving for Bobby Rahal. Jourdain grabbed the pole, lost the lead but was in position to win before a gearbox issue on his final pit stop cost him the race.

Jourdain would then break through three races later to win his first career race at The Milwaukee Mile.

Guess where IndyCar’s heading in two weeks.

We said it after Long Beach and we’ll say it again after Mid-Ohio – his first win is coming, and ideally sooner rather than later.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.