Newgarden continues second half run of form with P6 in Sonoma

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After a rough stretch of races from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis through Houston, Josef Newgarden and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing squad continued their solid second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season with their best performance yet at Sonoma.

Newgarden qualified second on Saturday, and the good news continued early Sunday morning for both he and the team with the confirmation he’d stay at the merged CFH Racing team – Fisher, Hartman and Ed Carpenter come together in 2015.

“We have that continuity as a group,” Fisher told MotorSportsTalk Sunday morning after the deal was announced. “What Josef’s done, what this team has done in his gelling with Jeremy (Milless, engineer) and the rest of this group has been great. We went from being nowhere here two years ago to front row now, and it’s because of that continuity.”

If Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma would have gone true to form based purely on the qualifying order, Newgarden again could have made the podium.

But varying strategies and a big temperature change – Sunday’s race ran with ambient more than 10 and track temperature more than 20 degrees warmer than the morning – negatively affected the race for the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda crew.

Newgarden ended sixth after starting second, and that finish marked his best result on a road or street course this season.

Overall, it’s his fourth top-10 finish in the last seven races, after only posting two in the first 10 of the year. As a result, he’s climbed from 20th to 13th in the points standings after this stretch.

“I think the temperature hurt us quite a bit,” Newgarden said in the team’s post-race release. “It was a hot day, and it just didn’t suit what we were doing very well. We were much better in the morning when it was cooler, and we just weren’t as strong when the temperature went up and also as the track got slower from dust and wind pickup.

“It just got slower all afternoon, and we just got worse, and it didn’t cater to what we were doing setup-wise. The tire degradation was tough today. We were out to lunch on that, and I think that was all attributed to temperature. We were strong in some aspects, but the temperature hurt us.”

But compared to the last two years, the team made major strides. Newgarden started 22nd and ended 23rd in 2012, but suffered a broken finger after an accident. Things didn’t get much better last year when he started 17th and ended 24th with a mechanical.

“I think the positive to take away from this weekend is that we secured a solid top-10 result on one of our more difficult tracks over the last couple of years,” Newgarden said. “We’ve made big strides in what we’re doing and the direction we’ve gone.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.