Josef Newgarden scores his first IndyCar win at Barber

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – In a thrilling 90-lap Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama that was a mix of pace, persistence, patience and pit strategy, the Verizon IndyCar Series has a first-time race winner, and a first-time champagne sipper.

His name is Josef Newgarden.

The driver of the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet made it home on the final 27-lap stint en route to the victory, holding off fellow American Graham Rahal, who turned in arguably the drive of his career en route to second in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.

Scott Dixon, the Long Beach winner, finished third in the No. 9 Coca-Cola Chevrolet.

While Newgarden led a race-high 46 laps – 25 more than his previous career total of 21 entering the day – he didn’t have it easy as the stats would indicate, as two separate strategies ruled the roost.

Polesitter Helio Castroneves led the opening 18 laps but Newgarden was an early charger, moving up to third from fifth on the start and second by end of the first lap with a pass on Will Power at Turn 16.

Power’s race nearly came unglued when following a pit stop, he collided with Takuma Sato, who had nowhere to go exiting Turn 2. Sato spun and Power cascaded through the gravel, later earning a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

Rahal though was the driver to watch, as an alternate strategy from his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing put him in a position to advance throughout the race. He ran a longer second stint (from Laps 19 to 48) before pitting earlier for his final stop to push harder towards the finish.

Newgarden and Castroneves were 1-2 with Rahal up to third by Lap 22. He inherited the lead by Lap 35 as most of the leaders, led by Newgarden and Castroneves, pitted.

Rahal stopped again on Lap 48, just past the halfway mark, which left his final stop for Lap 70. That allowed him to push harder on both stints, while others who pitted between Laps 62 and 64 would theoretically have to save more fuel throughout the run to the finish.

Newgarden made his last of three stops (Laps 19, 35, 63) and came out in second, behind Rahal, who was due to stop.

Rahal was sixth after his final stop but quickly made work of Power and Hunter-Reay, who made it back into contention past the halfway mark, before hunting down Dixon and passing him out of Turn 9 on the final lap.

It wasn’t enough to catch Newgarden, who won by 2.2061 seconds to complete the first American 1-2 in IndyCar since last year at Iowa Speedway. There, Hunter-Reay beat Newgarden on the sub-one-mile oval.

The win is the first for the combined CFH Racing but the sixth for the team overall, including the five prior wins by either Ed Carpenter Racing or Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing between 2011 and 2014.

Power and Hunter-Reay ended fourth and fifth. Carlos Munoz was a season-best sixth for Andretti Autosport.

Neither Tony Kanaan nor Castroneves – who ran strongly at various points during the race – were able to parlay the combination into a successful result. Kanaan ended 13th, Castroneves 15th on the day.

Despite two cautions for nine laps, there were no major incidents and all 23 drivers finished. Several drivers made great moves throughout the race.

But at the end of it all, Newgarden emerged as a first-time winner heading into the Month of May.

The series isn’t racing next weekend, but will have its oval aero kit test on Sunday, May 3, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

RESULTS

Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running
2. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
3. (4) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 90, Running
4. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (18) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 90, Running
6. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 90, Running
7. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 90, Running
8. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 90, Running
9. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
10. (13) Marco Andretti, Honda, 90, Running
11. (9) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 90, Running
12. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 90, Running
13. (6) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 90, Running
14. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 90, Running
15. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 90, Running
16. (17) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 90, Running
17. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
18. (12) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 90, Running
19. (16) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 90, Running
20. (21) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 90, Running
21. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 90, Running
22. (14) James Jakes, Honda, 89, Running
23. (23) Francesco Dracone, Honda, 89, Running

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 107.176
Time of Race: 01:55:53.0630
Margin of victory: 2.2061 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 10

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1 – 18
Pagenaud 19 – 21
Newgarden 22 – 34
Rahal 35 – 46
Hinchcliffe 47
Bourdais 48 – 49
Montoya 50
Newgarden 51 – 62
Dixon 63 – 64
Rahal 65 – 69
Newgarden 70 – 90

Point Standings: Montoya 136, Castroneves 133, Dixon 123, Newgarden 119, Power 112, Hinchcliffe 110, Kanaan 110, Rahal 103, Pagenaud 96, Bourdais 91

Foyt, Coyne optimistic about Mid-Ohio after testing

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Along with Felix Rosenqvist and Chip Ganassi Racing, two other teams visited the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday July 30, 3:00 p.m., CNBC). A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Dale Coyne Racing sent their drivers and teams to Mid-Ohio in hopes of getting a leg up on things and building optimism ahead of this weekend.

For Foyt’s team in particular, the optimism is needed. Combined, drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly have only three top tens (two for Munoz, one for Daly) across a total of 24 starts, making them desperate for strong results to come their way.

Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are hopeful that they can turn their seasons around at Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity for Foyt’s duo to right the ship. Munoz has finishes of fourth, ninth, and third in three starts at the Lexington, Ohio road course, while Daly led late in last year’s race and finished an impressive sixth.

And a productive test last week has both feeling hopeful. “We needed this test to try big steps and different options and I think we gained a lot from where we started to where we finished,” said Munoz, whose best 2017 finish of seventh came at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

Munoz added that, while they are still playing catch up a little, the team gained valuable information that should help them this weekend. “The car was much more competitive from where we started so we closed the gap but we need a little bit more to compete with the top guys. But the information that we gathered will help us to show up stronger than we did at the test so I’m looking forward to going back,” he asserted.

Daly echoed Munoz’s sentiments and added that his near-win last year makes him upbeat ahead of the weekend. “It was a really productive (test) for us. Every day with this car and aero package we are learning more. I feel like I came quite close to winning the race last year so I’m hoping to have another strong result this year,” Daly expressed.

Technical Director Will Phillips added that the knowledge they gained should help them at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway at the end of the season, particularly in terms of maximizing the grip from the tires.

“We certainly believe that the area we made an improvement in will help us at all the road courses to come – we have been slow to extract performance from the tires at times and it was in this area that some changes we made had a very positive response,” Phillips described. “We will keep our feet on the ground but are optimistic that we can carry the gains through for the remainder of the year, not just for Mid-Ohio.”

On the other side, Dale Coyne Racing has been a giant-killer in 2017, winning at St. Petersburg with Sebastien Bourdais and finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Jones. James Davison, Tristan Vautier, and Esteban Gutierrez have also impressed in fill-in roles for the injured Bourdais.

Dale Coyne Racing has shown a lot of speed in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

And while the team has also incurred more than it’s fair share of crash damage, they have consistently showcased speed at nearly every event, and the team’s drivers are confident Mid-Ohio will yield more of the same.

“We had a really good test last week at Mid-Ohio. It was very positive and we worked on a lot of things,” said Ed Jones, who has four starts at Mid-Ohio from his days in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with a best finish of sixth. “The car seemed pretty fast compared to others that were there. As we saw at Road America, it’s beneficial to be able to test somewhere before we race there. It can give you an advantage early on and hopefully we can produce another good result because of it.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez, making his sixth start for the team this weekend, is more modest of his expectations, but did reveal that a top ten finish could be realistic.

“In terms of objectives for the weekend, I want to keep on learning and it would be nice to reach the top ten. We know that it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for me in IndyCar but we’ve made some progress and hopefully we can make our way into the top ten pretty soon,” Gutierrez detailed.

Of the drivers mentioned here, Jones ranks the highest in the championship standings, currently sitting 12th. Munoz sits 15th, Daly 19th, and Gutierrez 25th in his fill-in role.

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Lando Norris also gets confirmed for Hungary test with McLaren

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McLaren Honda young driver Lando Norris has joined the list of those confirmed for the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test as well.

He’ll run on the second day, Wednesday, of the two-day test with Stoffel Vandoorne running on day one, Tuesday.

The teenaged Brit races for Carlin in the FIA F3 European Championship this season and is one of the most talented prospects in the pipeline, following his karting career and early years in formula cars. This will mark his test debut in an F1 car.

He was announced as part of McLaren’s development program in February.

Norris was confirmed a little more than a week ago for next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a United Autosports Ligier JS P217 LMP2 car but this gives him his first go in a proper F1 rocketship.

 

Pirelli review says Raikkonen tire not faulty at Silverstone

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Formula One tiremaker Pirelli has concluded that Kimi Raikkonen’s tire damage late in the British Grand Prix was likely caused by external contact.

Raikkonen was set for second place in the July 16 race but his tire problem allowed Valtteri Bottas to complete a Mercedes one-two with Lewis Hamilton. The Finnish driver even looked set to lose his podium spot to his own teammate Sebastian Vettel, but in a bizarre twist he ended up third after Vettel’s own tire shredded.

The sight of two Ferraris capitulating within moments of each other led Pirelli to conduct extensive post-race tests on both cars. Raikkonen’s problem, Pirelli said in a statement Wednesday, did not come from the tire itself.

“The possible initial cause of this damage is consistent with contact against an external body, leading to a partial separation of the belt from the carcass in the two affected areas,” Pirelli said. “On no occasion was there any sign of fatigue, detachment or laceration -or even the beginning of such problems – that affected the structure of the tire. In conclusion, Pirelli can confirm that no issues have emerged connected with the tire itself.”

Last week, Pirelli said that Vettel’s shredded tire at Silverstone was caused by a slow puncture.

Vettel appeared to be heading for third place at Silverstone until his front left tire suddenly blew apart two laps from the finish. The four-time F1 champion managed to steer his Ferrari back to the pits for a tire change, and secured seventh place to cling onto his championship lead. Raikkonen’s pit stop to change his tire came just before Vettel’s.

Hamilton won to cut Vettel’s championship lead to one point. Raikkonen, who has three podium finishes this season, is fifth overall.

The championship continues at the Hungarian GP this weekend before a month-long summer break.

Report: GP Association of Long Beach ‘most qualified’ firm to run race

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Not for the first time, the future of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was in the news earlier this year, and the question of whether Formula 1 could re-enter running the race it did from 1976 to 1983, or whether North American open-wheel racing, in INDYCAR, would keep it up.

The city of Long Beach decided to conduct a study using accounting firm KPMG, and paid the firm $150,000 to evaluate whether existing race operators the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, led by Jim Michaelian, or Chris Pook’s World Automobile Championship, would be best to run the race. Pook founded the event in the 1970s but has in recent years, harbored the return of F1 and suggested it would be a more viable economic prospect.

Per the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the study has now concluded following proposals and interviews from both camps. In a memo obtained by the Press-Telegram, the report indicated the existing GPALB “as the most qualified firm to promote and operate the Long Beach Grand Prix race.”

Michaelian told the Press-Telegram this was an “first but important step” in the process for the race to build a new contract with a city; the existing contract runs through 2018.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, in a statement released to the Sports Business Journal, appreciated the recommendation: that statement is below.

This appears to be a key step towards INDYCAR, the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and the city of Long Beach all working towards an agreement that will keep INDYCAR racing at its most successful, longest running, and marquee street course event on the calendar.