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Newgarden, Rahal highlight big names who struggled in IndyCar qualifying

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A light drizzle that grew somewhat heavier in qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg produced a number of surprising results. Among them, a few big names within the Verizon IndyCar Series failed to advance passed the first round.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the defending IndyCar champion, was the first big name to find misfortune, with Round 1 being a struggle for him and the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team. Newgarden tried desperately to turn in a lap quick enough to advance into Round 2, but came up just short. He’ll start Sunday’s race in 13th.

“It just wasn’t enough. I thought I did an okay lap, but everyone picked up more than I thought they would,” Newgarden explained in an interview with the Advance Autoparts INDYCAR Radio Network.

He added, “It just wasn’t enough at the end of the day. We’re working hard this weekend. I think Chevy’s given us a really good product to work with, we’re really happy with our engine, and it’s fun driving the Hitachi car. Not what we wanted to start the weekend in qualifying, but I think we’ll have what it takes to maybe race this out and maybe contend for a win, so we just got to work on our race car now.”

However, Newgarden’s struggles paled in comparison to Graham Rahal’s. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, who was only 20th quickest during Friday practice, spun during Round 1 and brought out a red flag, costing him his two fastest laps, in an incident that appeared to be the first sign of rain hitting the track.

Graham Rahal will start 24th after spinning during qualifying. Photo: IndyCar

Rahal and the team subsequently elected not to go back out, saving their softer red tires for the race, and will start 24th, last on the grid.

“It seemed O.K. and the next thing I knew, it just went around,” Rahal said of the incident. “I’m disappointed clearly for everybody. I don’t know what the pace would have been, but it was giving me positive vibes. I thought that on the used blacks (Firestone primary tires), when others were on new blacks, we were pretty competitive, so I felt like going forward we should be half decent. I’m disappointed for the first race to start off this way but we can’t get too down on ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused.”

Others who struggled in qualifying were Marco Andretti, who will start 18th after incurring a penalty for qualifying interference, and defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais, who failed to advance from Round 1 and will start 14th.



Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.