Josef Newgarden

Photo: IndyCar

Newgarden tops IndyCar’s street course charts for 2017

Leave a comment

With one win, two additional podiums and 185 points scored over five races, Josef Newgarden has been the master of street courses for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Traditionally, Newgarden had not been as strong on street courses as he had on permanent road courses and ovals over the previous five years of his career, but a switch to Team Penske from Ed Carpenter Racing has changed that dynamic for the 26-year-old out of Hendersonville, Tenn. native.

Newgarden scored his first career front row start (Long Beach, 2012) and first podium (Baltimore, 2013) with seconds at both races but wasn’t usually the strongest on the street courses.

Among IndyCar’s four current street courses at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Detroit and Toronto, Newgarden only had two total top-fives on those four heading into 2017 (win at Toronto, 2015, fourth at Detroit race two, 2016) from 26 starts (5 St. Petersburg, 5 Long Beach, 9 Detroit, 7 Toronto). He’d done better at Baltimore and Sao Paulo, both of which dropped off the schedule after 2013.

After winning at Toronto on Sunday in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden admitted the stress that comes with street course racing, knowing the anxiety of strategy and when a yellow might fall. To his benefit, Team Penske president and Newgarden’s race strategist Tim Cindric made the right call Sunday that helped leapfrog Newgarden to the front.

“It’s a street course. Whenever you’re in the lead on a street course, it always feels stressful. It doesn’t feel easy. You’re in the lead, have a good gap, manage it and finish the race. I feel like a street course always brings a bit of stress with the walls and all the variables that you’re always dealing with,” he explained.

“Today there was a little more with the rain. I was concerned about that, how it would throw a wrench into the works. It starts raining when I’m on the wrong end of the track, that wouldn’t be very good.

“There were things that stressed me out for sure. But, you know, it was a fairly straightforward day. I think probably it felt a little bit easier than the first year when I had my first win here and the second win of my career. The more you do it, the more you drive the cars, the easier it all becomes.”

Newgarden’s points haul of 185 from the five races came courtesy of four top-five finishes. Beyond his Toronto win he scored his first Penske podium with third at Long Beach and added fourth and second-place results at Detroit. Only an eighth at St. Petersburg, his best finish there, was he outside the top-five on a street course this year.

Detroit double winner Graham Rahal was second in street course points this year, and probably would have been first had he not been caught out by the yellow in Toronto that jumbled the order. He looked the business at both Detroit and Toronto but had lackluster results of 17th at St. Petersburg and 10th at Long Beach. Neither looked that bad at the time but as the single-car Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing tries to fight for the title, they loom larger.

Scott Dixon was third in the street course standings with James Hinchcliffe fourth, the Long Beach winner also adding two podiums in Detroit and Toronto. Simon Pagenaud was consistent with a podium and four top-fives in the five street races, and ends fifth here.

That Helio Castroneves is as close to the overall championship lead as he is comes courtesy of his results elsewhere. Castroneves was unlucky not to score more in street races this year. He won the pole at Long Beach but had electrical gremlins and penalties drop him back there, while getting shafted from the pole in Detroit put his weekend off kilter there. He scored 126 points on street courses this year, 59 fewer than Newgarden.

Interestingly, street courses have been a major killer for Will Power this year. Outside of third in Detroit race two, Power’s results went for naught in these five races. He had a mechanical issue in St. Petersburg, contact with Charlie Kimball in Long Beach and contact with Dixon in Toronto. Power only scored the 14th most points in the field on street courses this year.

Sebastien Bourdais scored 93 points from just two races with first and second in St. Petersburg and Long Beach. This is more than nine drivers who raced in all five!

Honda won four of the five street course races and was only denied a clean sweep by Newgarden on Sunday in Toronto. But Honda banked 10 podiums on the street courses of a possible 15 – Pagenaud, Newgarden and Power scored Chevrolet’s five podiums this year for Team Penske.

The full street course points tally for 2017 is below, and is interesting to reflect on in the heat of the overall championship battle.

# Driver 1 2 7 8 12 T
2 Newgarden C 24 35 32 41 53 185
15 Rahal H 13 20 54 53 22 162
9 Dixon H 35 35 41 28 20 159
5 Hinchcliffe H 23 51 36 10 35 155
1 Pagenaud C 41 30 14 30 32 147
3 Castroneves C 28 23 28 22 25 126
98 Rossi H 19 11 30 26 40 126
26 Sato H 31 12 24 34 14 115
28 Hunter-Reay H 32 14 17 14 28 105
27 Andretti H 26 10 18 17 32 103
18 Bourdais H 53 40 93
8 Chilton H 14 16 19 15 27 91
19 Jones H 20 28 22 8 10 88
12 Power C 13 17 12 35 9 86
14 Munoz C 9 26 16 19 15 85
10 Kanaan H 18 15 15 20 11 79
21 Hildebrand C 17 19 13 12 17 78
7 Aleshin H 16 18 29 14 77
20 Pigot C 10 24 20 9 12 75
83 Kimball H 12 9 9 24 18 72
4 Daly C 15 14 8 18 13 68
18 Gutierrez H 11 16 16 43
16 Servia H 10 11 21
7 Saavedra H 19 19

Toronto jumble sets stage for five-race IndyCar thriller

IndyCar
Leave a comment

In two moments Sunday afternoon on the streets of Toronto, the complexion of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship changed, and produced the next chapter for what’s to come over the final five races of the season.

An accordion effect between Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and Will Power saw Dixon and Power sustain the heaviest collision on the run down to Turn 3 on the opening lap. While Rahal emerged unscathed, Dixon and Power collided, with Power poking his nose to the outside of Dixon on the run into Turn 3. He’d be out of the race as a result.

First lap drama changed the equation in Toronto. Photo: IndyCar

“I went down the outside, and someone went down the inside of me,” Power told NBCSN’s Robin Miller. “It surprised me. I should have known better than to take any sort of risk on the first lap. Just not worth it.

“It really makes it tough in the championship. All the guys I’m fighting are at the front. I just feel bad for my guys. Didn’t even complete the first lap.”

Dixon’s race went belly-up, as well. He needed to pit for a flat left rear tire, then after the race restarted, received a drive-through penalty for performing more than required work in a closed pit (7.1.3.3.3.5).

It put Dixon off the boil on strategy and despite rebounding from 20th to run as high as fourth, he was left to finish in 10th. After six top-five finishes in the first seven races – his only miss that infamous 32nd in the Indianapolis 500 after his aerial accident – he’s now finished outside the top-five in four of the last five races, albeit still in the top-10 in all of them. It’s just that suddenly sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th are off, slightly, by comparison to wins and podiums wracked up by Team Penske.

“It was a rough day in the NTT Data car. I had a good start in Turn 1, and it looked like (Graham) Rahal decided to shift lanes and I had to avoid him. Then (Will) Power and I got together and ended up cutting down our tire and doing some damage to the suspension on the car. Then we had to fix the car and INDYCAR gave us a drive-through penalty, which was kind of odd. And then that kind of hosed our best efforts for the day and we ended up 10th,” Dixon said.

Pagenaud and Castroneves’ race was ruined by Kanaan caution. Photo: IndyCar

With two of the best drivers in the current generation sidelined for the day, the next key moment came when Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, nosed in at Turn 1 at Lap 23 and brought out a full-course caution.

This cost three more championship contenders, in Graham Rahal, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, a potential podium lockout. The three fastest drivers and cars of the weekend were, like Dixon and Pagenaud in this race last year, caught out by the yellow timing by being at the front of the field. None was satisfied and Pagenaud (fifth), Castroneves (eighth) and Rahal (ninth) were all unlucky to finish lower than they probably deserved.

“We played it right but we got unlucky. But the three best cars didn’t win the race,” Rahal surmised to NBCSN. “It’s a shame. Sometimes luck plays a role in this things. You could see in the first stint, Helio, Simon and myself were taking off. Congrats to Newgarden, but we should have gained a lot of points on Dixon, Newgarden and more. The way the officials decide to close the pits these days, luck plays a factor in these things.”

All the while the one championship contender who benefited the most was Josef Newgarden – who courtesy of Team Penske president and his race strategist Tim Cindric managed to pit just before the yellow – promptly leapfrogged the field by pitting right before the yellow came out.

Newgarden admittedly got lucky but did have to bring it home from there, which he did on a banner day of closing down the gap in the championship. Newgarden was 56 back of Dixon seven days ago in the cornfields of Iowa. He’s now just 23 back of him after winning in the land of “Timbits” and poutine in Toronto on Sunday.

On the same day, Newgarden gained 21 (Pagenaud), 28 (Castroneves), 31 (Rahal) and 44 (Power) points over four other title contenders.

At 23 points back, Newgarden pinpointed the one race where he lost the most points – the double points Indianapolis 500 – as a place where his championship has been affected the most.

“The big thing for us is we can’t get into many more incidents like we have the first half of the year. I think month of May is really what killed us in the points championship,” he said. “We had a bad GP with a pit lane speed limiter issue, and a bad Indy 500 wrecking out with 20 to go, getting caught up in something. We’ve had some races that we’ve had to pick up from a deficit, and I think if those weren’t there, we’d probably be leading the championship.

“But other guys can say the same thing. They’ll say, We had races like this, too. It kind of yo-yos back and forth for everybody. Everyone is going to have good races and bad races. We have to prioritize having solid finishes from here to the end. I think if we’re the most consistent, we absolutely can win the championship. It’s going to be the guy who does that the best.”

Newgarden and the Penske team. Photo: IndyCar

Newgarden’s words there about consistency provide an interesting setup to the final five races of the year, and how the championship in this year where it seems anyone can win it, consistency over this stretch will come into play.

The five races left feature one short oval (Gateway), one big oval (Pocono), and three permanent road courses (Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Sonoma). Even so, there’s been no rhyme or reason to who’s won at the earlier portion of those tracks this year.

Road courses? We’ve had Newgarden (Penske Chevrolet, Barber), Power (Penske Chevrolet, Indy GP) and Dixon (Ganassi Honda, Road America) win the three permanent road course races. One could argue Power should have won Barber and Newgarden – or any Penske member – should have won at Road America, but they didn’t after getting usurped. Alas, Team Penske has 10 top-fives out of a possible 13 top-fives in those three races, so it’s hard to bet against any of their quartet in those races.

The short oval also should feature Penske dominance – it’s been Pagenaud (Phoenix) and Castroneves (Iowa) who’ve won there this year. But, again, there’s a question mark. Gateway will be repaved before its August 26 race with a test to come next month, so while the field did test there in May, it’ll be a completely new track to everyone, and that in theory levels the playing field. Dixon is good on tracks that are new or added, and he, Castroneves and a couple others do have some past Gateway race experience from many years ago.

Pocono though? That could be – probably should be – a Honda track. Yet Power won there last year and Pagenaud crashed out. Takuma Sato, who remains on the fringe of title contention but having fallen back in the last month with four tough results, of course has the year’s biggest 500-mile win on his resume and could well spoil the Penske and Ganassi party there for Andretti Autosport.

With five races to go, it’s going to be between those seven drivers for the title, with four in more realistic contention down the stretch. Dixon (423) has to hold off the first three of the Penske quartet of Castroneves (420), Pagenaud (404) and Newgarden (400), all close. Power and Rahal (359) and Sato (351) are also close-ish, still within a 72-point margin, but right on the border of falling out.

It’s a barnburner of a finish since no one has more than two wins yet this year, but as ever, the combination of wins and consistency will deliver this year’s IndyCar title.

Newgarden uses strategy gamble for second Toronto win

Leave a comment

A year ago, Team Penske president Tim Cindric called Will Power into the pits at the Honda Indy Toronto. A yellow flag flew, and Power leapfrogged to the front of the field en route to winning the Verizon IndyCar Series’ lone Canadian race.

Sunday, Cindric called his new driver, Josef Newgarden, into the pits in Toronto… a yellow flag flew, and Newgarden leapfrogged to the front of the field.

It played into Newgarden’s advantage for his second win of the year – both after starting seventh (Barber) – and second win at Toronto (2015).

He made it home on fuel with Alexander Rossi unable to catch him behind him, and James Hinchcliffe able to bank his second straight Toronto podium.

Marco Andretti was fourth with polesitter Simon Pagenaud able to recover to fifth, one of several drivers caught out by the yellow when Tony Kanaan crashed at Turn 1, but restarted.

The critical point of the race came when Kanaan locked up and went in too deep at Turn 1 on Lap 23, in the midst of the first round of green flag pit stops.

Erstwhile dominant leader Helio Castroneves, who’d made a dynamic move off the start to pass Pagenaud and Graham Rahal into Turn 1 from third on the grid, along with the two drivers he passed, were all caught out as a result of this yellow as they hadn’t pitted yet. All three fell back to 14th or lower.

It promoted a train of others, led by Newgarden, to the front of the field. There was little shakeup from there, although the question was always going to be how much further Pagenaud, Castroneves and Rahal could recover to.

Newgarden won by 1.8704 of a second over Rossi with Hinchcliffe also benefiting from the yellow timing to end third.

Pagenaud survived a late-race scrap with Ryan Hunter-Reay to end fifth, with Castroneves coming home eighth and Scott Dixon ending 10th after a fraught day at the office.

Dixon and Will Power collided on the opening lap of the race heading for Turn 3, after Dixon appeared to have slight contact with Rahal. Dixon limped back to the pits and was able to continue while Power had his right front suspension break, affecting his steering. Though he made it back to the pits he was unable to complete any further laps and was done for the day.

It sees Castroneves close to within just three points of Dixon heading to Dixon’s proverbial happy hunting ground, Mid-Ohio, in two weeks.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE? Beyond the top three, Marco Andretti’s fourth place was his first top-five finish since coming third at Fontana on June 27, 2015, 29 races ago. … Max Chilton recovered to seventh after losing a few positions on the opening lap. … Sebastian Saavedra was unlucky to lose a top-10 in the final laps in his stand-in drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports but finished 11th. … Esteban Gutierrez finished the race in Dale Coyne Racing’s built up new car in 14th.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE? Considering their pace, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Rahal were all unlucky to finish where they did, and with Power and Dixon’s first-lap dust-up, Newgarden was the major points beneficiary. … Another tough race happened for Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato, ending 16th. After coming fifth, eighth and fourth in three of the first four street races this was a tough end for the lone Andretti driver outside the top six. … Spencer Pigot’s early race charge on black tires, up from 13th to fifth, came undone with contact with Sato and an extra pit stop with an ill-handling car on red tires. He was 18th. … Kanaan, who lost it in Turn 1, and Ed Jones, who had mechanical issues, ended 19th and 20th.

NOTABLE: Newgarden has four of his five career wins at two tracks, Barber and Toronto, having won at both in the same year in 2015 and 2017. Iowa, 2016, is his lone oval win. … Polesitter Pagenaud was the only top-five starter to finish in the top-five.

QUOTABLE: From race winner Newgarden: “I think that is twice I have had good calls and got into the pits at the right time. Thank you to the guys and thank you to Tim (Cindric) for making that call. We got it right, but it was all about managing the race after that. I thought we had a very fast car, we got a pretty good start, and stayed out of the mayhem.”

RESULTS

TORONTO-Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Toronto Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.786-mile Streets of Toronto’s Exhibition Place, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
3. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
4. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
5. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (16) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
7. (9) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
8. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (2) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
10. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
11. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 85, Running
12. (17) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
13. (12) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (21) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 85, Running
15. (19) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
16. (10) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
17. (18) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
19. (14) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 83, Running
20. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 75, Mechanical
21. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 0, Contact

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 95.790 mph
Time of Race: 1:35:05.3522
Margin of victory: 1.8704 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1-24
Newgarden 25-53
Chilton 54
Pagenaud 55-56
Newgarden 57-85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings:
 Scott Dixon 423, Castroneves 420, Pagenaud 404, Newgarden 400, Power 359, Rahal 359, Sato 351, Rossi 330, Kanaan 306, Hinchcliffe 297.

Newgarden tops Toronto Warm-up

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

Team Penske continued to demonstrate it’s strong pace ahead of today’s Honda Indy Toronto (3:00 p.m., CNBC), this time with Josef Newgarden leading the way in morning warm-up. Newgarden’s best lap of 1:00.0122 was nearly two tenths of a second quicker than teammate Simon Pagenaud.

A trio of Hondas followed the Penske duo, with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay third, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal fourth, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in fifth.

Of note note: Esteban Gutierrez was cleared to drive shortly before the morning warm-up. The Dale Coyne Racing driver suffered concussion-like symptoms after a qualifying crash on Saturday, and needed to be cleared by Verizon IndyCar Series medical staff before getting back behind the wheel. Gutierrez will start 21st.

Times are below. The Honda Indy Toronto rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET on CNBC.

Early qualifying draws bite Pagenaud, Newgarden, Dixon in Iowa

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

Practice speeds indicated that Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud would fight for the pole for Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300 (5:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), with Newgarden going fastest and Pagenaud ending up third.

However, early qualifying draws saw them go out first (Pagenaud) and third (Newgarden), which ultimately put paid to their chances for the pole. Pagenaud ended up qualifying 11th, while Newgarden qualified 16th.

Pagenaud referenced his early draw in a press conference prior to qualifying, and acknowledged it might be problematic. “I’m first in line, so I’m going to be the guinea pig for everybody. Anyway, but that’s the luck of the draw,” Pagenaud said of qualifying early.

After his run, Pagenaud described it as one of the wildest runs he’s ever made. “That was a bit of a scary ride. I don’t know if it was the different kind of rubber laid down by the other series or what, but the Menards Chevy was a little loose,” he detailed.

However, Pagenaud is no less confident heading into the race. “I’m not worried about anything though. I know the car is strong. My teammates that went out later in the session had good runs, so we’ll just need to work through some traffic to get to the front,” he finished.

Newgarden, too, expressed confidence, despite the qualifying struggles. “With the order, Simon (Pagenaud) and I were guinea pigs. The track was a little slick and the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet was loose, but I’m really confident we’ll be good for the race. This was all about timing and having to go out third,” he explained.

Scott Dixon, too, was bitten by an early qualifying draw that saw him make the second run of the session, and he could do not better than 17th. This made a tough day all the more challenging, as a penalty from Road America for entering the track after the checkered flag waved on a practice session cost he and the No. 9 NTT Data team 20 minutes of time in the morning practice.

Scott Dixon struggled in qualifying after going out third. He’ll start the Iowa Corn Indy 300 from 17th. Photo: IndyCar

“Definitely a tough day when you lose that much running time in one day,” Dixon said of the penalty. “We didn’t have any testing here, and I think we expected the track to not degrade as much with the track temps and ambient coming up a bit. But it was just all over the place on my run. Not a whole lot of grip and we were all over the place in the No. 9 NTT Data car unfortunately.”

The points leader entering Iowa, the door is already open for his title rivals to make big gains, with all of them qualifying ahead of Dixon. Pagenaud starts 11th, with Helio Castroneves third, Takuma Sato fifth, Josef Newgarden 16th, Will Power first, and Graham Rahal tenth on the grid.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.