Taking advantage of a fast Honda and a race-record number of cautions, Josef Newgarden put himself in position to score an upset victory in Sao Paulo this afternoon before dropping back to fifth place at the finish on worn tires.
“I thought we had a really strong race and a top-five is really good going into Indy,” he said. “Given where we started, that’s exactly what we wanted to do, score solid points and get some momentum going into the 500. I think we’ve absolutely done that.”
The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver didn’t qualify on Saturday because of an engine change and had to start 25th at the rear of the field. But Newgarden and SFHR played the strategy game perfectly, and the young American was able to climb to second on the final restart of the day at Lap 60. That set up a fight for the lead between himself and Takuma Sato, who gave no quarter to Newgarden whenever he attempted to take the lead from him.
Newgarden and Sato’s battle enabled eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe to reel them in. With three laps remaining, the Canadian took back second from Newgarden, who still mustered an ultimately vain three-wide attempt in Turn 11 with Hinchcliffe and Sato before his fading Firestones caught up with him.
But while Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia managed to pass him on the final lap, Newgarden’s fifth is the best result of his young IndyCar career. Still, as he now prepares for the Indianapolis 500, he felt like he could’ve done even better on Sunday.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment,” he said. “I think we had a better car than fifth. You have to take what you can sometimes. We’re really pleased at all of the hard work that gets put in from everyone here. It’s good to get representative results. We’ll try to take that momentum and do well at the ‘500’.”