Newgarden grabs first career oval top five in Pocono

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The Chip Ganassi Racing podium sweep grabbed most of the headlines at Pocono, but “best in class” behind the Ganassi trio and Team Penske’s Will Power was Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden, who grabbed his second top-five finish of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season in fifth place.

Newgarden, who wasn’t even born the last time IndyCar raced at “The tricky triangle” in 1989, equaled his best result of the year set in Brazil in May. It’s also his first top-five on an oval in his IndyCar career.

The Hondas had a fuel mileage edge over Chevrolet – not for the first time, as anyone who watched the 2012 Indianapolis 500 can attest – but it was particularly prominent at Pocono on Sunday. Newgarden’s result was made all the more remarkable given that the No. 67 Honda needed an additional stop when fuel ran low on his car.

“We were buried twice today,” he said. “We started 15th and we were buried again about half way through, but we just kept our heads cool and continued to push.”

He pitted under caution twice, once for fuel and once for tires. He was ninth after his final pit stop on Lap 131, but enjoyed a methodical march back toward the front afterwards, culminating with a pass of Simon Pagenaud with just two laps to go for fifth.

“We just kept digging,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t want to settle for anything today. We took everything we could and nothing less. That’s hats off to the team because they kept pushing me in the car and telling me to keep digging. They gave me an incredible car to drive, and I can’t thank the team enough for that.”

Incidentally, Newgarden and Pagenaud were in podium position contention at Toronto last year before contact between the two sent Newgarden into the Turn 3 barriers. The Nashville native seeks a rebound as the series heads north of the border this weekend.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.