IndyCar Notes: A test of firsts for Newgarden, Conway

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This week’s test session at Sebring International Raceway marked the first time working together for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s driver/engineer tandem of Josef Newgarden (pictured, from September’s Grand Prix of Baltimore) and Jeremy Milless.

Milless, who recently was promoted to chief engineer on Newgarden’s No. 67 Honda, has been with SFHR since the 2012 season and has a resume that includes previous stops at Panther Racing, Team Penske, and the former Team Menard.

SFHR was among a group of seven IndyCar Series squads that opted to do the two-day, pre-Christmas test at Sebring.

“The test in Sebring was a good opportunity to work with all the guys and bring Jeremy into a management role,” Newgarden said. “We worked really methodically and well through our test plan and achieved everything we wanted to.

“It was good to get where we need to be in our program before the holidays so that we can move into the new year and try to build from that.”

Ed Carpenter Racing, the lone Chevrolet-powered team at Sebring this week, also had its own particular “first” as Mike Conway ran his inaugural test in the No. 20 car that he’ll drive at all IndyCar Series road/street events in 2014.

According to ECR, the Englishman – who won one of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit races at Belle Isle Park this past season – turned more than 200 laps across both days of the test on Sebring’s short course layout.

“We ran through a number of things we had planned with Mike,” said Carpenter, who will only drive the No. 20 on the ovals this year. “It did feel different watching from the pit box for the last two days. But the team worked well with Mike on developing the car.

“It was a good start for us. We will study the information we learned and come back in January for another test there. Overall, I like the direction we are going.”

Team manager Tim Broyles praised Conway particularly for his feedback to the team’s engineers: “With a new driver, the biggest thing is getting communication squared away, but after the first day, we were all on the same page,” Broyles said.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.