IndyCar: Newgarden comes from 21st on grid to finish 2nd at Iowa (VIDEO)

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Going into Saturday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300, the results had not been there for Josef Newgarden this Verizon IndyCar Series season. But the American and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team finally put a big one on the board in the Heartland.

With 17 laps remaining in the 300-lap event, Newgarden took advantage of a caution period to pit for fresh tires in hopes that they’d help him make a late push for positions.

Ryan Hunter-Reay made the same decision and when the green flag came back out, both Honda-powered Americans sliced their way to the front of the field.

In the end, Hunter-Reay was victorious, while Newgarden captured his second career IndyCar podium by finishing second after starting 21st.

“I knew the laps were clicking down and at about five to go, I realized, ‘OK, this is going to get really good,'” Newgarden told NBCSN (for more of his comments, check out the clip above). “But there just wasn’t enough time to get Ryan. So, it’s really cool – obviously, finishing on the podium is a great job for our whole team, especially after qualifying. We made a bit of an error there.

“[But] we just did an amazing job tonight. Our team was solid. We had such good pit stops, really good strategy, just kept our head in the game the entire way.

“We didn’t have the best balance all race long, but there were parts where we were really fast. We just kept with it, and at the end, we made it when it counted.”

Prior to Saturday, Newgarden has suffered five DNFs in the first 11 races of the year and his best finishes were a pair of eighths from Barber Motorsports Park and Pocono Raceway.

Time will tell if Saturday’s result will be what he and the single-car SFHR team needed to begin a second-half charge. But Newgarden did note that instead of running into bad luck like he has repeatedly in 2014, the breaks went his way this time.

“It was great to have a run that I think was representative to our pace,” he said. “We were definitely a Top-10 car tonight, probably got a little more than we needed there by doing the new tire strategy.

“But this team deserves it…To get a result – every now and then, it’s something you need obviously, and we’ve been waiting for it.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds