Josef Newgarden leads first IndyCar practice at Toronto

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Coming off a superb runner-up showing at Iowa Speedway, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden has opened the Honda Indy Toronto weekend atop the first practice session.

A last-second flyer of 1:00.2385 around the 1.75-mile Exhibition Place street circuit was enough to grant Newgarden the fastest time of the session ahead of Team Penske’s Will Power (1:00.4497) and Toronto’s own James Hinchcliffe (1:00.5728).

Newgarden is trying to continue his upward trend over the last few races, which include an eighth at Pocono and the aforementioned second behind Ryan Hunter-Reay one weekend ago.

“When things are going like that, it’s really good,” he said to IndyCar Radio. “You just want to try and keep the momentum rolling and not have anything silly happen. Even when they do, hopefully you get over it really quickly and hope there’s nothing substantial.

“We’ve had a good string of results, the team’s worked really hard, and all we’re focusing on is trying to finish out the year right. I think we’ve got a good shot at that.”

Newgarden has had an up-and-down third season in the series with five DNFs (three crashes, one gearbox, one lost wheel), but feels that the recent work from him and SFHR is proof of their true talent.

“It’s a tough thing in racing because nobody really sees the evidence for everything – there’s a lot of looking at and saying, ‘Why is that like that?’ and you kinda take it for face value, where a lot of teams, a lot of drivers, a lot of situations have things come up and you just don’t see why,” he noted.

“We’ve had a lot of things we’ve dealt with, but I think we’ve got a great group. We have fast cars and good engineering. I’d just be really pleased for this team if we could string together some more results for this year.”

Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Helio Castroneves was fourth in the session (1:00.6363). Rookie pilot Carlos Munoz rounded out the Top 5 (1:00.6514).

A second IndyCar practice at Exhibition Place is slated to begin later today at 1:55 p.m. ET

Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”