Newgarden continues second half run of form with P6 in Sonoma

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After a rough stretch of races from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis through Houston, Josef Newgarden and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing squad continued their solid second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season with their best performance yet at Sonoma.

Newgarden qualified second on Saturday, and the good news continued early Sunday morning for both he and the team with the confirmation he’d stay at the merged CFH Racing team – Fisher, Hartman and Ed Carpenter come together in 2015.

“We have that continuity as a group,” Fisher told MotorSportsTalk Sunday morning after the deal was announced. “What Josef’s done, what this team has done in his gelling with Jeremy (Milless, engineer) and the rest of this group has been great. We went from being nowhere here two years ago to front row now, and it’s because of that continuity.”

If Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma would have gone true to form based purely on the qualifying order, Newgarden again could have made the podium.

But varying strategies and a big temperature change – Sunday’s race ran with ambient more than 10 and track temperature more than 20 degrees warmer than the morning – negatively affected the race for the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda crew.

Newgarden ended sixth after starting second, and that finish marked his best result on a road or street course this season.

Overall, it’s his fourth top-10 finish in the last seven races, after only posting two in the first 10 of the year. As a result, he’s climbed from 20th to 13th in the points standings after this stretch.

“I think the temperature hurt us quite a bit,” Newgarden said in the team’s post-race release. “It was a hot day, and it just didn’t suit what we were doing very well. We were much better in the morning when it was cooler, and we just weren’t as strong when the temperature went up and also as the track got slower from dust and wind pickup.

“It just got slower all afternoon, and we just got worse, and it didn’t cater to what we were doing setup-wise. The tire degradation was tough today. We were out to lunch on that, and I think that was all attributed to temperature. We were strong in some aspects, but the temperature hurt us.”

But compared to the last two years, the team made major strides. Newgarden started 22nd and ended 23rd in 2012, but suffered a broken finger after an accident. Things didn’t get much better last year when he started 17th and ended 24th with a mechanical.

“I think the positive to take away from this weekend is that we secured a solid top-10 result on one of our more difficult tracks over the last couple of years,” Newgarden said. “We’ve made big strides in what we’re doing and the direction we’ve gone.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III