Red Bull GRC: Arpin, CGR Rallycross have “extra pep in step” for 2016

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I’m not sure whether Steve Arpin is familiar with The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” song.

But heading into last year’s Red Bull Global Rallycross season opener at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., his car was.

And it only barely made it to shore mere days before the Chip Ganassi Rallycross team was preparing for its series debut.

A far cry from the usual more well-oiled machine you expect from a Ganassi team going into its first race of the year.

“God last year, this time of year, I was sitting there tracking a boat!” Arpin told NBC Sports going into this weekend’s season opener at Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBSN).

“The crazy part about it was containers got mixed up – it was a bunch of heads of lettuce arriving in what we thought we were race cars!

“But yes, now, it’s a night and day difference. We were a start-up team last year. It was tough but we entered with a great relationship with M-Sport. I’m glad they took the time for us. They didn’t send us pieces of junk.”

The M-Sport baseline for the team’s two Ford Fiestas, the ENEOS No. 00 car driven by Arpin as well as the then-Rockstar No. 38 car of Brian Deegan (plus No. 360 360fly for Jeff Ward for two weekends), was needed because nearly all the CGR team – based in Charlotte – was new to rallycross racing.

“We had a lot of first-year growing pains,” Arpin explained. “The majority, all but one guy, everyone was from NASCAR… and everyone had zero rallycross experience. So we were learning new cars, and building a notebook from nothing.

“As everyone knows, a lot more things don’t work than do. I thought we came out of the gate strong, but we didn’t progress as fast. We self-criticized and evaluated everything we did right and wrong to make it more efficient.”

Arpin pinpointed the team’s weakest point in 2015 – its launches.

“Our biggest flaw last year was serious launch issues,” he said. “At some point both Deegan and/or my car died, either in the main, a semifinal or heat. The problem with that, from that point of the weekend on, it really hurt us for progression. You have to make it through the first corner strong. When other guys are back on the line, it tends to be an issue!

“I think there’s a couple races we could have been in victory lane last year, or even been on the podium more so than we were. The start issue was the root of evils.”

As it was, Arpin enjoyed a relatively successful first season in the Ganassi No. 00 Ford. He ended sixth in the points standings with one podium (third at Daytona race two) and seven additional top-five finishes, plus a runner-up finish in the non-points X Games at Circuit of The Americas.

Over the offseason, some parts have been sent back to Europe for repairs and freshening but the chassis have remained stateside.

They’ve had good testing this offseason and look for more podiums and a win. Deegan will now be in for the full season, except with a big change in the energy drink department – he’ll now be in the No. 38 NOS Energy Drink entry.

“We’ve had good solid test,” Arpin said. “We worked on a lot of things to be better overall. At the same time, every other team has to improve too.

“This is suspenseful! We’ve got our wholeshots, but then there’s also the VWs, the Subarus, and the other Ford guys… and no one has any idea who will do what. And those buggers have been so tight lipped!

“Deegan will be full season this year and that will help us. We feed off each other so well. There’s some areas where he is faster, and some where I am.”

There’s a lot of excitement around the team and Arpin is also keen on delivering more programs for ENEOS.

“But walking around the shop, you can tell – everyone has that extra pep in their step.”

Josef Newgarden claims first Indy 500 victory, outdueling Marcus Ericsson in 1-lap shootout


INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden won the 107th Indy 500 with a last-lap pass of Marcus Ericsson, giving team owner Roger Penske his 19th victory in the race but his first as the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In a one-lap shootout after the third red flag in the final 20 laps, Newgarden grabbed the lead from Ericsson on the backstretch and then weaved his way to the checkered flag (mimicking the same moves Ericsson had made to win at the Brickyard last year). Santino Ferrucci finished third for AJ Foyt Racing, maintaining his streak of finishing in the top 10 in all five of his Indianapolis 500 starts.

“I’m just so thankful to be here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “You have no idea. I started out as a fan in the crowd. And this place, it’s amazing.

INSIDE TEAM PENSKE: The tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

“Regardless of where you’re sitting. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving the car, you’re working on it or you’re out here in the crowd. You’re a part of this event and the energy. So thank you to Indianapolis. I love this city. I grew up racing karts here when I was a kid. I’m just so thankful for Roger and (team president) Tim (Cindric) and everybody at Team Penske.

“I just felt like everyone kept asking me why I haven’t won this race. They look at you like you’re a failure if you don’t win it, and I wanted to win it so bad. I knew we could. I knew we were capable. It’s a huge team effort. I’m so glad to be here.”

Newgarden became the first driver from Tennessee to win the Indy 500 and the first American to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing since Alexander Rossi in 2016.

“I think the last two laps I forgot about being a track owner and said let’s go for it,” Penske told Snider. “But what a great day. All these wonderful fans. To get No. 19 racing my guy Ganassi, my best friend in this business. But a terrific effort by Josef. Tim Cindric called a perfect race.

“Had a great race, safe race. I’ll never forget it. I know Josef wanted it so bad and wondered why he couldn’t be there, but today all day long, he worked his way up there, and at the end when it was time to go, I was betting on him.”

After Newgarden finally got his first Indy 500 victory on his 12th attempt the two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion climbed out of his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, squeezed through a hole in the catchfence and ran into the stands to celebrate with fans.

“I’ve always wanted to go into the crowd at Indianapolis,” Newgarden said. “I wanted to go through the fence. I wanted to celebrate with the people. I just thought it would be so cool because I know what that energy is like on race day. This was a dream of mine. If this was ever going to happen, I wanted to do that.”

After finishing 0.0974 seconds behind in second with his No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Ericsson was upset about how IndyCar officials handled the ending.

Though it’s not the first time a red flag has been used to guarantee a green-flag finish at the Indy 500, IndyCar races typically haven’t been restarted with only one lap remaining. The green flag was thrown as the field left the pits in an unusual maneuver that had echoes of Formula One’s controversial 2021 season finale.

“I just feel like it was unfair and a dangerous end to the race,” Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I don’t think there was enough laps to do what we did. We’ve never done a restart out of the pits, and we don’t get the tires up to temperature.

“I think we did everything right today. I’m very proud of the No. 8 crew. I think I did everything right behind the wheel. I did an awesome last restart. I think I caught Josef completely off guard and got the gap and kept the lead. But I just couldn’t hold it on the (backstretch). I was flat but couldn’t hold it. I’m proud of us.

“Congratulations to Josef, he did everything right as well. He’s a worthy champion, I’m just very disappointed with the way that ended. I don’t think that was fair.”

There also were a lot of emotions for Ferrucci, who was tearing up as he exited his No. 14 Dallara-Chevy. In the past eight weeks, the team has weathered the deaths of A.J. Foyt’s wife and longtime publicist Anne Fornoro’s husband.

“It’s just tough,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We were there all day. All day. I’m just so proud of our AJ Foyt Racing team. We had a few people riding on board with us. This one stings, it’s bittersweet. I’m happy for third and the team. I’m happy for Josef and all of Team Penske.

“I was trying not to tear up getting into the race car before we started the race. Different emotions. It was different. I think coming to the end, the last few restarts. I think IndyCar did the right decision with what they have done. a green-flag finish for the fans. Wish we had a couple more laps to finish that off.”

Pole-sitter Alex Palou rebounded to finish fourth after a collision in the pits near the midpoint. Alexander Rossi took fifth.

The race was stopped three times for 37 minutes for three crashes, including a terrifying wreck involving Felix Rosenqvist and Kyle Kirkwood that sent a tire over the Turn 2 catchfence.

It had been relatively clean with only two yellow flags until the final 50 miles.

After spending the first half of the race trading the lead, pole-sitter Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay (who started second) collided while exiting the pits under yellow on Lap 94.

Leaving the pits after leading 24 laps, VeeKay lost control under acceleration. He looped his No. 21 Dallara-Chevy into the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Palou that already had left the first pit stall after completing its stop,

Palou, who had led 36 laps. stayed on the lead lap despite multiple stops to replace the front wing but restarted in 28th.

“What an absolute legend trying to win it,” Palou sarcastically radioed his team about VeeKay, who received a drive-through penalty for the contact when the race returned to green.

The incident happened after the first yellow flag on Lap 92 after Sting Ray Robb slapped the outside wall in Turn 1 after battling with Graham Rahal.

Robb put the blame on Rahal in an interview with NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch.

“I think I just need to pay more attention to the stereotypes of the series,” Robb said. “Pay attention to who I’m racing, and that was just way too aggressive of a move I thought. But yeah, I guess we’re in the wall and not much further to say.”

An already miserable May for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continued before the race even started.

Rahal, who failed to qualify but started his 16th consecutive Indy 500 in place of the injured Stefan Wilson, was unable to start his No. 24 for Dreyer & Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports.

After two aborted attempts at firing the car’s Chevrolet engine, team members pushed Rahal behind the pit wall and swapped out a dead battery. Rahal finally joined the field on the third lap, but he wouldn’t finish last.

RLL teammate Katherine Legge, who had been involved in the Monday practice crash that fractured Wilson’s back, struggled with the handling on her No. 44 Dallara-Honda and nearly spun while exiting the pits after her first stop on Lap 35.

Legge exited her car about 30 laps later as her team began working to fix a steering problem.