Newgarden emerges from Detroit with fourth in both race, points

Photo: IndyCar

It hasn’t necessarily been chronicled too much but for Josef Newgarden, Detroit has not been a kind place throughout his Verizon IndyCar Series career.

Heading into 2016, Newgarden’s run of results at Detroit was this underwhelming batch of finishes: 15th, seventh, 16th, 20th, 17th, eighth and 21st, with several accidents peppered in.

But this year, things turned the corner a bit. The driver of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet led Saturday’s morning warmup (officially practice two, but for all intents and purposes it was a warmup) before late-race electrical gremlins in fuel-save mode resigned him to a 14th place finish in race one after starting in the same position.

Sunday was an interesting one. A driveshaft issue forced him off in qualifying but Newgarden remained parked off course and out of harm’s way, which avoided a local yellow being thrown and thus meaning he wouldn’t lose his fastest lap. Even despite starting 17th, Newgarden avoided the Turn 1 fracas and was up to 11th, made it into ninth before his first stop at Lap 24 and then gained a handful more spots late in the race once the top four pitted.

Again it speaks volumes about the expectations for the talented young 25-year-old out of the Nashville area and his Ed Carpenter Racing team that fourth can be considered a disappointment.

But after a third in Barber, the hard-luck third in the Indianapolis 500 and now this, Newgarden remains firmly in title contention in fourth place in points heading into the second half of the year. He’s just 18 points behind second-placed Scott Dixon (277-259).

“It’s always been tough here for us. I think we had one of our best cars ever around this place,” Newgarden told NBC Sports post-race. “It’s just a tough weekend. I put us on the back foot in the first qualifying session. I think we had a great car, and touched the wall. Then the race, we had some gremlins towards the end. I think we could have had a top five yesterday.

“Qualifying today wasn’t perfect, with some more issues. I think it was the driveshaft in the end. In the race here it was a great result with fourth. We just didn’t have quite the track position we needed. I think my guys, we kept fighting. We had really fast cars, definitely could not have done a better job of preparing the cars from ECR. We took what we could, maintained our championship position of fourth which is strong for us. We’ll just keep going, chugging along, try and do better at the next round.”

Newgarden was lucky to make it through the opening lap mess that saw two cars out on the spot and a couple more sustain damage.

“I was on the inside of (Alexander) Rossi,” he explained. “We were just touching, I think Rossi was trying to avoid everything to his left and he was running into me side-by-side. Fortunately I had the good position being on the inside. Everything was happening on the outside, so I kind of got through all clean. Just settled in and tried to do something from there.”

Heading to Texas next week (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Newgarden is confident that after two tests the team will be able to atone for its nightmare 2015 race weekend there.

“We actually have had two tests if you count the October one and then we went this season as well with everyone. I think we’ll be good there. Ed has been very good there historically, he’s a great driver around that place,” Newgarden said.

“I’ve learned some tips from him and I think we’ll have great Ed Carpenter Racing cars with Fuzzy Vodka. I don’t see why we can’t challenge for a win next weekend.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”