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Newgarden secures his first podium for Penske at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Such are the expectations of you at Team Penske that podiums come first, wins come not much later when you arrive.

Josef Newgarden checked the first one of those to-do list items off the list in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Chevrolet with a third place finish, behind the Honda-powered pair of race winner James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais. His previous best finish at Long Beach was seventh in 2015 and he was eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

And he hopes his bosses, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric, are pleased.

“I hope they’re happy enough so far! I’d like to stay… I’m not ready to get fired yet,” Newgarden laughed in the post-race press conference.

Newgarden started only eighth and found some performance today after a tough weekend trying to dial in the setup. But he said the comfort level comes from the team even though he said he didn’t feel that comfortable with his car.

“The great thing about Roger and Tim is they’ve let me settle in,” he said. “They let me know how to interact with the teammates and engineers. I feel really good about gelling with the team. This was the most eye opening weekend. I wasn’t super happy. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with the car. And that’s OK. There’s gonna be some weekends where I’m uncomfortable. But it feels great.”

For the race, Newgarden explained the mix of strategies between two versus three stops shook everything up, even though Newgarden and Scott Dixon had two of the fastest cars.

“It got a lot more mixed up with the strategies. Me and Dixon were on something different that the front guys,” Newgarden said. “We had a car that was capable of challenging for the win. That last yellow allowed everyone to catch up on fuel. So our strategy of trying to run those guys down wasn’t really able to play out. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes.”

Newgarden and Dixon could have had time to catch the drivers had it not been for a seven-lap caution caused when Alexander Rossi stopped on track with a mechanical issue on Lap 63. Everyone was locked into the same strategy though when this caution flew. Newgarden said his car was solid at both fuel saving and making speed.

“We were strong saving fuel and going fast. I think we were the fastest saving a lot of fuel,” he said. “We closed right back up while saving a ton of fuel. We had a really quick car. It was hard at the end. It was tough for me to get by Sebastien to get to James. Everyone was even. When we had clean air, we had a very fast race car. I had no complaints.”

Even though this is the first time none of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Andretti Autosport have won the first two races since the Champ Car/IndyCar merger of 2008 occurred – Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have opened the 2017 account with wins – Newgarden said the so-called “big three” aren’t struggling so much as the series is just providing a showcase for multiple teams to star.

“It seems like typical IndyCar to me,” Newgarden said. “It’s not bad…  Bourdais didn’t qualify at St. Pete, so you don’t know his qualifying pace. We’re all capable. Who’s to say they wouldn’t qualify in the top three? Here, I think with James.. the Hondas looked strong. The Hondas were tough to beat. James was good all weekend.

“I’m not sure it’s been super shook up. It’s typical IndyCar. Anyone can win.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.