Andretti’s 200th, Newgarden’s 100th IndyCar starts set at Sonoma

Andretti (27) and Newgarden (2) have milestone starts this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
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Two American drivers who are only separated by three-plus years in age but 100 starts and six years of experience hit some important career milestones in the Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 season finale this weekend, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Marco Andretti will start his 200th race in a career that dates back to 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when he’d only just turned 19 years old.

Meanwhile Josef Newgarden will start his 100th race in a career that also began at a young age, 21 years old, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. in 2012.

Andretti is 30 and Newgarden 26 (turns 27 in December), and it’s easy to forget how young Andretti still is given this will be the end of his 12th season. At 26 though, Newgarden only seems to be entering the prime of his career, after overachieving with Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter in his first five years and now looking to secure his first career championship in his first year with Team Penske.

SONOMA, CA – AUGUST 27: Marco Andretti (C), driver of the #26 Andretti Green Racing NYSE Dallara Honda celebrates his first IndyCar race win with father Michael (L) and grandfather Mario (R) at the IRL IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma August 27, 2006 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Of course at one point, Andretti was the hot young American prospect in IndyCar. He almost won the 2006 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, losing right off the final turn of the final lap to Sam Hornish Jr., at age 19. He eventually did win his first race of his career at Sonoma Raceway later that season.

Andretti has always been solid and perhaps misunderstood; there’s a perception that he doesn’t really seem to care, but in actuality, he cares so much that he often presses or fails to deliver in crunch time. Qualifying poorly after practicing well has been his issue this year. His last name is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability; his results largely have not lived up to the hype or hope of being the next great Andretti, the third generation driver in the iconic family legacy.

All told, Andretti has two wins from his first 199 starts – his last came at Iowa in 2011 – with 18 other podium finishes, and his most recent of those came at Fontana in 2015, 37 races ago. Andretti finished between fifth and ninth in the points in eight of his first 10 seasons but slipped to 16th last year, and is only 13th this year heading into this weekend’s finale at Sonoma.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 19: Josef Newgarden the driver of the Sarah Fisher Hartman/Dollar General car prepares for his qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Newgarden’s ascendance was gradual in his first three years. A tough rookie season revealed a lot of promise but an equal high number of mistakes, and without a top-10 finish, he was only 23rd in points. Podiums followed each of the next two years along with improved qualifying pace, with 14th and 13th place finishes the correct step forward.

Once he finally won his first two races in 2015, Newgarden was on the doorstep of the ascendancy in IndyCar and banked his first top-10 points finish of seventh. He improved to fourth last year, and won widespread praise in the paddock for his quick recovery from a savage looking accident at Texas Motor Speedway that left him with a fractured right clavicle and fractured right hand. That led to his signing with Team Penske for this year, where he’s won a series-high four races and leads the points by three heading into the Sonoma finale. In his first 99 starts, Newgarden has seven wins, and 11 other podiums.

Both have now become part of the IndyCar fabric over their tenures. Andretti has done decently well at Sonoma in the past beyond his win with several other top-10 finishes. Newgarden will almost certainly need to improve upon his best Sonoma finish of sixth if he is to capture his first title.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed to allow crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.