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Gasly, Hartley retained by Toro Rosso for 2018

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From the “not a surprise” department, Scuderia Toro Rosso has confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley will stay on for a full season in the 2018 Formula 1 campaign.

Both the young Frenchman and New Zealander have enjoyed surprise Grand Prix call-ups this season in the wake of a rapid in-season driver movement, Carlos Sainz Jr. going on to Renault after strong performances and Daniil Kvyat getting dropped – twice – after poor performance.

The two were then front-runners for 2018 based on the roundabout series of events that brought them there and have shown decent form in their handful of starts this season.

“We’re really happy to have Pierre and Brendon confirmed so early by Red Bull as our drivers for 2018”, said Team Principal, Franz Tost. “During this last part of the year they’ve shown that they’re ready for Formula 1, getting to grips with the car quickly, showing good performances and always demonstrating to be prepared for the challenge. We have been truly impressed by both their steep learning curves.

“As we know, F1 is something that not all drivers can adapt to this fast! Therefore, we’re looking forward to having a full year with them; one where we can hopefully provide them with a good package which, combined with driver consistency, can surely put them in the best possible situation to deliver. I’m sure they will keep pushing hard and fight for strong results, together with the team.”

Gasly raced this year in Super Formula before his debut made in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but missed the United States Grand Prix to race for the Super Formula title in Suzuka. Owing to abysmal weather conditions, that never happened, and the abnormal circumstances opened the door for Hartley – who looked poised to head to IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing – to get extracted and brought back to the junior team Red Bull has run in F1 since 2006. Hartley helps sign off Porsche’s LMP1 program in Bahrain this weekend.

Both drivers have been blighted by recent unreliability with engine partner Renault in their quest to stay ahead of Renault for sixth in the Constructor’s Championship, neither having scored a point since making their debuts.

Alas, with a move to Honda and their first full F1 seasons ahead of them next year, hopes will be high for improved results and sustained strong performances in F1’s midfield.

“I’m super happy to race for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2018, for my first proper season in Formula 1. I would like to thank all the people involved, who helped me get here: Red Bull, Toro Rosso, my family and all the ones who have supported me in the lower series. I’m really excited and super motivated to give it my all in Abu Dhabi and the whole of next year! I just can’t wait!” Gasly said.

Hartley added, “Really amazing to be confirmed as a Formula 1 driver for next year with Toro Rosso – It’s very satisfying to have converted an opportunity that came as a surprise into a 2018 F1 drive, I couldn’t be happier! I’d like to thank Red Bull and Toro Rosso for believing in me and giving me this second chance – dreams can come true. I’m now going to carry on working harder than ever in order to finish this busy end of season on a high and start the new year as strong as possible… Bring it!”

The confirmations at Toro Rosso leave only Sauber, with both seats, and Williams’ second seat yet to be announced for 2018.

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”