Newgarden, Rahal highlight big names who struggled in IndyCar qualifying

Photo: IndyCar
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A light drizzle that grew somewhat heavier in qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg produced a number of surprising results. Among them, a few big names within the Verizon IndyCar Series failed to advance passed the first round.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the defending IndyCar champion, was the first big name to find misfortune, with Round 1 being a struggle for him and the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team. Newgarden tried desperately to turn in a lap quick enough to advance into Round 2, but came up just short. He’ll start Sunday’s race in 13th.

“It just wasn’t enough. I thought I did an okay lap, but everyone picked up more than I thought they would,” Newgarden explained in an interview with the Advance Autoparts INDYCAR Radio Network.

He added, “It just wasn’t enough at the end of the day. We’re working hard this weekend. I think Chevy’s given us a really good product to work with, we’re really happy with our engine, and it’s fun driving the Hitachi car. Not what we wanted to start the weekend in qualifying, but I think we’ll have what it takes to maybe race this out and maybe contend for a win, so we just got to work on our race car now.”

However, Newgarden’s struggles paled in comparison to Graham Rahal’s. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, who was only 20th quickest during Friday practice, spun during Round 1 and brought out a red flag, costing him his two fastest laps, in an incident that appeared to be the first sign of rain hitting the track.

Graham Rahal will start 24th after spinning during qualifying. Photo: IndyCar

Rahal and the team subsequently elected not to go back out, saving their softer red tires for the race, and will start 24th, last on the grid.

“It seemed O.K. and the next thing I knew, it just went around,” Rahal said of the incident. “I’m disappointed clearly for everybody. I don’t know what the pace would have been, but it was giving me positive vibes. I thought that on the used blacks (Firestone primary tires), when others were on new blacks, we were pretty competitive, so I felt like going forward we should be half decent. I’m disappointed for the first race to start off this way but we can’t get too down on ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused.”

Others who struggled in qualifying were Marco Andretti, who will start 18th after incurring a penalty for qualifying interference, and defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais, who failed to advance from Round 1 and will start 14th.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”