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Newgarden, Rahal highlight big names who struggled in IndyCar qualifying

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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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Andretti United team names drivers for inaugural Extreme E season

Extreme E drivers Andretti
Extreme E
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The Extreme E team formed by Andretti Autosport and United Autosports named Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen as its drivers Monday for the series’ inaugural 2021 season.

Munnings is a successful veteran of rally series. Hansen is a past winner and champion in the World Rallycross Championship.

They both will race in the environmentally conscious electric SUV series that will hold events in five areas around the world that are threatened by climate change. Chip Ganassi Racing and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton also are fielding cars in Extreme E, which will feature male and female co-drivers on every team.

Catie Munnings

“I’m so excited to join Andretti United Extreme E,” Munnings said in a release. ““I was really intrigued when I first heard about Extreme E, I just knew I had to be involved. The male / female racing partnership is a fantastic and exciting new concept. The season has incredible locations and the racing will be very exciting. It will be a new challenge for the teams and drivers, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such a strong team.

“The championship is a really innovative concept, it’s combining motorsport and science and will produce an important legacy in each race location. Bringing the platform that motorsport has in line with the awareness that the planet needs right now is awesome and a really important message.”

Timmy Hansen

Said Hansen: “Going into the Extreme E will be a new chapter in my career, one that I am extremely excited about. It is something brand new, not only for me, but the whole of motorsport. The format is something

we’ve never seen before. I’m also delighted to be able to carry the message of something bigger – talking about the environment and doing something good for the world – that’s something that really drives me. It’s going to be a big adventure in life to see these locations and I’m going to do my best in carrying this responsibility and hopefully making people aware of the challenges we have in the world, together with our passion for racing.”