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Karam, Hildebrand keen to impress with Dreyer and Reinbold Indy 500 effort

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If you’re looking for a darkhorse for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing just might be the pick for you.

Typically one of the best one-off entries, the DRR squad has brought fast cars each year since 2014, their first of the recent string of one-off entries.

Sage Karam finished ninth that year, coming from 31st to do so. The following year, Townsend Bell finished 14th, but Karam’s return to the team in 2016 produced an effort that went from 23rd on the grid to run inside the Top 6 before the halfway point. However, a crash on Lap 93 put paid to an effort that may have contended for a win.

And last year, again with Karam piloting their No. 24 machine, they were quick in practice, but a battery failure on Lap 125 ended the day prematurely.

Karam is back in the No. 24 Chevrolet, with backing from WIX Filters, in 2017, but this time not as a “lone wolf.” He will have a teammate for the first time since his 2015 effort with Chip Ganassi Racing, as JR Hildebrand joins the team in the No. 66 Salesforce Chevrolet.

Both Karam and Hildebrand will be highly motivated after recent pitfalls in their driving careers. Karam’s Verizon IndyCar Series career has been start/stop since he won the 2013 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

He ran only one race in 2014, 12 in 2015, and one apiece in 2016 and 2017. And his exploits in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, where he competed last year in a full-season effort with 3GT Racing, did not continue into 2018, meaning the Indy 500 is his only scheduled race at this point.

Karam looked strong on Day 1 of practice, coming at seventh on the speed charts.

“Car wasn’t too bad. It has a really good balance when I ran by myself. So, we started with that and then tried to trim out and gain more speed by myself. Once I felt comfortable there, I ran with traffic,” he explained. “This was the first time I ran in traffic with the new car and it’s interesting. It looks like everyone is dealing with the same issue, which is the lack of front grip. These new cars, when you don’t have clean air, you lose a lot of front grip. That’s the battle for everyone right now is to find front grip. Overall, first day back and P6. We’re in the ballpark. Speeds or times don’t mean anything yet, but it’s good to see us high on the pylon, it is a good feeling. But, it’s early so hopefully, we keep it up and we’ll see what happens.”

Hildebrand, too, is not set to run any more races beyond the Indy 500. The 30-year-old from California departed Ed Carpenter Racing after a disappointing 2017 season saw him finish 15th in the standings, despite scoring ECR’s only podium finishes (third at ISM Raceway, and second at Iowa Speedway).

JR Hildebrand. Photo: IndyCar

Like Karam, Hildebrand will be motivated to prove he is worthy of another full-time effort.

Hildebrand was 26th overall, but had the third fastest non-tow lap.

“I felt good today with the car. We got up to speed quickly,” Hildebrand of the Day 1 effort. “There are a lot of familiar faces for me here at Dreyer and Reinbold. I made my Verizon IndyCar Series debut with DRR back in 2010. We have a lot of the same guys I have worked with the last few years, too, at ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing). I felt good with how the car rolled out of the gates and it went from there.”

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New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500