Newgarden laments missed win, podium in Iowa while Pigot, Sato shine

Leave a comment

Josef Newgarden appeared to be headed toward his second dominant victory at Iowa Speedway in three years. He utterly decimated the field in the 2016 Iowa Corn Indy 300, leading all but 18 laps, and the 2018 iteration appeared to going in a similar direction.

Newgarden took the lead from Team Penske teammate Will Power on Lap 24, and he set sail from there, leading 229 laps and lapping the field all the way up to the top five in his No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet.

However, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe had been stalking him through the second half of the race, and used traffic to close on Newgarden’s gearbox with less than 50 laps remaining.

And when Newgarden had trouble lapping Power, Hinchcliffe pounced, slicing his No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda to inside with 45 laps to go.

Newgarden then faded to over eight seconds behind Hinchcliffe, but a late yellow for a spinning Ed Carpenter appeared to give him new life as it erased Hinchcliffe’s lead and gave Newgarden and Penske a chance to pit for fresh tires, which they elected to do.

However, with only five laps remaining, there was simply not enough time to run through the yellow procedure before the race concluded, and Newgarden never got a chance to race under green with the new tires.

The circumstances saw Hinchcliffe take the win, while Newgarden ended up fourth, the extra stop ultimately costing him a podium – he had been running second prior to pitting.

Though disappointed, Newgarden was gracious in defeat.

“This is IndyCar racing. You have to expect the unexpected,” he explained. “It’s never sorted out and locked up right at the beginning. We had a great No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet and for the first half of the race, we had the car to beat. And it just fell away from us. Sometimes you can’t predict exactly what you’re going to need at the end of these things.Today, we didn’t have exactly what it was that we needed but we’ll come back and try it again. I think Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) did a great job. Congrats to him and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.”

Robert Wickens and his No. 7 Lucas Oil Honda for SPM also pulled the same strategy as Newgarden and pitted under the late yellow. And like Newgarden, the move cost them a podium – Wickens had been running third at the time, but ended up finishing fifth.

Robert Wickens saw a podium finish slip away due to a late call to pit under yellow. Photo: IndyCar

But, like Newgarden, Wickens was gracious afterward and highlighted that it remained a strong outing for SPM.

“In the end, it’s a great day, great day for Honda, great day for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Two cars in the top five. It should have been a double podium and there would have been nothing sweeter than to celebrate Hinch’s (James Hinchcliffe) win than being on the podium with him,” Wickens revealed.

Pigot, Sato Inherit First Podiums of 2018

The mistimed pit stops for Newgarden and Wickens opened the door for Spencer Pigot and Takuma Sato to grab their first podium finishes of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

And while luck certainly played a role in netting them second (Pigot) and third (Sato), their runs to the front were completely on merit.

Pigot had arguably the drive of the day. After qualifying a lowly 18th, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver methodically moved his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet forward and ran inside the top three in the second half of the race.

Similarly, Sato quietly worked his way forward after starting tenth to run inside the top five in the final 100 laps.

Both drivers ran fourth and fifth in the waning laps prior to the late yellow, and moved up to second and third when Newgarden and Wickens pitted.

And both were happy to inherit their places on the podium to cap off their best days of the season.

“It was a tough race out there,” Pigot said afterward. “Right from the get-go, I knew that we had a fast car the way we were able to pass some people through the beginning of the race, and then as the stint went on, I just thought we got kind of stronger and stronger and was really able to close down and pass people. Yeah, I mean, I can’t thank the guys enough. We made a few changes from qualifying yesterday. Obviously that was a little disappointing, but we kept our heads down, and the guys in pit lane did a great job and executed really well.”

Spencer Pigot scored his first career podium in finishing second in the Iowa Corn Indy 300. Photo: IndyCar

For Pigot, the result is a much needed shot in the arm after troublesome start saw him fail to score a top 10 until Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit (he finished 10th).

On the heels of an eighth place at the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, Pigot now has back-to-back top 10s.

“We’ve had a season that I think we could have executed a little bit better at times, but today everything went right, and we found ourselves on the podium, so it’s definitely a great feeling,” he added.

For Sato, the third-place result is his first podium since re-joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this year, and is his second top five in a row – he finished fourth at Road America. Further, it comes on a weekend in which they struggled initially – Sato was 16th fastest after first practice – and rebounded to get a strong result.

Takuma Sato scored his first podium finish of 2018 at Iowa Speedway. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we put on a really good race, and me particularly, obviously very happy to be on the podium, but this was a great achievement from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing because obviously I didn’t think we had a podium finish car after the first practice session where Graham and I finished, I don’t know, 17th, 19, things like that. We kept that last week. We really struggled, but I think all the engineering did a fantastic job moving up over the session, and in the end I think we pulled a really great car. So big thank you to the whole team, and the No. 30 car was fantastic today,” Sato said afterward.

The results moved Newgarden up to second in the championship, while Wickens sits sixth, Sato 12th, and Pigot 14th.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
Leave a comment

AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”