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

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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.

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Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”