IndyCar

What Drivers Said after Friday’s two IndyCar practices at Sonoma

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Here’s what IndyCar drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions (a third/final practice and qualifying is Saturday) for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think we were OK. We tested here last week, so we were pretty ready to go. It was difficult this afternoon, to be honest. When I first went out, I wasn’t very happy the first run and then we made really good progress the second run and seemed pretty decent compared to last week. We were happy with our cars when we tested here last Thursday, so we felt optimistic coming into the weekend and now we’re just trying to go through the motions and make the right steps all the way up through the end of Sunday. That’s kind of what you do on a race weekend. You try and make the right decisions every day. So, it was a pretty decent start. Now we’ve just got to put it together tomorrow and Sunday on race day.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Difficult day for the ABC cars at the track today. I think we just didn’t have a great balance, the car was pretty difficult to drive; too much oversteer. The sessions are short, so we didn’t have time to figure it out, but tomorrow is a new day. We are going to debrief, work hard and try to find a faster car.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Today certainly ended better than it started. In P1 we had a problem with the car that we didn’t find until after the fact and led to a difficult session that had us spinning around. I think I was pointing backward as much as I was forward in Practice 1, so it’s nice to rebound and be in the top five this afternoon. Credit to the Arrow Electronics guys for finding the problem and making the car decent. This place is always tricky, and not getting to test here, we were kind of starting a little bit behind, but at least we have three cars again this weekend, so we can use the data from all of them and try to make everybody better. Hopefully this shows that we’ve got decent pace on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) for tomorrow because qualifying at the front here is always nice. Tomorrow is a different day, so we’ve got to put our heads down, try and close the gap a little bit and see what we can do.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I think we will make a step forward with the black (Firestone primary) tires – we were a little bit more competitive. On the reds (Firestone alternate tires), it wasn’t our greatest run, but at least we know where we are on the timesheet. James (Hinchcliffe) was pretty good on the reds, so we’ll see. We’ll work hard overnight, check all the data, see the car differences and where we can do better. I think for sure the Lucas Oil car has more potential than what we had earlier.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet): “It was a pretty good day and I’m very satisfied with how we ended. The first practice felt like a shot out of a canon because there were so many cars out there than what I was used to and I didn’t get any clean running. I’m happy I got some clean running in Practice 2. We were working hard on getting the car right for qualifying, so we were on the red (Firestone alternate) tires for most of practice. It feels really good, so now we’re going to work on the black (Firestone primary) tires to get ready for the race setup. As of now, I’m very satisfied with today.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Conditions were a little tough today and we’re down around 30-40 percent overall on downforce compared to last year. Tomorrow could be different and tricky. You have to get the braking right for sure. There was a cool spread on the timesheets today and it was pretty cool seeing an Indy Lights champion up there mixing it up. I also think the temperature is going to play a huge part in what tires you take. We’ll take a look at it tonight and see what we need to do in order to make some gains for qualifying in the PNC Bank car.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Starting P6 in opening practice was a good start for us in the NTT DATA car here this weekend in Sonoma. I think we have a good car here this weekend and hope to get the maximum from it in qualifying tomorrow. Scott (Dixon) is very fast, as well so far, so I think we’ll have a lot of good data to cover tonight. I’m excited for this weekend and hope we can have some luck finally go our way this season.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “(Qualifying is) going to be very difficult. The track is very low grip. Obviously, we have less downforce this year and it’s just so hard to put a mistake-free lap together. I’m not sure anybody did. Maybe Josef (Newgarden) did. So yeah, it’ll be a very interesting qualifying session. As you can see, it’s very tight at the front, then the middle pack is very tight. It’s just tight all the way through and that’s just INDYCAR now. You can’t pick a bad driver out of that lot. You look at the rookie (Patricio) O’Ward – that’s super impressive first time out. That guy has definitely got some talent.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s been an interesting day. We got traffic a lot on our best laps, so it doesn’t look as good as we want it to look. It’s been a tricky track this year, it’s really hard to understand what the car is doing. We are going to look at some data tonight and see if we can fix it for tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “Practice was OK. We are struggling a little bit and need to find a little more speed. On the reds (Firestone alternate tires), it seemed to take too long for them to come in. By the time they did, they were probably gone by that point. We will keep working on it. I don’t think by any means we have our finger quite on the pulse just yet, but we’re certainly not giving up. We’ll see what we come up with for tomorrow.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “I think practice went well today with our Paysafe car. The morning session had a lot more grip than the afternoon, but it was like that for everyone. In the afternoon, the temperatures were a lot higher and that changes how the car feels. The track was a lot more slippery, but it’s like that around here. It’s hard to put together one lap, but that’s what we’re going to have to do in qualifying. We were able to be in the top 10 today in practice, but tomorrow is when it counts, so we’ll go debrief with the engineers, find the ideal set up and try to get a top-10 qualifying tomorrow, and hopefully, do the same thing in the race.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “Second practice was certainly a step forward. We closed the gap to the front slightly on blacks (Firestone primary tires) and on reds (Firestone alternate tires), as well. It’s just quite tricky because Sonoma is quite moody. By moody, I mean with the wind, or track temperature, or someone goes off in front of you, so there’s dust on the surface – it’s always changing quite a bit. Reds, there’s a little bit of time left to be had on my part and a couple more changes we can do. I think we’ll be in the window then and be able to start working towards that last little bit of time. We’re not a million miles away, making progress, so hopefully we can find a few more tenths tomorrow morning before going into qualifying.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We definitely have some things to work on for tomorrow. We scanned through lots of different ideas and changes throughout the day today on blacks (Firestone primary tires) and on reds (Firestone alternate tires). Some things worked and some didn’t, so we will piece together what the positives were and build a solid base to start from tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a good day. We made a big leap forward today. I’m really happy with the DXC Technology Chevrolet. I am so happy with the car that I made a mistake on my fast lap on new tires. The performance of the car is really good right now. I think we will be right there with Will (Power) and Josef (Newgarden) tomorrow. I’m quite happy this weekend so far.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Obviously, the finishing position isn’t what we want from today, but at the same time we learned a lot about the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet needs on the Firestone alternates (tires), which will matter in qualifying tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be a little bit cooler tomorrow, maybe more like it was this morning, which bodes well for us with us being a little more competitive in the first practice. We’ll look at all the data and be ready to go for practice tomorrow morning and figure out what we need to do on the alternates tomorrow afternoon.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): “Overall, I’d say it was an OK day. We were P9 this morning, P11 this afternoon. We just messed up our run on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It looked like we had a run that would have put us top five, we just ran off the track in Turn 2. That kind of ruined our red run, but I think we have a decent race car. It’s another weekend that we’ve been consistently inside the top 10, so I feel good about that. We’re just looking to bring it home in qualifying for another career best tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “I think we made a step forward this afternoon from this morning. We had the test yesterday, which I thought was really good for us, but this place changes so quickly and so often. What you have one day doesn’t necessarily transfer completely the next day. We definitely have some work to do overnight – we need to put our heads together. But this isn’t the first time we’ve had a bad Friday, so I have a lot of confidence in the 27 NAPA team that come tomorrow afternoon we’ll be all right.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was a good start to the day; we were P1 this morning and overall. We went to some pretty aggressive changes this afternoon, knowing that Practice 2 was our last opportunity to do it before qualifying – being that you don’t want the car too far off in Practice 3 tomorrow morning. We made some changes, got aggressive with it and it was the wrong way. So, we’ll make some changes and head back to where we were in Practice 1, and hopefully, get the DHL car back to its good form.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “I think we made some progress today. The first practice ended with mixed feelings. It was supposed to be better, but the car didn’t really feel happy and the lap time also was not great. For the afternoon session, we made some changes, which was a definite improvement. We had a relatively good performance on the black (Firestone primary) tires, but on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), we need to work hard to find a better balance. But at least we found some direction, which is quite encouraging.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): “Practice was pretty good today. In the morning session, we were running really well. I was still learning the track and I made a driving mistake in the last chicane and lost something like four-tenths. Then this afternoon, in Practice 2, it went better than I had expected it to. It shows that we have some good pace again on the red (Firestone primary) tires. We’re working hard to keep improving that and we’ll see where we can place our Cly-Del Manufacturing car on the grid tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “I think we were hoping to come out of today and be a bit quicker than we were, but we just didn’t quite get there at the end of the day with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. We learned a ton yesterday during the test and even more today, so I’d say, even though we aren’t where we want to be, we’re definitely getting closer. We have some work to do tonight and in that first practice tomorrow to make sure we’re ready for qualifying, but I think we’ll get there.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): “Today went OK, it wasn’t awesome but it wasn’t bad either. We have generated some momentum the last few races so we want to keep that going. The thing about this track is that if we can make the changes that we need to, it can produce quite a lot of lap time. I’m not concerned right now, we just have to work at it.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I just kept learning. It seems like our pace on blacks (Firestone primary tires) is pretty good, it’s right around top-10 pace. I made a mistake on the red (Firestone alternate) tires and I ended up on the bottom half of the timesheets today, but that’s something to learn off of. I didn’t quite nail the lap. It’s tough when you have one lap, so I’m still trying to get to grips with that. I’ll try to do a better job tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “A lot of driving here is just about staying with the track. The afternoon wasn’t an ideal practice session for us, but we have a good idea of what we need to do for qualifying tomorrow to get the U.S. Concrete car into the Firestone Fast Six.”

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”