INDYCAR: Here’s what drivers said following Saturday’s Detroit Grand Prix

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Here’s what drivers said after Saturday’s seventh race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – Race #1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “How about that call by Tim (Cindric)? It was the perfect call to get us in position that we needed. I was hoping it would dry up, I thought that would give us more opportunity to do something. But our Hitachi Chevy car was awesome. The Chevy engine was perfect. I had the horsepower I needed. The fuel mileage; the drive-ability. In Chevy’s backyard, this was a big one.  It’s great to have Hitachi with us. So many people here from Japan. It is an honor to have them here. So pumped to have them here.  So pumped to be with Team Penske. We really wanted this one. I can’t tell you how hard our whole team worked the whole off season to make sure our street course cars were ready, and they were ready today.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda) – finished 2nd: “These yellows are tough – they’ve killed our race three times this year, but it’s part of the game in INDYCAR, (and) it’s the same for everyone. We had a really good car under wet conditions. We were able to control the race and control the gap to Scott (Dixon). Track position on a one-line track is obviously key. There was really only one dry line; there was not much I could do. Josef (Newgarden) did a good job. I tried to push him into a mistake, but it didn’t come. It’s hard. I’m frustrated. I think we had the best car again today.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda) – finished 3rd:  “Graham (Rahal) and I struggled a second off the pace from the pole sitter, but I think we played it well. I think the rain definitely helped us and then made some good position gains. In the end, I think fighting for the podium, on the wet parts and dry parts, were certainly exciting. Thanks to the Detroit fans for staying after some extremely difficult (weather) conditions here.” (About learning anything today that can be used for Race 2) “I am sure. We need to go through it everyone with the engineers. Hopefully we can have a better car tomorrow and I don’t know we’ll see.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 4th: “We had a big battle going on with (Takuma) Sato. I got him and he got me back. I respect him, but there were some questionable moves for sure. I really wanted a podium out of it today, but that’s the way it goes. We are moving in the right direction in the NTT DATA Honda and hope to continue to show that tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 5th:  “Today was kind of a mess. We had a braking issue which made it challenging. I don’t know why, but they were pulling hard left. So, I was a wounded duck out there in the wet. Then I had some contact with Sato, he got under me and kind of ran wide. But, all in all, it was clean racing. We made a risk and came in early for dry tires, when it was still wet, hoping for a yellow. The yellow came, but we weren’t given the have a chance to pack up. I have no idea what was happening there with Race Control. All things considered, we got away with one and salvaged something today. We’ll take the points for fifth and look to gain more ground tomorrow.

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 6th:  “My race was awesome. That was some of the most fun I’ve had in a race, well, I had fun last week and in the Indy GP too. I guess when you have fun you go fast. We had a tremendous DXC Technology Chevrolet. It was phenomenal. I had fun in the rain, that’s my favorite. We passed a bunch of cars. In the dry conditions we were super fast but the track was so damp on the inside I couldn’t make moves without risking to go off. Quite frankly, I did start thinking about the championship today and with how tired I was this morning I was very content with sixth-place because I think that will go a long way at the end of the year. We should be pleased with today. Very happy for Josef and Team Penske, at least we got one win for Roger here this weekend.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank/United Rentals Honda) – finished 7th:  “The car in the wet wasn’t great; the rear was pretty sketchy in the rain.  When Ed Jones went off, I think everybody was close to doing the same thing. Once it went dry, the car was very good. It just seemed like we gave up a little in the rain but when it dried out we were pretty good. Tomorrow it’s going to be dry and I think we’ll be strong.  The changes that we made were better in the race than in qualifying this morning so hopefully that carries over. I will try to get a good night’s sleep tonight and be ready to go again tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 8th:  “It was a rollercoaster day. Qualifying was good – we lined up eighth, but then I made a mistake on the pace lap and spun with the wet conditions. We went back to 22nd for the start and worked our way up. Great strategy from the team to get me back towards the top 10 and then I passed cars one by one on restarts. [Colton] Herta and I, I think, put on a good show together for three corners – it was hairy. I think we could have been higher; we kind of got hurt by conditions. We should have restarted third or fourth, but they didn’t pack the field up, so we got hurt there. But, all-in-all to come away with a top 10 after starting 22nd – I’m pretty happy with it.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 9th:  “Tough day at the office. The Arrow car was quick in certain stages of the race, but unfortunately the way the yellows fell, it wasn’t to our benefit. A lot of guys that made mistakes today ended up catching a lucky yellow and ended up ahead of us. Ninth certainly isn’t the result we deserved for the effort we put forward and keeping our nose clean. We’ll move on to tomorrow and try and finish further up.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) – finished 10th:  “It was a tough race out there with all of the different conditions! We were able to move forward a decent amount of positions which was good, though we would have liked to have finished a little higher up. It could have been a lot worse! Thank you to my guys, we made a good call no when to come in for slicks. We’ll go back tonight and see where we can improve for tomorrow.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished 11th:  “In a short race like this it’s tough to make anything happen. It was really difficult in the wet. I struggled to keep the rear tires together. We were going to pit a bit early and sure enough the yellow came out right when we were deciding what to do, so we missed the shot. After that everyone went on slick tires. I made up one or two spots. There were a couple of mistakes and we recovered to 11th. There just wasn’t enough time to make much happen. The cars in front were doing a good job. I felt I was a bit faster at times, but not enough to make moves. Not the greatest day, not the worst day. We’ll keep working on the No. 18 SealMaster and see what we can do tomorrow.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda) – finished 12th: “Not the best day today for the #88 GESS Capstone Honda guys. We qualified fifth and finished 12th. We were really quick in qualifying, so hopefully tomorrow we can find the speed again to start tomorrow’s race up front. The guys worked so hard again today and we’ll continue finding the speed for the remainder of the weekend.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 13th:  “I thought it was a decent race. Obviously, it was my first experience on these wet Firestone tires, because I missed out on them that part of the race in Indy, so I had zero previous experience (with them). It made the first part of the race a bit difficult to sort of get up to speed in the wet, but I thought when I got going, we were looking quite strong towards the end of the wet tire stint. In the damp conditions on the slicks (primary Firestone tires), we were quite competitive. We were making up a few positions, picking off a few guys in the Arrow car and moving up the field. Of course, in conditions like that, it’s difficult to make moves because the track was wet off (race) line. We couldn’t really progress more than that, but I think it’s all part of the learning curve. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 14th:  “That was a tough one to take. We qualified really well and the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet felt strong right out of the gate, but once again we just didn’t have luck on our side. Sato put us into the wall on the first green lap and at the time I didn’t think there was much damage to the car, but we found out later we actually had some damage to the suspension. Even with the suspension damage we were moving up through the field and got as high as eighth I think, but we had an issue on our last pit stop that cost us a few spots. We’re still working through what exactly went wrong, but I know whatever it is will get worked out by tomorrow. I’m obviously frustrated that we finished where we did, but if we just keep showing progress as a team and how good we can be I know it’ll all come together soon.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet)- finished 15th:  “We got a good recovery. We tried different things for qualifying to find the right way. The only way we’re going to be making improvements is trying and unfortunately qualifying didn’t go well. We had a pretty good race. I loved the pit stops, the guys did an awesome job. We gained some spots there and I passed some cars on the race track, so we’re just going to keep going. It was a mistake-free race for me so I’ll take it.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 AutoNation/Curb Honda) – finished 16th:  “We did a great job on strategy and took a big risk. We outsmarted people [going to dry tires first] and kept if off the wall – then they didn’t let us pack up and opened the pits. I’ve never seen that in my career. It was tough, I wish we got the reward we deserve.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 17th:  “It was a very active, short race today. I think it was equally exciting for the drivers and the fans and even though our result wasn’t where we wanted it, I did actually enjoy it. The No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had good pace at the end of every stint, we just lacked that pace at the start. There were cars that were overtaking us at the beginning of our stints, but we were able to get those positions back when we were on both wets and slicks toward the end of each stint. I mean honestly there’s not much different we could’ve done – we just needed to start higher than we did.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 18th:  “We just have to rebound tomorrow. Simply put, we just have to go out there and execute in every way. We’ve made a lot of little mistakes this year, some with strategy and some on me making a mistake in qualifying; we just need to do a better job and we have an opportunity to do that tomorrow. It just seems like one of those seasons where things don’t go your way, but I’ve had it the other way before too. We have really fast Verizon Chevys so I know it can turn around quickly.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished 19th: “We had an OK start, you can’t really pass in the rain at the start because you can’t see, so we weren’t really able to move up. Then, we pit early for dry tires and we thought that we’d be able to move up the field when the yellow came out but the cars in front of me didn’t pack up and that set us back in the field. Nothing really went our way today, there’s nothing we could really do other than now prepare for Race 2 tomorrow and hope for a better result aboard our No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet) – finished 20th: “It was an interesting race in the wet conditions. I had a good start, made up a few positions and got into the Top 10. We were running pretty well. Everyone’s tires were going off quite a lot and we just lot the fronts. I made a mistake just as we were about to pit and unfortunately lost us a lap and a strong result. I’m sorry to the team and hopefully we can have a stronger day tomorrow!”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 21st: “Not the best day at the track today. Unfortunately we had a lot of problems and we didn’t have the pace. I feel sorry for the team but we’ll work on it for tomorrow and try to have a better day.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 22nd: “It was unfortunate. I just clipped the inside wall and got into the tire barrier. Driver error. I think we broke the suspension and the upper toe link. The PNC Bank car was really good and we were setting up for a good finish I thought. I’m glad the tire barrier was there. Whenever you go right toward a wall you never know. But I’m fine and we’ll have to bounce back strong tomorrow.”

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The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500