Josef Newgarden’s interesting day in Detroit

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DETROIT – Josef Newgarden’s latest victory in the NTT IndyCar Series included perfect timing on his only pit stop, a Silver Chalice and taking a dip into the James Scott Memorial Fountain at Detroit’s Belle Isle.

The perfect timing came on Lap 18 of Saturday’s lightning-delayed Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. The rain-soaked track forced the field to start the rain on the treaded rain tires. With the 22 cars running laps around the temporary street course, the racing line quickly dried out and by Lap 18, Team Penske president Tim Cindric called Newgarden into the pits to switch to the much-faster racing dry “slicks.”

Mere moments after Newgarden pulled into his pit box, Ed Jones crashed in the tire barriers to bring out the yellow flag. That closed pit lane for several laps and race-leader Alexander Rossi could not make his pit stop until the pits were opened.

Once Rossi led the field down pit lane a few laps later, Newgarden inherited the lead and never gave it back over the duration of the 75-minute “timed” race because of rain.

Instead of running to the scheduled 70-lap distance, the race ended after 42 laps.

Newgarden’s part of Team Penske has what is known as the “Chalice of Excellence.” It’s a medieval-looking goblet that is awarded to a key member of Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevrolet team at Team Penske before each race.

Saturday, it was awarded to Team Penske president Tim Cindric, the man who calls Newgarden’s race strategy.

It was Cindric that got Newgarden to pit at just the right time.

“Tim is critical,” Newgarden said. “In my opinion, he’s one of if not the best strategists on pit lane. I think Roger Penske (team owner) would tell you that, too. He’s probably the best guy you could have on your stand. I feel lucky that he calls my races. I think we’ve developed quite a good relationship.

“He’s a boss, but at the same time he’s become a friend, a great teammate to me. He coaches me when I need it. Just keeps me going forward. That’s what you need from a strategist. They keep you going forward in the right direction.

“He’s very good at what he does. A lot of pressure with the team president. I don’t know, I look at it that I’ve got the best guy on my stand and it makes me feel pretty confident in the race.

“He had the chalice today. Tim was handed the ‘Chalice of Excellence’ before this race. I’d like to think that’s part of why he made that great call. Lady Luck fell at the right time.”

The timing of when to pit to switch from rain tires to dry tires, the execution to make that happen and the ability to hold off a hard-charging Rossi proved very fortunate to the race winner.

“When you talk to Roger, he’ll tell you that you make your own luck,” Newgarden explained. “It is true. We were making that call regardless. The yellow certainly helped us. We were sitting in a good position either way. It would have been very fun, very difficult to win the race without the yellow. But the yellow just fell perfectly right into our strategy.

“I think when we pitted was the right time to pit. You could tell the rain tires were starting to go off, the rears were overheating terribly because it was getting dry. You could see Rossi was struggling. Dixie (Scott Dixon) and me were catching him. Dixon looked good that part.

“We pitted at the right time and the yellow helped us even further. It was a great call.”

Newgarden called Rossi “the guy to beat today.” Rossi started on the pole and had a good lead on the rain tires before the track dried to the point where everyone could switch to the far-faster dry tires.

“It was damp out, not fully dry,” Newgarden continued. “We were going as hard as you could. Pretty toe-for-toe there for the most part.

“Having track position was critical.”

Newgarden cruised to victory, the 12thof his career and assuring team owner Penske a victory in the race that he owns and serves as the race promoter.

As if racing in the rain wasn’t wet enough for Newgarden, the NTT IndyCar Series points leader was encouraged by his crew to jump into the fountain behind Victory Lane.

“It was very cold,” Newgarden said. “Race suits are not very conducive to water. It’s like a sponge. It’s really bad. It started to turn into a wet suit in like five minutes, started warming up. It wasn’t a good situation.

Being fresh is a beautiful thing. People get in the fountain. You just have to oblige.

“It was shallow, not the nicest depth. I wanted to get on the lion, but I was told to not do that, otherwise we get fined. I didn’t want to get in trouble.

“Tim Cindric called the race, and, in my opinion, he got us to win again. Getting that call from Tim was perfect when we had it.”

That is why on a rainy night in Detroit, Team Penske was once again able to celebrate by tipping the “Chalice of Excellence.”

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500