INDYCAR championship contenders not happy with Iowa qualifications

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NEWTON, Iowa – Josef Newgarden had just qualified his No. 2 Chevrolet into the third starting position for Saturday night’s NTT IndyCar Series Iowa 300 and the Team Penske driver didn’t look happy. His main contender for the championship, Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, qualified sixth fastest and he didn’t look happy, either.

Newgarden leads Rossi by just four points entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300. Both drivers expected to qualify higher on Friday afternoon during a one-hour qualification session held under very high temperatures with high humidity.

Another reason both drivers may have been a tad sour was the pole winner was Simon Pagenaud, the hard-charging Frenchman who won this year’s 103rd Indianapolis 500, the INDYCAR Grand Prix and last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Pagenaud is third in the standings, 39 points out of the lead.

Live coverage of the Iowa 300 begins tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Newgarden is usually one of the more ebullient and talkative drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series but after Friday’s qualifications, he was unusually short in his responses.

“I think our car will be all right, so I’m excited to go racing,” Newgarden said in a deadpan tone of voice to NBC Sports.com. “The top five is tight to me, so it (the championship) could be anyone’s game right now.”

Rossi was only slightly more descriptive of his car and chances in Saturday night’s 300-laps race at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

When asked what it was going to be like start from sixth place, Rossi’s response was blunt.

“(Crappy),” Rossi told NBC Sports.com “I don’t have anything that I’m super happy with right now and it’s going to be hotter tomorrow. We have to get our heads down and figure out how to get me more comfortable in the car.

“I think it was a good effort. That’s pretty much what I thought we had in the car, so we didn’t leave anything on the table. We just didn’t have anything for the top three cars. The last session Friday is very important to us and we need to have a good practice if we are going to have anything for the race.”

Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske won the pole with a two-lap average of 180.073 miles per hour in a Chevrolet. He was followed by his two Team Penske teammates, Will Power (179.598 mph) and Newgarden (179.449 mph), both in Chevrolets.

Rossi was sixth with a two-lap average of 176.057 mph in a Honda, just behind fourth-place Takuma Sato’s Honda and James Hinchcliffe’s Honda.

Later in the post-qualifying press conference, Pagenaud continued his “less is more” approach to answering questions.

When told that the pole winner had never won at Iowa, Pagenaud responded, “I’m not big into stats, so…”

What happened between Friday’s morning practice session and Friday afternoon’s qualifications?

“Conditions were similar, so I don’t think it changed much,” Newgarden said. “I just obviously we didn’t nail it, so we got to nail it tomorrow.”

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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