Newgarden not taking championship lead for granted at Portland

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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PORTLAND, Oregon – Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden appears to be in control of the 2019 NTT IndyCar series championship. He has a 39-point lead over teammate Simon Pagenaud, a 46-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and a 70-point lead over five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Not so fast, said Newgarden, the 2017 IndyCar champion who won the title in his first season with Team Penske that year.

“I don’t think we can feel too confident or secure where we’re at,” Newgarden said. “I really don’t. I think we’re in a good spot, without a doubt. It would be silly to not recognize it’s a good position.

“It’s not something that you can just sit back and rest on. It’s going to be tough the last two rounds. I wish we could have gotten a little bit more here the last three races. For sure Mid-Ohio, you look at that and say it was what it was. If I would have done a better job, that would have helped. Pocono could have been a little better. Here definitely could have been a little better.

“We’ve not had a smooth last three races. We’ve got to clean that up now for the final two. I think we’re in a good position, but we can’t do anything different than what we’ve been doing all year. We have to keep sort of attacking with some caution I think.”

The battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship heats up this weekend with the penultimate race of the season at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway in Portland, Ore., as NBC Sports presents coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Pre-race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET.

The top two drivers in the standings are teammates at Team Penske. Both Newgarden ad Pagenaud should be familiar with each other’s equipment because their cars, along with fifth-place Will Power’s, are all prepared at Team Penske in Mooresville, North Carolina.

“I don’t know if it helps or hurts,” Newgarden said of battling Pagenaud for the title. “I know what he’s doing all the time, and vice versa. We’re a unit that works together, him, Power and myself. Yeah, it’s a dynamic I know very well. I got to think that’s going to be a positive.

“They’re all going to be tough. Simon is always difficult. He’s a very strong driver. When you look at the whole picture, Rossi is still a fantastic driver that’s tough to beat. Same thing with Dixon. I don’t think it’s anywhere from over.

“Portland could flip this thing on its lid with a hundred points at Laguna. It’s going to be down to the wire. Here not anywhere from a blowout here. Just got to keep your finger on the pulse.”

Pagenaud, Rossi and Dixon all remain in play for the championship because there remain 150 points available over the last two races in addition to bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps.

First place in 15 of the 17 IndyCar Series races is worth 50 points. However, there are two “double-points” races including the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22.

Pagenaud is 38 points behind Newgarden, Rossi is 46 and Dixon is 70 entering this weekend’s round at Portland International Raceway.

Newgarden believes he was extremely lucky last week when he was involved in a last-lap incident with rookie driver Santino Ferrucci, who got into the marbles in Turn 3 and dove low into the turn in Turn 4, spinning out Newgarden.

Luckily for Newgarden, all of the cars that drove by him after that incident were not on the same lap and not battling him for position.

“I was happy I wasn’t in the fence, to be honest with you,” Newgarden admitted. “I was surprised I wasn’t in the fence. The engine was still going. I wasn’t in the wall. I was trying to get it out of any stall. Thank goodness, I’m kind of straight. I can’t believe we’re still going here. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were going to be in the fence.

“I had no idea about the other cars. I was trying to stay out of people’s ways, which is what you need to do, keep my car straight and consistent, just get across the line.

“I felt fortunate the engine was still fired. Didn’t turn into a bigger disaster. I still don’t know how it didn’t. But fortunately, it didn’t.”

Newgarden had words with Ferrucci after the race and spoke his mind in a post-race interview with NBC Sports.

Rarely do I ever try and put someone in their place when I think they need to be put in their place,” Newgarden aid. “I think Santino needed to learn a lesson.

“This is no disrespect to fans or anyone. Most people will not understand what he did wrong in that final corner. They’ve never driven an IndyCar. They don’t know the subtleties of it. I think what he did was very risky. He needs to learn from that. I told him that. It’s really a racer’s thing.

“Hopefully he gets that. I think when you go to bigger ovals, it’s even a bigger potential problem. Like I said, I gave an assessment on NBC. That’s how I felt about it.”

Next up for Newgarden in his bid to win a second NTT IndyCar Series championship in the last three seasons is the demanding Portland International Raceway, a 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course in Portland, Oregon. The race distance is 105 laps / 206.22 miles.

The Portland race winner has gone on to win the Indy car championship 10 times: Bobby Rahal (1987), Danny Sullivan (1988), Emerson Fittipaldi (1989), Michael Andretti (1991), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Alex Zanardi (1998), Gil de Ferran (2000), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2004 and 2007).

Since 2008, the driver who has led the championship with two races to go has failed to win the championship five times. Dixon in 2008 and 2018, Dario Franchitti in 2011, Will Power in 2014, Pagenaud in 2016 and Newgarden in 2017 are the exceptions who have won the title after leading with two races remaining.

“We were able to maintain the points lead in Gateway, and that was a huge deal for us,” said the 28-year-old Newgarden. “Now that Simon (Pagenaud) has moved into the second spot in championship points, we’re going to work hard as a team to really continue to battle for the championship. That’s great for Team Penske to have two drivers battling it out for the title.

“Now we focus on Portland. It’s a technical road course, so we’re really going to have to make sure we hit all of our marks to make sure we don’t lose any ground. It’s going to be a tough race for the whole field, especially for the championship contenders. I’m excited for the challenge along with the rest of my team, and we can’t wait to get on track there with the Hitachi Chevy.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”