Josef Newgarden strengthens grasp on IndyCar Series championship

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PORTLAND, Oregon – Josef Newgarden hasn’t finished on the podium of an NTT IndyCar Series race since he won in the early hours of July 21 in the Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway.

At that time the 2017 IndyCar Series champion had a 29-point lead over Alexander Rossi.

Since that race, Newgarden has finished 14that Mid-Ohio, fifth at Pocono, seventh and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and fifth in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

His lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings has increased to 41 points over Rossi, 42 over Simon Pagenaud and 85 over five-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

There remains just one race to go, the double-points paying championship finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22. If Newgarden is able to maintain his championship lead in that race, he will win his second NTT IndyCar Series title.

What made Newgarden’s race in Portland so important is he started 13th, narrowly missed a major melee in the first lap crash at the start of the contest and race his way back to the top-five. The only driver that may have had a more impressive comeback was Team Penske teammate and 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud, who started 18thand finished seventh. He was involved in that first lap crash in Turn 1 that left his car facing the wrong way on the track after he was tagged in the rear by Max Chilton’s Chevrolet.

“I would have liked more points, but at the end of the day, it’s not a bad result for us,” Newgarden said. “I made our bed for us yesterday in qualifying. You start 13th you kind of put yourself in a hole already, and we just tried to climb out of it today as best as possible, and I don’t think we can be mad about where we climbed to. It was pretty decent.

“What could have happened if we started up front more? Maybe we could have done more damage and won the race or finished second or third and would have been a little better off. But I think, for the most part, fifth is pretty pleasing on the day.”

Especially, the way that day started in Turn 1 when James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Graham Rahal and Zach Veach were all involved in the Turn 1 crash. Newgarden was able to get by but Pagenaud spun trying to avoid the carnages.

“We just missed all that chaos,” Newgarden said. “It happened right in front of me in Turn 1, so I was in the mess. But fortunately, we didn’t touch anything, it was just right in front of us. I stopped and then went around it, and we got going again.

“I had nowhere to go because it was right in front of me, and the decision-making process, I couldn’t really go right because Rahal was coming right at that moment, and then once they hit, they were kind of flowing to the left, and then I was just kind of stuck right in the middle. So, I just waited for it all to stop and then went around it. I was kind of lucky in a way.

“I was just thankful that no one plowed into me. That’s what you’re waiting for is someone to hit you or just something bad to happen, and it almost did, but we just, fortunately, avoided it. I really wasn’t worried about where we came out just because it was Lap 1, and it was like, that doesn’t matter. As long as we can get through the start, then we can get going. So, I was happier about that, that we got through it with a car that was still in one piece.

“A relatively good day, for the most part. We just need to have a better weekend in Laguna. Obviously, it’s still going to be quite tough with the double points. If it wasn’t double points, I think it would be a lot easier, but double points is going to make it difficult.”

Newgarden flat-spotted his right front tire and it was a real handful at the lows speed the cars had to run during the very long caution to clean up the mess in Turn 1.

2019 Portland GP at Portland International Raceway

Because the yellow flag was out until Lap 11, Newgarden’s Team Penske crew changed their race strategy, opting to make just two pit stops instead of three. In fact, the first five drivers all made two stops with Spencer Pigot in sixth place the first driver to make three stops.

“The more the laps ticked off, the more you go, ‘Well, this is a no-brainer two-stop(race).’ Why would you do a three-stop? A three-stop is going to be more of a gamble at that point than a two-stop. The guys who didn’t want to gamble, it was a pretty easy decision to go to two.”

Last year, Scott Dixon was involved in a first-lap crash in Turn 2 but was able to keep his engine fired and drive away from the damage. He went on to finish fifth and in the next race, clinched his fifth NTT IndyCar Series championship.

The same thing could happen to Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion, this year.

But don’t tell him that – he’s too busy calculating the points in his head.

“Yeah, 60 would have been better(than 41),” Newgarden said. “Well, really 70would have been nice. Heck, 90. 90 would have been lovely.

“No, it’s honestly not enough with double points. It’s just not. I don’t think we’re very comfortable. Maybe we’ve got Scott’s mojo from last — it was like Scott could do no wrong last year. Nothing ever bad happened to him, and this year he’s had a couple of small things hit him here right at the end, the radiator and now the battery deal. I don’t know what it was, but it sounded like that’s what it was. It’s like he’s got the complete opposite of what he had last year.

“That’s IndyCar. Sometimes this cycles around. You’ll get the good years; you’ll get the bad. Hopefully, we continue to have a good year in Laguna and then kind of finish it off because you never know when you’re going to have a bad year again. It’s far from over, but I for sure would rather be in the position we are in instead of second or third.”

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.”