INDYCAR: What drivers said after Portland

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Here’s what drivers said after Saturday’s 16th race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “It was a pretty tough race for the Verizon Chevy. (Felix) Rosenqvist caused some pressure. At the end, we could slowly pull away and I felt like ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be good,” and then we got that yellow flag and I’m like ‘Oh, come on, man!’ But I was determined to get a good restart and just so stoked to get into Victory Lane. It helps the teams and the other guys take some points away. Awesome. I’m exhausted. I’m mentally exhausted. We’ve had plenty of what-if years. We will just race right now how we will race next year. It is so good to go into next year with a couple of wins.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished second: “I thought it was a great race for us in the NTT DATA Honda. I think we were stronger than Chevy on fuel mileage. The team really did a nice job. We had really good pace on the red tires, but Will Power and Penske did a little bit better on black tires. We moved up from P5 to P2 and it’s a strong result. We still have another chance to win at Laguna and that’s what I’ll be focused on in a few weeks.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished third: “It is not that I wanted more, I just wanted less for (Josef Newgarden). The No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys did a good job. We maximized what we had. I don’t think we had a race-winning car today, unfortunately. Starting in seventh and finishing on the podium is a good day. We finished in front of our championship rival. It will be pretty intense in California, but I am looking forward to it.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – finished fourth: “The Grand Prix of Portland was an up-and-down day for the No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda team. I had a blast leading 37 laps of the race today and our pace was really quick. The car was great and our strategy was there, but our pace on the red tires during the first stint of the race just wasn’t there. I really feel we could have won the race, but I’m overall happy with fourth as it’s our second-best finish of the year. Looking forward to racing a Laguna Seca in a couple weeks!”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fifth: “Where we finished is about what we could hope for on a 13th place start.  We got kind of in the mess at the start. That is the risky part when you qualify 13th.  You can end up in the mess like we did at the beginning. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anything.  We kept going and that was the most important part of the day. Then we just worked on making the most of the rest of the day. Climbing into the top five was what we had from where we started, as I said. It was a good day for the guys. The Hitachi car was quick at the end.  We weren’t too quick at the start, but towards the end it got better and it helped us get positions we needed. Chevy did a great job as always. Can’t be disappointed with fifth. Overall a solid day to head to the finale.

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet) – finished sixth: “It turned out to be not too bad of a race. After getting hit in the first corner, I did not think we would have much of a chance after that. We definitely had damage to the car, but it handled alright. We were able to have some good pit stops, good strategy and ultimately good pace. We got through the field and worked our way up to sixth, which is not bad considering where we were after the first lap. It makes you think ‘What could have been?’ but hopefully we can have another strong race at Laguna Seca.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished seventh: “(Scott) Dixon has done it from 45 points back, so we’re in it. It’s awesome to go to Laguna with a chance at the championship. I’m determined. We had a really good race today despite all the problems at the start. It was eventful, but a great day for Chevy and Team Penske. It’s the championship so you have to be there. So even when days are tough… rebounding from 18th to finish seventh was a really good performance. We made all right decisions in the race. The Menards Chevy felt really good, which is good for next year when we come back. But the biggest thing is that we are in it. We’re going to Laguna at a chance at the championship, which is really exciting. Anything can happen there with double points. Anything is possible.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished eighth: “Tough but pretty good race for us here at Portland. Since the beginning we decided to do a different strategy (from the No. 14 car) and we went for a two-stop strategy and I think it worked pretty well for us. We had to save fuel for most of the race and we were consistently running in the top 10. On the last yellow as we were the last car on the lead lap, we decided to come in and put new alternate tires on and went out 10th and finished eighth. So I think it was a decent job, another top 10 for me and a good job for the team, too. The guys did a pretty good strategy and a pretty good job in the pits, so I’m proud of everybody. Let’s go for the last one.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished ninth: “The No. 18 SealMaster Honda was really competitive and we had the fastest lap of the race. I was really happy with it… We fought hard, passed a bunch of guys and put ourselves back in contention to finish sixth. Then we had some drama with the fueling. A valve didn’t operate like it was supposed to and it took what felt like an eternity to fill the car, so we lost all the positions we had made on track. I made a couple of them back and got to eighth, but at the end (Matheus) Leist pitted for new tires and I had pushed so hard to get to Simon (Pagenaud), I had nothing left on my tires and I lost a position during the final restart.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 10th: “First and foremost, I can’t say enough about this Carlin team. They worked so hard all weekend to give us the opportunity to go and race for a top-10 finish with the No. 23 Carlin Chevrolet. I just had to take care of business in the cockpit and hit the fuel numbers they were giving me over the radio. Obviously, we were able to miss a lot of the chaos and carnage that happened at the start of the race, which was nice and we just had really great pit stops and a great car. Week in and week out this team just puts in such a big effort and I can’t thank them enough. I’m really looking forward to carrying this momentum into the season finale at Laguna Seca and hopefully ending the season on a high note.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 11th: “Not a bad day for the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet and the Gallagher crew. Thankfully, we stayed out of the mess at the beginning of the race and we were able to make up quite a bit of positions by avoiding any damage. After that, we really just needed to stick to our strategy and keep as consistent as we could. The car was strong and the guys did a great job in pit lane getting me in and out quickly. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have come away with a top-10 finish today and we were definitely knocking on the door of it, but I’d say we can be proud of the progress we made throughout the race weekend.

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 12th:“Good start, awesome start actually. It’s a shame on the strategy, we missed the boat on that and I have no control over that so after that I just hung in there. Good job for the team though, two cars in the top 12. That was always the goal so it looks like we’re getting stronger towards the end of the season, which is good. I’m happy for Matt (Leist), he drove a great race. They got the strategy right and it put him in the top eight. Let’s move to Laguna and see what we can do.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda) – finished 13th: “We just didn’t have the pace for the top six, but we were comfortably in a top-seven position. We got held up a little in the pits on our last stop which allowed (Simon) Pagenaud to have a go on me on cold tires, then he drove me off track. I wasn’t just going to let him go by, I had to put up a fight for my position. What should have been seventh or eighth for the Oberto team ended up as 13th.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet) – finished 14th:“We did a good job avoiding the on-track incidents today to help us gain many positions over where we started. We made good progress throughout the weekend, though we didn’t get the car quite to an optimal place for the race. I’m hoping to have a better outing at the season finale!”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 15th: “All I could see was just a mess in front of me (on the start). I tried to avoid everything, but somebody’s car went outside and straight into the escape road so I couldn’t turn hard left. All I could do was just go straight, and unfortunately a car went inside coming toward me, which I couldn’t avoid, so we had a damaged sidepod, aero and toe link. So, we had to repair it and I ended up two laps down.  We tried everything we could, but we gained a few positions as some retired but it was a tough day for us.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 16th: “Obviously, not the result that we wanted with the PNC Bank car. We had a great car and it was clean sailing out front for us in the lead. The team did a great job. We just lost power and when that happens you can’t shift and you can’t use the clutch. Luckily, we were able to get to pit lane so the crew could get us to the pit box. I just hate giving away an easy win like that. Congrats to (teammate) Felix (Rosenqvist) on the result and finishing second. I think that’s the second time he’s done that in just the past few races, so good job there. The last two races haven’t been the best in terms of luck for us, but we’ll just focus now on winning at Laguna Seca.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished 17th: “The day started pretty well as we were able to avoid a massive pile up in Turn 1 at the start. After that, we decided to try a different strategy but it didn’t quite pan out for us and near the end of the race. We had an electrical issue that put an early end to our race. It’s unfortunate because we were on our way to another top-10 finish and that puts us in a hard place going into Laguna for the rookie championship. We’ll bounce back and do our best at the season finale in a few weeks.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 18th: “I feel terrible for the team. I was racing (Alexander) Rossi and got caught up in the fight, then broke too deep. I missed it by a good half a marker in the braking and got into Jack Harvey – feel bad for them. Apologies to the team, to DHL, AutoNation and our partners. We should have had a pretty good day today. This is one on me.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda) – finished 19th: “My day was unfortunately cut pretty short. I had a great start and was able to get into P3 on the exit of Turn 2, and then on the restart I lost a place to Will Power who was on (Firestone) reds and I was on blacks. I knew that I was far enough away from Ryan (Hunter-Reay) that I actually deactivated push to pass because I was so clear into the corner. The No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda showed great pace all weekend and we have made some real good gains this year. I am proud of everyone this weekend. It’s just disappointing that we weren’t able to get the result today that we deserved.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) -finished 20th: “I had an OK start, was nice and clear into Turn 1, and then just got broadsided. I guess Graham (Rahal) got into the back of Zach (Veach)… I watched the replay and Graham’s right-side tires are on the white line. If no other cars were there, he wouldn’t physically get through Turn 1. I don’t know what he was thinking. This is frustrating. Third race in a row we’ve been hit on Lap 1. I was joking with the guys – I think we should actually paint a target on our car so maybe we don’t get hit. It’s unfortunate. We just can’t catch a break. Conor (Daly) did an incredible job jumping in this weekend and putting the Arrow car into the top 10, and I think we had more pace than we were able to show in qualifying, so we were really excited for the race. I think we were going to be able to move up and be competitive. We’ll never know.”

CONOR DALY (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 21st: “Overall, we have to focus on the positives from this weekend. Great qualifying – all the team cars were in the top 10. It was a true pleasure working with this team again. Great people, great partner in Arrow Electronics. Sometimes we can’t control some of the factors in these races and sadly (teammate) James (Hinchcliffe) and I got caught up in someone else’s mistake. Our cars were quick, we were on for a good race and it is a shame, but definitely thankful for this chance.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 22nd: “A frustrating day. The start was a bit messy, kind of had that stop and go thing. We got off to a good start and I passed a few cars on the inside going into (Turn) 1, then I just got hit with a rocket launcher from behind. We were going to stop and make the corner well enough, then I gained another 40 mph from someone hitting me. I hated it for the guys involved. Once I got hit, I was basically a missile into the mess of the pack.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 One Cure Honda) – finished 23rd: “I messed up. I misjudged it bad and took it on the chin. To be honest, I lost my depth there a little bit in the pack. Obviously, I misjudged it by not just a little, but by quite a lot. I’m disappointed, not just for myself but also for the guys we affected. It hurt (teammate) Takuma (Sato) as well.  At the start, the pace was fine and all that, but I screwed up. I’m sorry for One Cure and everyone else.”

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Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”