Josef Newgarden wins Grand Prix of St. Pete, but Scott Dixon captures sixth IndyCar title

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Josef Newgarden won the NTT IndyCar Series season finale Sunday but came up short of winning the championship as Scott Dixon clinched his sixth title with a third place in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Newgarden led the final 20 laps in his No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet to win at St. Pete for the second consecutive year, holding off a late restart charge by runner-up Pato O’Ward, who tied his career-best finish.

It was the 18th career victory and fourth this season for Newgarden, tying him for the series lead with Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda.

STATS PACKAGE: Full box score and results from the season finale

“I never doubted it, never doubted it,” Dixon radioed his team. “Not with you guys. What a team. Well done. This is all you guys. Thank you.”

Scott Dixon celebrates his sixth championship (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is one championship behind tying AJ Foyt with a record seven.

“Six is good; seven sounds better,” Dixon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider after Ganassi’s 13th IndyCar championship. “That’s obviously going to be the goal. But it’s tough, as you can see from the competition, even if you mess up just a little bit. We had some problems and just couldn’t piece it together.

“Credit again to the team and just being able to pull ourselves out of that hole and stay consistent and just have a smooth race, and that’s what we did. Credit to Josef, he drove a hell of a race there and put us under a lot of pressure.”

Newgarden came up 16 points short of defending his series championship and earning his third title in four years since joining Team Penske (which notched its 219th IndyCar victory and 10th in 18 races at St. Petersburg).

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” he told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “Congrats to Scott and all the guys on his crew. It’s big time to win six championships. They were a great competitors. On one hand, I don’t know what I’d do different this year or ask my guys to do different. They were flawless. Fastest in the pits all year long.

“I’m extremely proud to drive for my team. We have an incredible crew that puts in a lot of work. We just came up short. We weren’t good enough. We’ll reset and hit them harder next year. I promise we’ll be in the fight every year.”

Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth Sunday, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Newgarden took his first lead on a restart with 20 laps to go, diving beneath Alex Palou and Colton Herta in the first turn to zoom from third to first. He held on from there as the race stayed green after a choppy period of five yellows in 45 laps.

“That played into our favor,” Newgarden said. “We had the flow we needed. We did what we needed to do. We knew coming in that fate wasn’t in our hands. We did what we could and hoped for the best.”

The temporary street course proved treacherous over 100 laps as pole-sitter Will Power and Alexander Rossi — two of IndyCar’s best on road and street circuits — were among those who wound up in the wall.

Rossi, who started second, led a race-high 61 laps before losing control of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda in Turn 3.

“Just a human error,” Rossi told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Hugely unfortunate. The 27 guys were phenomenal. Sucks, man. First time it’s happened to me to crash from the lead. I don’t really know what to say. Sorry to the boys, and we’ll come back next year.”

On the ensuing restart, Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe also spun off track as the chaos continued.

Dixon managed to avoid a few anxious moments in traffic after a frenzied Lap 55 restart.

A spate of cautions hit after the race began with 35 green-flag laps.

On a Lap 46 restart, rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay (whose return to Ed Carpenter Racing was announced Sunday morning) collided with Scott McLaughlin, who had made contact with Marco Andretti. It was the IndyCar debut for the three-time Supercars champion, who will move full time next year in the series with Team Penske.

That incident followed a yellow for Santino Ferrucci in Turn 2 after a Lap 40 restart.

The first yellow flew for Power, who started first for a record-extending ninth time on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile layout.

The Team Penske driver began struggling almost immediately with a downshifting problem. He lost power entering Turn 10 on the fifth lap, allowing Rossi to take the lead. Fighting the handling of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet, Power fell two more spots to fourth behind Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe.

On Lap 36, five laps after he’d made his first pit stop, Power skidded into the wall off Turn 4 to bring out the caution flag. He angrily threw his gloves after exiting the cockpit.

“Just a mistake, the car got loose,” Power told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. “Very frustrating. I shouldn’t be the only one crashing, man. My bad, I put us out of the race. Bad situation.”

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500