Josef Newgarden leads first Mid-Ohio practice as Team Penske seeks IndyCar rebound

Mid-Ohio IndyCar Newgarden
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Rebounding from his near-miss at ending Team Penske’s winless 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden paced the opening practice Friday for the Honda Inda 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The two-time series champion turned a 1-minute, 7.2524-second lap around the 2.258-mile road course that topped Pato O’Ward (1:07.5050) and Jack Harvey (107.5840).

Alexander Rossi (1:07.7245) and Graham Rahal (1:07.7561) rounded out the top five.

SPEED CHART: Click here for lap times Friday at Mid-Ohio

INDYCAR AT MID-OHIO: All the details for Sunday’s race

“It was a good session,” Newgarden said. “The thing I noticed right was that the car felt phenomenal. When you get into a car and it feels that good, you’re like, ‘Man, we got something right here coming into it.’

“I think we’re on the right track.”

His No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet has started from the pole position and led the most laps in each of the past two races before things went awry on the final caution flag.

At Road America, a gearing problem dropped Newgarden from first to 16th after the last restart with three laps to go, and he finished second in the second race at Belle Isle when a late yellow allowed O’Ward to catch and pass Newgarden for the lead on fresher tires with two laps remaining.

Coupled with a mechanical problem that cost teammate Will Power a victory in the Detroit Grand Prix opener, the misfortune has left Penske without a victory after nine races (the longest stretch to open a season for the team since 1999) despite having strong cars.

“I think in the moment it’s always excruciating,” Newgarden said. “It’s a terrible feeling. But, honestly, right after that, it’s no different for me. Move on to the next weekend. Focus forward. We pick up where we left off, just do it again. That’s kind of our mantra. It’s been my mantra, at least one race at a time. Would have loved to have had different results the last couple of weekends. Can’t change it. That just keep doing our program. I’m super proud of my team.

“I’m not asking something different from my team because I don’t think they need to do that. We’re ready to rock.”

There will be two practices and qualifying Saturday for the 80-lap race Sunday (noon ET, NBC), and the field will feature 26 cars — a season high outside the Indy 500.

‘HE’S GOING TO GET THERE’: Inside look at Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season

Jimmie Johnson was last (1:09.8165) on the speed chart, but being 2.5 seconds off Newgarden’s pace didn’t damper his enthusiasm for a Mid-Ohio debut.

“What a place,” Johnson said. “Just a fun, fun track. Tons of elevation change. The grip level changed so much from the start to the end, so really fit my progression. Made very little changes. Really just focused on getting the laps.

“This place definitely overdelivered. Not many drivers talked to me about it coming in, so I think this one is a bit of a sleeper from an experience standpoint. And I’m really looking forward to the race.”

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”