IndyCar Notes: Newgarden Fastest As Series Takes To Milwaukee Mile

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 12 2015
Josef Newgarden had the hottest lap in practice in Milwaukee on Saturday. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

Josef Newgarden had the hottest lap in practice in Milwaukee on Saturday. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden was quickest among 24 drivers turning laps during Saturday’s initial practice for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

Newgarden’s hot lap of 21.5415-seconds at 169.626 mph picked up where he left off on the historic 1.015-mile oval in West Allis, Wis. Newgarden recorded the fastest lap during the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series race at The Milwaukee Mile en route to a fifth-place finish. Whether Newgarden’s pace holds up through a full day of practice, qualifying and the 250-lap race on Sunday remains to be seen. But the rising American star _ a winner this season at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and on the Streets of Toronto _ certainly is confident.

“The Direct Supply car has been fast. It was fast here last year, so I expected us to be on our game,” Newgarden, of Hendersonville, Tenn., said of his No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet. “I think we have a great spot to start. It always helps when you roll off the truck good. I don’t know how many guys did (qualifying simulations), but we did one at the end. It’s pretty representative of a speed we can do. Hopefully, that’s going to be enough to stay ahead of everyone else.”

Reigning series champion Will Power of Team Penske qualified on-pole at Milwaukee last year at 169.262 mph and went on to win the race at an average speed of 145.243 mph.

Live TV coverage of Sunday’s qualifying will be carried on NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. (EDT), with the race broadcast following at 5 p.m. IndyCar Series qualifying and races are broadcast live on radio network affiliates Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR 15 app.

The top 14 cars were separated by less than a half-second Saturday. Simon Pagenaud (169.408 mph) was second-fastest in the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet and Takuma Sato (168.777 mph) was third in the No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda.

Frenchman Pagenaud earned his first oval-track Verizon P1 Award two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and figures to be a front-row contender Sunday. “It’s a strong baseline,” said Pagenaud, who is in his first season of driving for Team Penske. “We just need to keep working the details to get the pole. With the new aero kit, you want to be in clean air as much as you can.”

Sato also was pleased with the data collected during the first session of what serves as the hometown race of team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr.’s primary sponsor.

“Very good practice today,” Sato said. “We knew we always loved Milwaukee, it was just a matter of getting the balance right with this new aero package which we haven’t tested on the short ovals yet. Initially we had to make quite a few changes. It was very easy to feel out the car. The car was very responsive so we could move on quite rapidly. In the end we were quite happy with the balance and it seems to be pretty strong.”

Graham Rahal, who won the controversial MAVTV 500 “pack race” around the 2-mile, D-shaped ACS oval on June 27, was fourth on the speed chart (168.095 mph) in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Tony Kanaan, a two-time winner at Milwaukee, was fifth (167.702 mph) in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“Right away the balance of the car was really good,” said Rahal, who ended a seven-year winless streak with his second career victory at ACS. “I was definitely pleased with it. It was pretty comfortable so we were able to push forward and try some things with the setup and I think we made the race car a lot better. It’s definitely going to be interesting to follow a bunch of cars based on what some guys were saying that I talked to that seemed to struggle pretty bad, so it’s going to be an interesting race. I didn’t really get a run there at the end of the session to get the most out of the car, but it’s pretty good.”

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya will take a 46-point lead over Penske teammate Power into the 113th Indy car race at The Mile. Montoya, who turned a hot lap of 22.1818-seconds and 164.730 mph during the 75-minute practice in his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, is maintaining a pragmatic outlook.

“The points lead can vanish in one week. You have one bad race, all the work for the year goes out of the window,” said Montoya, who won at Milwaukee a week after his first of two Indy 500 victories in 2000. “I’ve led the points all year. If I can close the year (with the championship), I think it would be great. I think the most important thing is make sure we can keep the championship at Penske.”

Veteran Justin Wilson returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Andretti Autosport this weekend and will continue to pilot the No. 25 Honda for the remainder of the 2015 season. With 170 IndyCar Series starts over 13 seasons, the 36-year-old has posted seven wins, 26-podium finishes, 93 top-10s and over 700 laps-led in his career.

“It’s obviously great to be back with Andretti Autosport for the remainder of the season,” said Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England. “I’m really looking forward to making the most of these five races, and just trying to help the team and Honda as much as I can and try and be successful. It’s not going to be easy jumping in toward the end of the year _ everyone’s worked out what they’re looking for from the car and the aero kits. But I think it puts us in good shape for learning things and trying to progress… and hopefully set something up towards next year.

“We’ll have to take it one step at a time, but the great thing with IndyCar racing is any weekend anyone can win; you just have to make sure you do a good job and do everything as perfect as you can, and that will lead to good results.”

Wilson most recently joined team-owner Michael Andretti’s four-time IndyCar championship organization for two events _ the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indy 500 _ as well as a round of competition in the FIA Formula E Championship.

James Hinchcliffe claims he is “ahead of schedule” in his recuperation from injuries sustained in a serious crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in May. But the popular Canadian added he still has hurdles to overcome. A final surgery at the end of July tentatively has been scheduled, followed by additional physical therapy.

“I’ve learned that doctors know what they’re talking about and I should listen to them,” Hinchcliffe said during a media session. “I have an excellent team of doctors and physical therapists looking after me and they have helped the recovery process go along as smoothly as possible.”

Hinchcliffe crashed May 18 at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a suspension piece on his No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda failed. He underwent surgery the same day for pelvic and upper thigh injuries. Hinchcliffe said he is about 15 pounds under his weight prior to the incident. Dietary restrictions have been minimal and walking has become his primary form of exercise.

“My energy level gets better every day. Strength gets better every day. Mobility gets better every day,” Hinchcliffe said. “It feels slow to me, but the doctors say everything is going quickly.

“The big goal for the doctors was to make sure that I recovered as well as possible from not only the surgery that I had but from the trauma that my body experienced to prepare for the next surgery; to make sure I’m as healthy as I am the next time I go under the knife. That way I can bounce back quickly from that one. The physical side of it will take place moreso after that is done.”

Ryan Briscoe has been signed to drive the No. 5 car for the season’s remaining five races.

Sage Karam aims to maintain his perfect record at The Milwaukee Mile on Sunday. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate claimed wins at Milwaukee in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires (2011) and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires (2013). Karam will make his first IndyCar Series start on the 1.015-mile oval Sunday in the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

“It’s an oval, but it’s more like a road-course. You really have to attack it,” said Karam, a 20-year-old native of Nazareth, Pa. “I’ve always liked a car that moves around and the car does that at Milwaukee. In Indy Lights and (Pro) Mazda, it played to my advantage because the other guys weren’t comfortable with a car that got looser and looser, and I would just get faster. This year’s race will be the hardest year of them all, but I’d love to stay perfect here.”

In an effort to change their luck, several members of the BHA with Curb-Agajanian team _ including team-owner Bryan Herta _ have grown mustaches or beards for this weekend’s event. The list, however, does not include rookie driver Gabby Chaves, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Tuesday sans razor.

“I wish I could join them, but I physically can’t,” said Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights champion who has been running at the finish of all 11 IndyCar Series races this season. “I’ve never shaved a day in my life and never had a millimeter of facial hair. I’m just stuck with what I have.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 12 2015
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