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Rahal Tops Gremlins, Charts At Road America

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 25 2016
Josef Newgarden heads into Turn 5 and prepares to head up Fireman's Hill at Road America. (RacinToday photo by Frank Aiello)

Josef Newgarden heads into Turn 5 and prepares to head up Fireman’s Hill at Road America. (RacinToday photo by Frank Aiello)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Graham Rahal and his team overcame a bizarre electrical gremlin _ one that indicated his No. 15 Honda did not exist _ during Friday’s opening practice session at Road America to eventually claim P1 following a full day of hot-lapping for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

bugindynotesRahal posted the overall fastest lap during the second of Friday’s two 75-minute sessions around the 4.014-mile/14-turn permanent road-course at 1 minute, 43.0224-seconds/140.265 mph. Sunday’s 50-lap/202.4-mile race will be the 26th for Indy cars at the historic facility in Elkhart Lake, Wis., but first since 2007, when Rahal finished third as a Champ Car World Series rookie.

While most teams have tested at RA since the race was announced by INDYCAR officials last summer, figuring out the intricacies of the longest track on the 2016 schedule with its combination of high speeds/high tire wear proved a work in progress.

“The car feels decent,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Gehl/D-A Lubricant Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “I’ve got a little work to do, everybody does. As you can see, it’s pretty tough out there right now _ pretty slippery _ different types of (Firestone) rubber being laid down. It’s tricky. Everybody is going to have a lot to work on and we’re included in that.”

Will Power was second-quick at 1:43.1608-seconds/140.076 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Rahal completed only nine laps with a best time of 1:44.3037-seconds/138.542 mph during the opening session as his team struggled with “a weird scenario” as the car sat quietly on pit road. Or did it?

Basically it’s an antenna on the car. It’s got part of the INDYCAR telemetry in it. It had a short in it,” Rahal said. “It was frying all of our (indiscernible) boxes, which is underneath me. That’s the car’s brain pretty much right there. It was like the car didn’t even exist. You plug-in, do absolutely nothing. Couldn’t get a setup. We tried everything we could.

“So, it fried that one. I had to jump out. We replace it. We didn’t know the antenna was bad, it had just been supplied to us. We figured it would be OK. When we plugged the next one in, it fried that one, too. I mean, when we plugged the computer in, the car won’t run without having a setup, it acted as if it didn’t even exist. Had to take the thing back to Cosworth, replace the box again. It was just a mess. Electronics. Pain in the you-know-what.

“All the guys with the computers are trying their hardest, they cannot get the thing to show that it exists. Honda can’t let you run the car, nor will the car even start actually without this. We were just trapped pretty much.

“We lost a set of tires because of it because we couldn’t get the five laps in in the 20 minutes. It hurt us, but we were able to rebound pretty well. It seems like lately for our team everything that can go wrong has, like the gearbox sailing in Practice 1 at Texas, then not getting the run here. That’s frustrating. Our guys keep their heads down; we’re going to keep working hard, we’ll be all right.”

While the return to Road America has been universally praised by series drivers, Rahal said the facility holds especially fond memories for his family.

I was telling people…I spent more time here than I spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in my life,” said Graham, the son of team-owner and 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal. “This place is pretty cool for the Rahal family. My grandparents won’t be here this weekend, but they’re only two hours down the road. Yeah, my dad grew up coming here watching my grandpa race. I did the same with dad.

It’s funny. (Thursday)  I went out on the scooter, cruised around for a little bit. It brought back so many old memories. It’s a special place for us, without a doubt.”

Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion whose best finish was 13th in two previous Road America races, said finding proper grip over the lengthy course and its abrasive curbing is a key issue.

“The tire never feels ‘in-the-road’ _ never feels like it has a lot of bite,” Power said. “That’s just the (track) surface. It makes it interesting, it makes it good. You really have to get your balance right and drive it right to get the time.

“You see a lot of people making mistakes and pushing the limits. These cars are crazy-fast in the corners now, (especially) the Carousel. Almost makes you wonder if you could be flat around there. I enjoy this track a lot.”

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the championship leader with three wins in the first eight completed races, was third-fastest with a lap of 1:43.4804-seconds/139.644 mph logged in the first practice. Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport was fourth overall at 1:43.5560-seconds/139.542 mph, also set in the first session.

“I liked the Menards Chevy today. We threw quite a bit at it,” Pagenaud said of his No. 22 entry. “This is a challenging place, so it’s very important to get the car in as good a place as possible. I’m looking forward to learning more in practice (Saturday) and move into qualifying with a lot of confidence.”

A third practice is scheduled for noon-12:45 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, leading into three rounds of knockout qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award at 4 p.m. Both sessions will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with qualifying airing on NBC Sports Network on tape-delay at 5:30 p.m.

The Grand Prix will air live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday.

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Twelve days after sustaining a fractured clavicle and small fracture in his right hand during the rain-plagued Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, Josef Newgarden returned to the cockpit of the No. 21 Direct Supply/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet on Friday.

Newgarden ran 30 total laps in the two practice sessions around Road America and placed 15th on the overall time chart with a best lap of 1 minute, 43.8937-seconds/139.088 mph.

It was Newgarden’s first on-track activity since being injured in a grinding crash triggered by rookie Conor Daly on Lap 42 of a race rescheduled for Sunday, June 12, in Fort Worth after being rained-out on Saturday night. The event on TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval was red-flagged by another round of showers after 71 laps on June 12.

Newgarden, a two-time race-winner in 2015, was cleared Thursday by INDYCAR Medical to practice after being observed in a racing simulator earlier this week.

“Both hands hurt overall,” Newgarden said after the first practice, “but I think the clavicle will hold up. It’s a little sore, but I think it will be OK for the weekend. I feel the pain in the hands everywhere. I think the clavicle has been surprisingly better than I thought. Braking and going into the corners is not much of an issue. It’s going to be sore, but I think I can manage the pain.”

Overall, Newgarden was content with the progress he has made and is looking forward to improving his car over the course of this weekend. “I’m more optimistic than yesterday,” Newgarden said. “I’m happy I was able to run today and see how I can get into the car. I think we have some more work over the weekend trying to get the performance where we need to from a car standpoint.

“I think we got a lot away from the car perspective. I’m more focused about that than what I’m dealing with. I think I can manage the pain over the weekend, but I’m more concerned with the car.”

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INDYCAR officials have confirmed that neither Josef Newgarden nor Conor Daly will be permitted to participate in the rescheduled Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Aug. 27. Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR’s vice president, Competition, Race Control, announced the decision during the driver’s meeting Friday morning.

As per the series rulebook, the race will resume on Lap 72 of the scheduled 248 with James Hinchcliffe the leader in his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda is second while Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda will restart third.

Newgarden’s No. 21 ECR Chevrolet and Daly’s No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda will not be permitted to participate in the continuation due to the extensive chassis and engine damage each sustained in a crash on Lap 42. Cars continuing in the race will be permitted to use the chassis and engine of their choice for the completion day. Tire allotment and fuel quantity for the completion have yet to be determined.

Pre-race aero setups from the June event will be mandatory for the August completion, though INDYCAR may make changes prior to the completion based upon the weather forecast for race weekend.

The remaining 177 race laps will be run at the conclusion of the Aug. 27 schedule that includes a mandatory systems check (an out/in-lap only); a 25-minute practice in which cars will be split into two groups, each group receiving 10 minutes of practice time with a five-minute break in between; a driver autograph session on the track’s concourse and completion of the race starting at 9:15 p.m. (EDT).

Texas Motor Speedway officials will be announcing plans for ticketing, credentialing, camping and various other fan-related and facility-based items in the coming weeks.

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Several Verizon IndyCar Series regulars enjoyed success during last weekend’s 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Sebastien Bourdais of KVSH Racing was a key player in the winning Chip Ganassi Racing No. 68 Ford GT team in the GTE Pro class while Ganassi Indy car star Scott Dixon co-drove the third-place No. 69 Ford GT. Townsend Bell, who finished 21st in May’s Indianapolis 500, co-drove the winning Ferrari in GTE Am. And Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports placed seventh in the LMP2 class in the BR01 Nissan the native of Russian helped develop throughout 2015.

Bourdais, a native of Le Mans, credited the weekly push he receives from fellow IndyCar Series drivers with making them better in “one-off” competitions in other racing disciplines. “I think there is no arguing that this paddock is filled with very talented drivers,” said Bourdais, a three-time runnerup in the world’s most prestigious sports car endurance race. “Obviously, Scott has been at the top of the charts here in INDYCAR, showing every time he steps in anything else (that) the level of competition from INDYCAR, how good drivers are around here.

“Every time you get signed-up for these kind of events, basically (it) recognizes you’re up for the job. After that, you don’t want to look stupid and make a fool of yourself. There’s a reason why we end up in the positions we end up here, and that’s because the level here is strong, and there’s no arguing that.”

Dixon, who has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona driving for Ganassi, echoed Bourdais’ observations. “I think the depth of the field we have in the Verizon IndyCar Series is like no other,” said Dixon, a four-time series champion and winner of 39 Indy car races. “It’s extremely close. A lot of great talent from all around. I think, as Sebastien kind of said, anybody that has driven up against the best drivers in the world, other formulas, as well, have found their way here now.”

The historic Ford GT class victory _ 50 years after the Blue Oval’s first overall win at the Circuit de la Sarthe _ added to the lengthy list of major racing accomplishments for cars owned by Ganassi. His team is the only one to win the Indianapolis 500 in Indy car, NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring in U.S. endurance sports cars, and a class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Stoked for Chip,” said Dixon, who has driven for Ganassi since midway into the 2002 Indy car season. “To win all these marquee events, to go and win for Ford in his first trip to Le Mans is pretty impressive. What he’s achieved in his career already, it’s impressive compared to some of the guys he’s been compared against.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 25 2016
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