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Penske New Guy Newgarden Fastest In Phoenix

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 11 2017

Josef Newgarden found the fast way around Phoenix Raceway on Friday. (Chris Owens photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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The roar of 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines filled the air into the night at Phoenix Raceway on Friday, as 21 Verizon IndyCar Series entries turned laps for the first time together in 2017.

The first of a two-day Open Test for all full-season teams saw Team Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden record the fastest of 2,638 total laps turned around the 1.022-mile oval over the course of two, three-hour practice sessions. The second practice was conducted under the lights during the same time period the Phoenix Grand Prix will take place April 29 on the historic oval.

Newgarden joined 14-time Indy car champion Team Penske during the offseason following five years at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and most recently at Ed Carpenter Racing. The Tennessee native clocked the fastest lap of the day near the end of the afternoon practice at 190.129 mph (19.3511-seconds) in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Teams focused on race setups and running in packs during the night session, which was led by Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti in the No. 27 hhgregg Honda at 189.122 mph (19.4541 seconds).

“I think we had a pretty good start to today,” said Newgarden, who finished a career-best fourth in the 2016 championship behind the Penske trio who now are his teammates _ reigning champion Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves. “The car was really great off the truck, so we didn’t have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start.”

Newgarden joined the team founded and run by Roger Penske as the offseason’s most sought-after free agent. “It’s great to be going and fun to be with Team Penske,” Newgarden said. “It’s really been an interesting offseason for me; I’ve not really wanted an offseason this time around. Normally you like a little bit of a break but this year I wanted to get going immediately, so it’s been a long wait. But I feel fairly squared away with the new operation and just trying to gel a little bit with the group.

“The Verizon (No.) 2 car team is all new to me. They’re not new to each other, so there’s great continuity there, but I’m new to the group, so they’re trying to understand me and I’m trying to understand them.”

Second on the combined session speed chart was Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at 189.990 mph during the first practice. “It was a good start to the test,” said Carpenter, the series’ only owner/driver. “We had good cars here last year, and Josef (Newgarden) and I both qualified well and both were a factor in the race. I made a mistake in the race, otherwise I think we probably would have been on the podium.

“We did a (Firestone) tire test here in the offseason, so we felt pretty good about where we were as a team coming in here, which I think is good for JR Hildebrand, too, coming in, to make that transition back to fulltime guy a little easier. Chevy does have a good package here and we’re thankful for that. But it’s a good place for us to start. We have a good handle on this track and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”

Defending Phoenix Grand Prix champion Scott Dixon was eighth in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 187.944 mph. The team switched from Chevrolet to Honda power during the offseason.

“It’s good to be back in an Indy car,” said Dixon, a four-time series champion. “It’s been a little while, so it’s nice to be out running and obviously back here in Phoenix, fond memories from last year. It’s always good to be back at a track that you won at. For us, big changes in the offseason. It’s the second time in the Honda-powered car, first time on a short oval, which as we know is maybe not the best package to have. But all-in-all, it ran fairly smoothly. For right now, the engine feels really good and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent.”

Pagenaud stood at a pragmatic 14th overall in the No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevy at 186.403 mph. “We reset it to zero, so here we are, another year,” the Frenchman said. “Last year was fantastic but we have to use what we learned to do even better this year. So I’m very excited. It’s the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to actually capitalize on such a great season, so it was a good test today. Just trying to understand everything that we learned during the winter, going slowly test after test, and hopefully we can put the package together and come back and be strong for the race here.”

While drivers running Chevrolet engines and aero kits locked down the top four spots in the first practice, those equipped with Honda’s package claimed the first six positions in the night practice.

“It’s always encouraging (to see your name at the top),” said Andretti, the lead Honda driver. “It’s still early but it’s a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition (Chevrolet) is turned-down, but you might as well be there if you can be.”

The 21 drivers and teams will return for two more practice sessions Saturday, from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. (EST). A video stream of both sessions is available at racecontrol.indycar.com. The day is also open free to the public, beginning at 2 p.m.

Indy cars in various iterations competed at Phoenix Raceway 61 times from 1964-2005. Following a 10-year hiatus, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned last year with Dixon leading the final 155 laps to collect the 39th of his 40th career Indy car wins, which ranks fourth all-time.

The season begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 12 (noon ET, ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix, on April 29 (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) is the fourth of 17 races on the 2017 schedule.

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The roots of open-wheel racing will return to Phoenix Raceway as part of the IndyCar Series race weekend in April, following an announcement by track officials that the USAC Silver Crown Series will race on April 28-29 as a prelude to the Phoenix Grand Prix.

The Phoenix Copper Cup will mark the first time that Silver Crown cars will race on the 1-mile oval since 2009. In addition, the USAC .25 Midgets will compete on a temporary oval in the track’s fan midway during race weekend.

“We’re thrilled to add the USAC Silver Crown series to our Verizon IndyCar Series weekend,” said Bryan Sperber, Phoenix Raceway president. “The series has a tremendous history here and has produced some incredible races. I’m certain this race will be a popular addition to the Phoenix Grand Prix schedule.”

Teams participating in the two-day Open Test at Phoenix Raceway, with car number in parenthesis, driver, hometown, team and aero kit/engine combination:

(1) Simon Pagenaud, Montmorillon, France, Team Penske, Chevrolet

(2) Josef Newgarden, Hendersonville, Tenn., Team Penske, Chevrolet

(3) Helio Castroneves, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Team Penske, Chevrolet

(4) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet

( 5) James Hinchcliffe, Toronto, Canada, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda

(7) Mikhail Aleshin, Moscow, Russia, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda

(8) Max Chilton, Reigate, England, Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda

(9) Scott Dixon, Auckland, New Zealand, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Honda

(10) Tony Kanaan, Salvador, Brazil, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Honda

(12) Will Power, Toowoomba, Australia, Team Penske, Chevrolet

(14) Carlos Munoz, Bogota, Colombia, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Chevrolet

(15) Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda

(18) Sebastien Bourdais, Le Mans, France, Dale Coyne Racing, Honda

(19) Ed Jones (R), Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dale Coyne Racing, Honda

(20) Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Ind., Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet

(21) JR Hildebrand, Sausalito, Calif., Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet

(26) Takuma Sato, Tokyo, Japan, Andretti Autosport, Honda

(27) Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., Andretti Autosport, Honda

(28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Andretti Autosport, Honda

(83) Charlie Kimball, Camarillo, Calif., Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Honda

(98) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, Honda

Note: All cars use fourth-generation Verizon IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR12) with Chevrolet, Dallara or Honda aerodynamic bodywork kits, Chevrolet or Honda engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.(R) Denotes Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, February 11 2017
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