IndyCar Notes: Newgarden Setting Pace At Somoma

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 16 2017

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden laid down the fastest laps in practice for Sunday’s season-ending IndyCar Series race at Sonoma on Friday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Championship leader Josef Newgarden paced a pair of practices _ and a Team Penske sweep of the top four positions _ as on-track preparation began Friday for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Holding a tenuous, three-point lead over Scott Dixon entering the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, Newgarden ripped off a fast lap of 1-minute, 16.2485-seconds/112.605 mph during the second 45-minute practice. That lap around the 2.385-mile/12-turn permanent road-course in Northern California was under the track record established last year by Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who clinched the 2016 title from pole with a victory.

Newgarden also paced the morning session at 1:16.3950-seconds in the No. 2 Chevrolet. The 26-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn., led all four Penske drivers atop the end-of-day time sheet, with Pagenaud second, Helio Castroneves third and Will Power fourth.

“I think it was a good session for us _ good two sessions, really,” said Newgarden, who is in his sixth Series season but first with team-owner Roger Penske’s juggernaut. “I feel like the Penske cars are fast. We’ve had obviously a lot of test time, more than others recently. We had (a private team test) last week and then the (series) open test Thursday as well, so it’s plenty of track time hopefully for us to sort out our stuff.

“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job with that and I think that reflected in the times today from the whole team. We’re all pretty close and have a good handle, I think, on what we want. It’s a matter of putting that together (in qualifying Saturday).”

Pagenaud, seeking to become the first repeat series champion since Dario Franchitti in 2011, was second with a lap of 1:16.2871/112.549 mph in the afternoon. Since track records can only be set in qualifying or races, Pagenaud’s Sonoma lap record of 1:16.2530/112.599 mph remains intact _ at least until Verizon P1 Award qualifying on Saturday.

“I’m very happy with how the car behaved, whether it’s on new tires or older tires, and I think our pace on older tires is best to anyone right now,” said Pagenaud, fourth in the standings, 34 points behind Newgarden. “So I feel very confident that if we start up front (in the race), we can be gone.”

Castroneves was third at 1:16.3471/112.460 mph. Completing his 20th year in Indy cars and still chasing his first championship, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is third in the standings, 22 points out of the lead.

“We had a strong No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet today,” said Castroneves, who could be competing in his final series race as a fulltime driver on Sunday. “My guys have done a great job giving me a fast car. We definitely found speed but still have some areas we can improve on to get a little more out of the car. Qualifying is really key here at Sonoma, so we’re going to try some things in the practice session (Saturday) that we hope to apply to qualifying and see what happens.”

Power, the 2014 series champion, was fourth overall with a lap of 1:16.4322/112.335 mph set in the first practice. The driver of the No. 12 Penske Chevrolet is fifth in the standings entering the weekend, 68 points behind Newgarden.

We had good speed in the car,” Power said. “For those wondering, I didn’t have any problems with the knee. I don’t even notice it. In the car, my knee is bent, and I haven’t had any problems with it bent at all. Anyway, I liked the balance of the car and feel good heading into (Saturday). We’ll work toward a good qualifying session. As I’ve said, we can only control our situation and the plan is to win the pole and win the race, then we’ll see where it all falls at the end.”

Dixon, a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, is second in the standings, three points behind Newgarden. The Chip Ganassi Racing ace was seventh on the combined chart Friday with a lap of 1:16.5863/112.109 mph in the No. 9 Honda.

“Toward the end of the day we had a pretty rough run on the red tires and were only about two or two-and-a-half tenths off the pace,” Dixon said. “We’re right there though and we’ll have to see how things shake out for qualifying. I think we need to bring a little more speed and see what happens.

“Qualifying is one thing, and I think last time we won this (in 2015), we qualified ninth, so anything is possible really. There is a lot that can happen especially with strategy in the race. I know this NTT Data car and this Ganassi crew are not going to lay down and we’re going to try and get our fifth championship come Sunday.”

The Sonoma finale will offer 100 points to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. Seven drivers remain mathematically eligible heading into the 85-lap/202.7-mile event.

NBC Sports Network will air Verizon P1 Award qualifying to determine the pole-sitter at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. Live race coverage is set for 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Newgarden, now with 560 points, opened the door for his rivals with an unforced error during the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen that resulted in an 18th-place finish around Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International’s 3.37-mile/11-turn natural-terrain layout on Sept. 3.

Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport scored his second career series win at The Glen, with Dixon placing second. Dixon’s podium finish coupled with a cold-weather mistake and crash by Newgarden exiting pit road on Lap 46 of the 60-lapper allowed Dixon to chop 28 points off the 31-point lead Newgarden had carried into the event.

Newgarden took over the championship lead for the first time in his career following a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30. The Series champion has been determined in the season’s final race every year dating to 2006, a scenario that would seem to favor the seasoned Dixon. A fifth championship would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt Jr. (with seven titles) on the all-time list.

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi finished fifth and sixth, respectively, on the combined time sheet. Hunter-Reay’s best lap of 1:16.4829/112.260 mph was posted in the second practice.

“We had a pretty good Friday to start the race weekend,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. “We went from seventh or eighth (Thursday) to fifth today and we are the top Honda. We just have to turn that into a top-five (Saturday), get into that Firestone Fast Six and go from there. Certainly the Penskes are what looks like our toughest competition right now, so we’re going to have to make another step overnight. But so far, so good for the No. 28 DHL Honda.”

Rossi’s top effort in the No. 98 Honda of 1:16.5720/112.130 mph was recorded in the first session. Rossi enters the weekend with considerable momentum, having scored his first career pole at Watkins Glen, followed by his second career victory on the historic Upstate New York layout.

“It was a good day and we got through a lot of test items,” Rossi said. “We missed the balance on the Firestone red (tires) so we know where the lap time is. It’s very close here yet again _ showing why this championship is so competitive. We have to make sure everything is right for qualifying because the competition is so close. Any miscalculation can cost you some spots. We should have a good day (Saturday).”

On-track action continues with a 45-minute practice at 2 p.m. (EDT) Saturday that will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Qualifying to determine the pole-winner and the important championship point that accompanies it will air live on NBC Sports Network at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.


Group One Thousand One will serve as primary sponsor for the Andretti Autosport car to be driven by Zach Veach in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Veach was named driver of the No. 26 Honda on Wednesday, replacing reigning Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato.

The agreement continues a relationship Veach forged with the U.S.-based insurance holding company at this year’s Indianapolis 500, when he drove for A.J. Foyt Racing.

A 22-year-old native of Stockdale, Ohio, Veach has raced in every step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport, including a career-best Indy Lights championship finish of third in 2014. Veach made his IndyCar Series debut April 23, 2017 at Barber Motorsport Park in Birmingham, Ala., and his Indy 500 debut in May’s 101st edition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Veach is the fourth driver confirmed to an all-American IndyCar Series 2018 lineup for team-owner Michael Andretti, joining  2012 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay; 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti. 

“We’re proud to continue supporting Zach as he rises to the next level in his racing career with the world-class Andretti Autosport team,” said Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One. “We believe sports have the power to transform lives and we’re thrilled to continue our partnership with Zach as he pursues his passion.

“On and off the track, Zach personifies the values that we hold true as a company. Like him, we believe in our duty to empower people to chase their dreams and to support the communities in most need of empowerment through education and sports.”


Combined results from Verizon IndyCar Series practices Friday around Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile/12-turn circuit in preparation for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, engine/aero kit, time/speed and total laps completed:

  1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1-minute, 16.2485-seconds/112.605 mph, 23
  2. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:16.2871/112.549, 25
  3. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:16.3471/112.460, 19
  4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:16.4322/112.335, 25
  5. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.4829/112.260, 21
  6. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.5720/112.130, 28
  7. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.5863/112.109, 24
  8. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.5999/112.089, 22
  9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.6060/112.080, 31
  10. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.7484/111.872, 23
  11. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.7542/111.864, 33
  12. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.8121/111.779, 28
  13. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.0106/111.491, 34
  14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:17.0545/111.428, 27
  15. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:17.1210/111.332, 20
  16. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2615/111.129, 29
  17. (19) Ed Jones-(R), Honda, 01:17.2681/111.120, 27
  18. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.3287/111.033, 39
  19. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.4156/110.908, 35
  20. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.5451/110.723, 30
  21. (7) Jack Harvey-(R), Honda, 01:17.6168/110.620, 29
  22. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo-(R), Honda, 01:17.9506/110.147, 36

Total Laps for Combined Sessions: 608; All cars on Firestone Firehawk tires.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 16 2017
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