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Newgarden To Start Championship-Deciding Sonoma On Pole

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, September 17 2017

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden will start on pole in Sunday’s season-ending IndyCar Series race at Sonoma. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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Point-leader Josef Newgarden withstood constant pressure from his nearest Verizon IndyCar Series championship competitors Saturday to set a track record and secure the Verizon P1 Award during qualifying for the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Newgarden, of Team Penske, earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a wide-open last lap of 1-minute, 15.5205-seconds at 113.691 mph around Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile/12-turn permanent road-course.

The championship bonus point Newgarden collected for winning pole stretched his advantage to four points over four-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Sunday’s 85-lap/202.7-miler offering double points down the line.

Newgarden’s pole-winning lap edged teammate Will Power for qualifying honors. It was the 11th pole won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team’s storied open-wheel history.

As was the case after two rounds of practice Friday in Northern California, Team Penske drivers occupied the top four spots on the 22-car grid.

“I was just hoping we could get one of these (poles) this year,” said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came on The Milwaukee Mile oval in 2015. “We’ve been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn’t get it done. It’s cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I’ve been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven’t been able to get it in its place.”

Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556/113.638 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.

“You start going back through the lap in your head,” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It’s tight, it’s just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got.”

Reigning event/series champion Simon Pagenaud’s track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917). But Pagenaud reset the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120).

That set-up a dramatic run for pole. Newgarden _ the only Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round _ was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates, despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.

“We were behind the 8-ball there, for sure, after the first round,” said Newgarden, who is in his first season of driving for team-owner Roger Penske. “We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn’t run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run. We knew we’d be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal.”

Frenchman Pagenaud, seeking to become the first repeat series champion since Dario Franchitti in 2011, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356/113.518 mph. Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth (1:15.8032/113.267 mph). It marked the third time this season Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in June and Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., last month.

Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208/112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 Honda (1:16.3978/112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.

“The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners,” said Dixon, chasing the win that would secure his fifth series championship. That accomplishment would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt Jr. (with seven titles) on the all-time list.

“Good to make it through to where we did,” Dixon said. “It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you’d want to be a little further up, but that’s the way it goes.”

Newgarden took over the championship lead for the first time in his career following a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on July 30. The Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been determined in the season’s final race every year dating to 2006.

A final 30-minute warm-up practice at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday (streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to modify set-ups. A special pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Seven drivers remain mathematically eligible heading into the event.

The race-winner will earn 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.

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INDYCAR recognized OEM partner Chevrolet Saturday for clinching its sixth consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series manufacturer championship. No matter the outcome of Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, rival Honda cannot overtake Chevrolet in manufacturer points.

“Although we were outnumbered on the track in quantity, we had the quality needed to win the races and poles required to win the championship,” said Mark Kent, Chevrolet’s director of motorsports competition. “It’s an accomplishment we’re very proud of.

“Chevrolet races to win. We race to win key races and we race to win championships. Every year, that’s our goal. We know eventually when you’re on the top, you get knocked off but our goal is to stay on top as long as we possibly can.”

Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engine powered eight full-season entries compared to Honda’s 13 in 2017 competition, yet has won nine of 16 races thus far and collected its 11th pole at Sonoma Raceway.

“The most exciting thing about this year is once again every one of our teams contributed to this championship,” Kent said. “It reinforces the strength of our team. Team Penske, AJ Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, all three of them contributed.”

Chevy has won the manufacturer title for General Motors every year since it re-entered Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2012.

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones was presented the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for the 2017 season during a news conference at Sonoma Raceway. The only fulltime rookie in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, the 22-year-old from Dubai has impressed with five top-10 finishes to-date _ including a memorable third-place result in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May.

“I feel like as a driver, I got stronger (as the season progressed),” said Jones, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. “Early in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gotten better, me as a driver, also bonding with the team.”

Jones, who earned $50,000 for winning top rookie honors, qualified 18th for Sunday’s season-finale. He is 14th in the standings, but with double points available, has his sights set on moving up. “If we can have a good race this weekend, we can get ourselves back up there, maybe just outside the top-10,” Jones said. “If we can do that, it will be a great job.” 

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Saturday’s qualifying results and starting grid for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.385-mile/12-turn Sonoma Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1-minute, 15.5205-seconds (113.691 mph) 
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.5556 (113.638)
3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:15.6356 (113.518)
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:15.8032 (113.267)
5. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.2208 (112.646)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.3978 (112.385)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.1815 (112.705)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.1934 (112.687)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.1968 (112.682)
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.5811 (112.116)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8221 (111.765)
12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.9718 (111.547)
13. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.1016 (111.360) 
14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:16.7581 (111.858)
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.1417 (111.302)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:16.9539 (111.573)
17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2662 (111.122)
18. (19) Ed Jones-(R), Honda, 01:17.0231 (111.473)
19. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:17.2722 (111.114)
20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.1602 (111.275)
21. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo-(R), Honda, 01:17.2814 (111.100)
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.2507 (111.145)

 

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, September 17 2017
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