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Newgarden Is Fastest Friday At Road America

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 23 2018

Josef Newgarden set the pace during Friday’s practice sessions at Road America. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden reminded his Verizon IndyCar Series peers Friday that his bid for a second consecutive driver’s championship is alive and well, leading both practices on the opening day of the Kohler Grand Prix weekend at Road America.

Newgarden recorded the day’s fastest lap during the second session around the historic permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., at 1-minute, 42.6279-seconds/140.804 mph in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden won two of the first four races this season to take the championship lead, but hasn’t finished better than eighth since and has slipped to fifth in the standings _ 68 points behind leader and defending Road America race-winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.

A four-time series champion, Dixon won the schedule’s most recent event on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth on June 10th. The result moved Dixon past Team Penske’s Will Power into the championship lead by 23 points over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. 

Newgarden is looking to rebound during the 10th race of the season at Road America, the 4.013-mile/14-turn circuit that is a favorite among most INDYCAR drivers.

“You think about it (the championship) all the time,” said Newgarden, who is in

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is the defending champion at Road America.

his second season with Roger Penske’s powerhouse. “I mean, a lot of it’s out of your control, though. The way I look at it, it’s one race at a time. You try to maximize one race at a time. We still have a long way to go now. We’re only halfway through.

“I think ‘crunch time’ is probably more around three or four races to go, then it’s really crunch time. You get an idea if you’re in the mix or you’re not. That’s what I would say.”

Newgarden reported that his car was relatively easy to work with Friday. “It’s nice when you don’t have to change too much,” the 27-year-old Tennessean said. “We’ve been trying things to make sure we understand sort of both ends of the car and where it can go if we adjust either end of it. Seems quick right out of the box; we haven’t had to do too much with it. The Chevy package is working really well, which I felt like it would be strong at this kind of track.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens was second on the combined session timesheet with a lap of 1:42.9025/140.428 mph in the No. 6 SPM Honda. It was a year ago that Wickens  _ then a fulltime driver in the German DTM touring car series in Europe _ filled in for an absent Mikhail Aleshin in practice at Road America. That weekend led to his Verizon IndyCar Series ride this season.

“I think it was a pretty decent Friday,” Wickens said. “The Lucas Oil car feels good and we’re making good progress. We were top-five in both sessions, but it’s only Friday so we still have to work hard and keep our heads down. Initial signs are pretty positive for, hopefully, a good weekend.”

Sebastien Bourdais, the 2007 Road America winner, was third overall at 1:43.0020/140.292 mph in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, with 2016 Road America winner Power fourth in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:43.0545/140.221 mph.

“Pretty happy with the day,” said Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car champion and winner of the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. “Our guys did a good job. The Firestone (alternate) red tires are definitely giving a huge amount of grip in comparison to the prime (tire specification). But for us, it really wasn’t much of a balance change, so that was nice. I could definitely get a pretty decent run. Consistency was quite good as well.”

The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, Power’s forte remains natural terrain layouts like Road America. “We definitely changed the setup a bit, then went back,” Power said. “I think the track had really low grip at the beginning of every session, then got better. Kind of a little bit hard to pick what to do. But obviously, Josef is really quick, so got plenty of data to look at. We’ll just keep working away at it.”

Lone incident of the day came early in the second practice and involved Alfonso Celis Jr., making his IndyCar Series debut this weekend. Celis slid off-course in

Alfonso Celis’ first day in an Indy car didn’t go well. He spun near Turn 13 at Road America.

the No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet and went for a wild, sliding, bouncing ride before backing into a tire barrier at Turn 12. The former Formula One test driver was uninjured but the car was too damaged to finish the session.

“Today was going pretty well until the last practice,” Celis said. “The day started off well for us. I was happy with the balance and I’m still happy with the balance. We worked on some changes and I was happy with the direction we were going. The second practice was going pretty good up until my incident. It is really unfortunate we have now lost this track time, but we will work hard and bounce back for tomorrow.”

A final 45-minute practice is scheduled to start at noon (EDT) Saturday. Three rounds of knockout qualifying will begin at 4 p.m. to decide the Verizon P1 Award pole-winner. Practice and qualifying will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. NBC Sports Network will air a same-day telecast of qualifying at 6:30 p.m.

The KOHLER Grand Prix, 10th of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, will air live at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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David Malukas started from pole position and led all 15 laps to win the first Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race of the Road America doubleheader weekend. It was the first win in Pro Mazda competition for Malukas and his team, BN Racing.

Malukas shattered the Pro Mazda lap record by more than three seconds in qualifying and was never headed once the green flag waved. He won by 1.4528-seconds over teammate Toby Sowery, making his debut in the middle rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. All three MRTI series have two races scheduled this weekend at Road America.

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Friday’s combined practice results for the KOHLER Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series race on the 4.013-mile/14-turn Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake Wis., with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, engine, session, time/speed and total laps run:

  1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:42.6279/140.804, 39
  2. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Honda, Practice 2, 01:42.9025/140.428, 33
  3. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.0020/140.292, 32
  4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:43.0545/140.221, 37
  5. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:43.1599/140.078, 35
  6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.1995/140.024, 33
  7. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.4212/139.724, 34
  8. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, Practice 1, 01:43.4729/139.654, 32
  9. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.4755/139.650, 30
  10. (27) Allexander Rossi, Honda, Practice 1, 01:43.5603/139.536, 30
  11. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.6221/139.453, 29
  12. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:43.6559/139.407, 31
  13. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.6899/139.362, 30
  14. (26) Zach Veach-(R), Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.9088/139.068, 30
  15. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo-(R), Honda, Practice 2, 01:43.9204/139.053, 35
  16. (20) Jordan King-(R), Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:43.9475/139.016, 37
  17. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, Practice 1, 01:44.1080/138.802, 30
  18. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, Practice 2, 01:44.1869/138.697, 35
  19. (4) Matheus Leist-(R), Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:44.2083/138.668, 39
  20. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:44.4224/138.384, 35
  21. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 01:44.4628/138.331, 36
  22. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, Practice 1, 01:44.9050/137.747, 35
  23. (32) Alfonso Celis Jr.-(R), Chevrolet, Practice 1, 01:44.9164/137.733, 17

Total Laps for Combined Sessions _ 754

(R) _ Rookie of the Year candidate

Note _ All teams competing with Dallara IR-12 universal aero chassis with either Chevrolet or Honda 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines on Firestone Firehawk tires.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 23 2018
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