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Newgarden Needs Devine Help At Long Beach

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 26 2021

Josef Newgarden is going to need a lot of help at Long Beach on Sunday in his quest to win the IndyCar Series championship. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Josef Newgarden admittedly needs an “act of God” Sunday afternoon to win the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series championship _ even after qualifying on-pole for the season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Just put me out of my misery at this point,” Newgarden deadpanned after claiming his series-leading fourth NTT P1 Award Saturday on the famed Streets of Long Beach. “But we’re, like, clinging to life. It’s a little bit, I don’t know, a hard place to be. We were in a similar situation last year. I just wish we were in closer striking distance to Scott Dixon. We’re even worse than that this season. We’re just ‘in it.’^”

Team Penske’s Newgarden entered the weekend in Southern California 48 points behind leader Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing needing to win pole and the race and lead the most laps to have any chance at hoisting a third Astor Challenge Cup.

Newgarden led the Fast Six with a top lap of 1-minute, 8.2241-seconds/103.846 mph, with his best lap posted during his final trip around the 1.968-mile/11-turn temporary circuit.

“It’s very improbable for us to win this championship,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “So, our goal is to win the race. Let’s finish our season on a high note and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but you never say never in this sport.”

Alex Palou will start Sunday’s season-ending race in Long Beach in the driver’s seat.

Newgarden previously qualified a disappointing 18th on Sept. 14 at Portland International Raceway and 17th last Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., despite showing impressive speed in practice.

“I was pretty much screaming that whole last lap (Saturday),” said Newgarden, 30, the series champ in 2017 and 2019. “I’m so happy. It’s been a little bit demoralizing the last couple of weekends with where we qualified. We’ve had really good cars. To start where we’ve started these last couple of races, it’s just taken the life out of me a little bit.

“I’m so pumped we were able to be quick here. I think we’ve got the package, for sure, with Team Chevy. We’ve accomplished our job for today. Now we have to go after (Sunday).”

Live coverage of the 85-lap race will start at 3 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at noon, live on Peacock Premium.

Palou must finish 12th or better _ or 13th or better if he leads a lap _ to clinch his first series championship in his second season. The 24-year-old Spaniard will start 10th after a dramatic end to the Round of 12 in qualifying in which a handful of drivers, including Palou and closest title rival Pato O’Ward, on fast final laps were forced to slow due to a local yellow flag for an incident involving Team Penske’s Will Power.

In addition to winning and leading the most laps Sunday, Newgarden needs Palou to finish 25th or worse in the 28-car field.

“Yeah, I knew that before,” said Palou, driver of the No. 10 Honda fielded by CGR. “I knew they (Newgarden’s team) were going to be quick. So, yeah, I mean, it doesn’t change much. I think again, if we just have a good race, we just need to finish where we start. But we normally go to the front. That should make us to get that championship home.

“Yeah, it doesn’t change much, him getting that one point.”

Josepf Newgarden will start from the pole at Long Beach.

O’Ward, who is 35 points behind Palou, will start eighth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Like Newgarden, O’Ward needs to win Sunday and have Palou finish 25th or lower. O’Ward also could claim his first title by finishing second and earning at least one bonus point for leading a lap, if Palou finishes 25th or lower.

“We definitely have a better car than what we’ve had, at least last weekend,” said O’Ward, a 22-year-old  native of Mexico. “Yeah, happy about that. I think the guys have done a great job in being efficient with changes, just working together to make everything just go a little bit better.

“But, yeah, I mean, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of really quick cars out there. We’ve got champions in the front, people that know how to win races, people that know how to win championships. Yeah, it won’t be easy. But we’re definitely going to send it (Sunday).”

Six-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing will join Newgarden on the front row after qualifying second at 1:08.4422 in the No. 9 Honda.

Four-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves qualified third at 1:08.4827 in the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, easily the best start of his partial season. Castroneves’ previous best start was eighth for the 105th Indy 500. The Brazilian’s best start in four previous road or street course races this season was 15th at Nashville.

Joining Castroneves in Row 2 will be 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud, whose best lap was 1:08.6514 in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. Felix Rosenqvist qualified fifth at 1:08.7461 in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Romain Grosjean will flip from Coyne to Andretti after Sunday’s race.

Rookie Romain Grosjean rounded-out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:08.7577 in his final start in the No. 51 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. On Friday Grosjean was introduced as driver of the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport in 2022, replacing Ryan Hunter-Reay _ aka “Captain America” _ after a 12-year run.

Colton Herta, quickest in both practice sessions, was eliminated from the first round of qualifying and will start 14th. Herta hit the concrete retaining wall with the left side of his No. 26 Honda late in the second group while running on Firestone primary “black” Firehawk tires. He came to the pits for a set of Firestone alternate “red” tires, but the toe link suspension piece bent by the earlier contact broke on his final flying lap on “reds,” and he was forced to abandon the run.

“It was a handful until it wasn’t bent anymore and just broke,” said Herta, who dominated en route to victory at Laguna Seca last Sunday. “It was my fault, unfortunately. It will make for an interesting race, though. We’re starting 14th and have two sets of new reds. Could be a good thing, a charge to the front.”

Another flashpoint occurred at the end of the Firestone Fast 12, when Power slowed to a stop in Turn 10 after clipping the wall in his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, triggering a local yellow flag. O’Ward, Palou and a handful of drivers on fast laps were forced by the rules to slow in that area. Ed Jones lost his fast lap in the No. 18 Honda that would have put him in the Fast Six after officials judged he failed to slow for the local yellow.

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Romain Grosjean’s transition from Formula One to the IndyCar Series will continue in 2022 at Andretti Autosport, where the Swiss-born Frenchman will drive the No. 28 Honda fulltime.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is taking his last drive in the No. 28 car on Sunday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Romain to the Andretti Autosport family,” Michael Andretti, CEO/chairman, Andretti Autosport, said Friday in announcing the hire. “He already had an impressive resume before coming to INDYCAR and watching what he’s been able to do in his rookie season here has been exciting, to say the least.

“His vast motorsport experience will be beneficial to the team alongside our already strong 2022 driver lineup. We also couldn’t be more excited to continue our strong partnership with DHL. The DHL sponsorship is one of the longest and most successful in the paddock and we look forward to continued success on and off the track.” 

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 14 wins and 39 podiums in the No. 28 Honda include the 2012 series championship and victory in the 2014 Indy 500.

Grosjean, 35, made his move to INDYCAR from Formula One after nine seasons in the globe-trotting series. He recorded 10 F1 podium-finishes, including a pair of career-best second-place results, and a seventh-place finish in the championship point standings. Grosjean’s rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing has featured one pole, three podiums, four top-five finishes, leading over 50 laps and making his oval debut. 

“I’m delighted to be joining Andretti Autosport and driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for next season,” said Grosjean. “It’s a big honor to be joining such a great team as Andretti; anyone in the motorsport world knows the name Andretti. I’m super-happy and proud to be racing with the team. I’m also very proud to be representing with DHL. I’ve known the DHL color on racing cars for a very long time. I couldn’t be more proud to represent such a great company in INDYCAR.

“I’m hoping that we are going to be very successful together, which is our aim on every side. I would like also to thank Dale Coyne Racing for giving me the opportunity to join INDYCAR. I’ve enjoyed the racing so much and it’s given me the chance to be racing with one of the most competitive and best teams in the world.”

Grosjean will join 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta in Andretti Autosport’s 2022 lineup for the 17-race schedule.

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Juncos Hollinger Racing has confirmed Callum Ilott will remain in the No. 77 Chevrolet for the full 2022 IndyCar Series season. Ilott, who completed his first two INDYCAR races this month, will finish his three-race debut in Sunday’s season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“Coming into the final weekend of our three-race run on the West Coast, it’s great to announce that I will be continuing next year with Juncos Hollinger Racing for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season,” said Ilott, 22, a graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy and official test driver for Scuderia Ferrari. “Obviously we have had a steep learning curve here the last few races to try to put everything together. We have had some real positives and know the things we need to work on.

“Knowing what (co-owner) Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger have in place for next season and especially over the winter of what we can do in testing, I definitely feel we can put ourselves in a great position to start off the 2022 season strong. I look forward to continuing the work that we are doing and heading into the winter to start a new journey over here, and I would like to thank the Ferrari Driver Academy for allowing me to take this opportunity.”

Illot most recently has been serving as reserve driver for Alfa Romeo during the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship season. Juncos said he has been impressed by the Brit’s maturity, speed and feedback during his audition. Ilott will start the season-ender at Long Beach 18th in a 28-car field.

“We know we are not the fastest car on-track and have a lot of developing to do,” Juncos said, “but Callum pushes himself to get everything out of the car and has shown great speed. Over the past few weeks, Callum has shown us he is the right driver for our fulltime run next year, so we are thrilled to have him join our program. We will be building our program in all areas and will have the time to test and continue our development as a team.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Qualifying Saturday for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile/11-turn Streets of Long Beach circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:08.2241 (103.846)
    2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:08.4422 (103.515)
    3. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:08.4827 (103.454)
    4. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.6514 (103.200)
    5. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:08.7461 (103.057)
    6. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:08.7577 (103.040)
    7. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:08.7143 (103.105)
    8. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:08.8339 (102.926)
    9. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:08.8797 (102.858)
    10. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:08.9464 (102.758)
    11. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:09.1330 (102.481)
    12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:09.2279 (102.340)
    13. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:08.8611 (102.885)
    14. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:09.1094 (102.516)
    15. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:08.9946 (102.686)
    16. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:09.3814 (102.114)
    17. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:09.1368 (102.475)
    18. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:09.4360 (102.034)
    19. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:09.3998 (102.087)
    20. (11) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:09.6793 (101.677)
    21. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:09.5816 (101.820)
    22. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:09.7022 (101.644)
    23. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:09.7525 (101.571)
    24. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:09.7602 (101.559)
    25. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:10.4664 (100.542)
    26. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:09.9144 (101.335)
    27. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:10.5127 (100.476)
    28. (45) Oliver Askew, Honda, 01:10.0178 (101.186)

Point standings (top-10): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 517; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 482; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 470; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 445; 5, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 430; 6, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 402; 7, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 374; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 353; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 337; 10, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 304.

UPDATED 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Will Power, Team Penske)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 26 2021
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