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Newgarden Off To Fast Start At IndyCar’s Championship Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 10 2022

Josef Newgarden’s hopes for a third championship are alive at Laguna Seca. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden launched his bid for a third INDYCAR championship Friday by leading the opening practice for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Trailing teammate Will Power by 20 points, Newgarden logged a hot lap of 1-minute, 11.4103-seconds/112.824 mph around the 2.238-mile/11-turn natural terrain WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca circuit in Northern California. Scott Dixon (minus-20 points), Marcus Ericsson (minus-39) and Scott McLaughlin (minus-41) are the other drivers eligible for the 2022 championship.

Power, the 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champ, must finish third or better in Sunday’s 95-lap/212.61-mile event (live, 2:40 p.m. EDT, NBC and 3 p.m. EDT, INDYCAR Radio Network) to win the Astor Challenge Cup for a second time.

“I’m always confident,” said Newgarden, the series champion in 2017 and 2019 and driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “I feel really good about this team. I’m never discouraged showing up to the track. The team really has done an excellent job this year. We’ve got to be good this weekend.”

Among the five title contenders, Power was second-quickest and seventh overall at 1:11.9858/111.922 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Ericsson was next, 10th overall at 1:12.0803/111.775 mph in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

McLaughlin, winner of last Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, was 11th at 1:12.0877/111.764 mph in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. Six-time series champion Dixon was slowest among the title contenders, 17th at 1:12.3911/111.295 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

NTT P1 Award qualifying will start at 5:05 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, live on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 45-minute practice session will precede qualifying at 1:15 p.m. The INDYCAR qualifying record was set by Helio Castroneves, formerly of Team Penske, at 1:07.722/118.969 mph on Sept. 8, 2000.

“You’ve definitely got to go get the pole because you can guarantee Newgarden is going for it,” Power said of his teammate. “Absolutely. And he’s going to be there to win the race.”

Following Newgarden in the overall top five was reigning Laguna Seca race-winner Colton Herta at 1:11.8266 in the No. 26 Honda, the leader of three Andretti Autosport drivers in the top five. Romain Grosjean was third at 1:11.8697 in the No. 28 Honda fielded by Andretti, followed by Alexander Rossi in Andretti’s No. 27 Honda.

Rookie Callum Ilott rounded-out the top five at 1:11.9490 in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet. Ilott is not a contender for Rookie of the Year honors this weekend. The two drivers vying for that crown _ David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD and Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing _ ended up ninth and 15th, respectively, in the 75-minute session.

All 26 drivers struggled with the track’s low-grip, abrasive asphalt featuring the famous “Corkscrew” turn complex. Most drivers had at least one off-track excursion during the session, especially on Firestone Racing’s alternate (red) tires.

“Tough track, man,” Power said. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”

Dixon added, “It’s going to be a pretty high-degradation race, man.”

Ericsson, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, believes the track’s surface will work to his advantage.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-degradation race,” Ericsson said. “Usually, our team and myself are pretty good at that type of race. The tires seem to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same at the test and here during practice. I think in the race, as a driver, you have to think about how you’re going to get the stint-length you want. If you have a car and a driver that can take care of the tires, I think you can move up through the field. We’ll see how it is on race day when there will be more rubber on the track and a change in the temperature.”

Practice was marked by one red flag 47 minutes into the session. Jimmie Johnson went off-track and hit the tire barrier in Turn 6 with the rear of his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was uninjured.

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Linus Lundqvist continued the inevitable march toward his first championship during practice Friday for the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey, with the Swede only needing to compete Saturday in the first race of the weekend doubleheader to clinch the title.

The driver in the second spot, however, raised eyebrows in the paddock at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Lundqvist led the 50-minute session with a hot lap of 1-minute, 16.2159-seconds in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car. His new teammate _ 17-year-old Nolan Siegel _ was second at 1:16.9746 in the No. 11 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry in his Indy Lights debut.

“Great first practice,” Lundqvist said. “Numbers don’t really tell the full story. I wish that was the case, but me and Nolan were the only ones who got a proper run on the new tires. That’s why there’s a big difference in the times. But before that, when everyone was on olds (tires), I think it was super-close. Five guys within a tenth. So, I’m expecting a close qualifying and fun races.”

Indy Lights will conclude its season with a doubleheader featuring 35-lap/78.33-mile/55-minute races. The Saturday show is set for 3:25 p.m. (EDT), with the capper Sunday at 1 p.m. Both races will air live on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Qualifying is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, live on INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Lundqvist holds a 103-point lead over Matthew Brabham and has won five of 12 races this season. Lundqvist will clinch his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship simply by taking the green flag today.

Siegel, of Palo Alto, Calif., landed in Indy Lights this weekend after winning two races in the recently completed Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires championship _ middle rung of the three official development series leading to the NTT IndyCar Series.

“It went really well,” Siegel said. “I’m not sure how the actual pace is. I went to (new) tires, and I’m not sure who else did. But P2 in the first practice session is a really strong start. Definitely a strong start, and I’m looking to build on that in quali and in the races.”

Brabham was third at 1:17.5963 in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport entry on the 2.238-mile/11-turn circuit featuring the daunting “Corkscrew” turn complex. Danial Frost ended up fourth at 1:17.6377 in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car.

Benjamin Pedersen, who earned his first career Lights win last weekend at Portland International Raceway, rounded-out the top five at 1:17.6575 in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD entry.

Two red flags marred the session. The first came 21 minutes after the green flag fell when Christian Bogle went off-track in Turn 6 and hit the tire barrier in the No. 7 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car. Bogle was uninjured.

Sting Ray Robb triggered the second red flag with five minutes remaining when he stopped on-course adjacent to Turn 2 when his No. 2 Sekady car experienced a mechanical problem.

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NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10) _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 523; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 503; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 503; 4, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 484; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 482; 6, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 457; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 456; 8, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 362; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 361; 10, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 360.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires point standings (top-10) _ 1, Linus Lundqvist, 515; 2, Matthew Brabham, 412; 3, Hunter McElrea, 401; 4, Sting Ray Robb, 389; 5, Benjamin Pedersen, 385; 6, Christian Rasmussen, 346; 7, Danial Frost, 330; 8, Jacob Abel. 293; 9, Kyffin Simpson. 276; 10, Ernie Francis Jr., 263.

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 (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 10 2022
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