|Josef Newgarden moves into the series championship lead|
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course doesn’t seem like it allows racers to pass. But actually, it does. It's just that if you have to either be noticeably better, or the guy ahead of you has to make a mistake. In the end, the course tends to reward the best car/driver.
And today, there was no doubt. Josef Newgarden was not only the best car on the track, by far, but also executed an incredible pass on team mate Will Power to take the lead – almost for good – at lap 12.
Today's drama started during morning warm-up when Spencer Pigot managed to loop his car, nosing it into the infield wall. The tub was ruled irreparable by Dallara, so Pigot was put into the team’s backup car, which at the time was JR Hildebrand’s speedway car. We caught up with an exhausted Pigot after the race, and asked, “Was that as difficult as it looked?" An exhausted “yeah" was all the answer we got – or needed. Pigot finished 19th, one lap down.
His Ed Carpenter Racing teammate J.R. Hildebrand finished 17th, capping a miserable weekend for the team.
At the start of the race, most of the front runners started on Red alternate Firestone tires, while most of the back markers opted for harder Black tires. But for most of those trying early harder tires, there was no magic – Carlos Munoz, for instance, switched to Red tires on lap 5, but even after 3 laps he still wasn’t within half a second (lap time) of the leaders.
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However, by then, the leaders – Will Power and Josef Newgarden – were already pulling away from the field, and a traditional Mid Ohio game of follow the leader ensued for a while. Also, in the early laps James Hinchcliffe dropped four spots, and struggled all day to finish 11th. The normally gregarious Canadian was not much for chatter following a disappointing day.
On the other hand, fellow Honda driver Marco Andretti advanced 4 spots on the opening lap to 10th. However, whatever progress he might’ve had was stopped when a pit stop short-filled his tank, and he was forced into fuel-saving mode. “We probably gave away 8th" he said. And after a quick pause, he added, “Yeah, and 8th place really sucks." He finished 12th.
Life got a lot more interesting at the front, however, when around lap 10 Josef Newgarden started challenging Power for the lead. On lap 12, Newgarden did a quick head fake move to the outside approaching turn 4, before diving to the inside and completing the pass. From that point on, the race belonged to Newgarden, who put on an exhibition of how to drive the course. Except for pit stops – which allowed both Power as well as Graham Rahal to lead a lap – the race was his to lose. Leading at times by as much as 10 seconds, the lead spot was never really contested after that.
|Power leads Newgarden early|
Power finished second, and Graham Rahal – the highest-finishing Honda at this Honda-sponsored event – finished third. “I guess Josef did a great job, I dunno, I didn’t see it – which means that he was way out front" commented Helio Castroneves (7th) after the race. And of course, Helio threw in the bit where Newgarden now leads the points chase, and of course, that Team Penske rained on a Honda parade.
Another bit of drama for the day included an incident between teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap 17. Rossi was trying for a pass, and closed the door abruptly on Hunter-Reay, who ended up 12th after a spin. Hunter-Reay quickly sought out Rossi pits after the race, before taking up the matter with team owner Michael Andretti. “It wasn’t his corner yet" commented Hunter-Reay. “I didn’t expect to be chopped by my team mate. We’ll deal with it."
The other excitement was furnished with the combined efforts of Dale Coyne’s drivers. The day’s only yellow flag came out on lap 67 when Ed Jones spun in turn 9. The Dubai native finished last on the day, 2 laps down.
Which then lead to the other bit of excitement — Esteban Gutierrez lost a wing at the beginning of the race, putting him at the back of the field. Soldiering on, the Mexican found himself between the first and second place cars (Newgarden and Power) on the day’s only yellow flag restart. Being a rookie a lap down late in the race, he was expected to let everyone go by if he didn’t immediately get his lap back – but he didn’t.
Yes, it was “legal" for him to try to get his lap back, but this is one of those “gray areas". Even worse, on the restart, he almost hit Newgarden, locking up his brakes. But for a guy who struggled badly before the race, he put on a great exhibition for a few laps, actually outpacing second place Will Power and almost keeping up with Newgarden. Finally, after 7 laps running with the leaders, the team pulled him into the pits to let the rest of the field go by. IndyCar officials were waiting for Gutierrez after the race for a friendly coaching session. However, it was still an impressive moment for Esteban – and hopefully, once he gets to know both IndyCar and the tracks, he will be running for the lead “for real."
Finally, a shout-out to the besieged Mikhail Aleshin. Sat down for the previous race by his team, and further in the doghouse following a spin yesterday in practice, the likable Russian turned in a solid effort. His team commented that he “did everything we asked him to do, all day long." He brought the car back in one piece, getting compliments from his team in the process. Granted, 14th place isn’t where he wanted to finish – but given the way the year has gone, it looks like a victory.
"I feel like no one can take anything away from this win," Newgarden said. "With this team on the (No.) 2 car side, I feel like we really did a great job today. There was no luck involved in that. We went out and won the race."
"We've been close before here," he said. "I feel like we've always found speed. … It's just nice to get something at a track I haven't had a previous history of winning the race. That was nice."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "The Menards Chevy was good all weekend. I do wish that we could have qualified a little better just to decrease the number of cars to get around. It was kind of a neutral day in the championship but that's alright. We're right there and it will come down to Sonoma. Congratulations to Josef (Newgarden). They're really on a roll right now."
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet): "I've got an amazing crew. When they give me a car like this, I don't want to say it's easy, but it's easier at least. I think we've been hitting on all cylinders, no pun intended. But these guys were awesome this weekend, had good stops. It was a really fast car. Reds (Firestone alternate tires), blacks (Firestone primary tires), it didn't matter, the car was fast, so just tried to do my job. I think everyone's going to want to drive this PPG car. I'm pretty sure it was lucky for (Simon) Pagenaud last year, think it's lucky for us, so we're probably going to be fighting over this car paint." (About taking championship lead): "That's great. We've just got to keep it up. No mistakes. If we don't have any mistakes, we've got plenty enough to win this championship, so we're going to keep giving what we got for the last four races."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "That was a tough race. These cars are so physical to drive. We only had the one caution that didn't really affect anyone, I don't think. On that restart, I had some sort of glitch that took away a bunch of power for a couple of seconds and two cars went around me like I was standing still. That's unfortunate. But it was a decent day in points for the Hitachi Chevrolet team. A super day for Josef (Newgarden). Congratulations to that group. He leapfrogged us, but we're still in second. We head to a couple of ovals now which could really mix things up. It's going to be a battle. That's for sure."
CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "You know obviously it's great to come away in the top 10, a huge step for us, and just to be able to fight with those guys all day and be catching (Scott) Dixon. Really, challenging the No. 9 car any time is good, so it's fun to be able to fight with those guys. Especially (James Hinchcliffe) Hinch too, because Hinch has had a really good year and he's been really fast, so I think we made great steps forward. My guys gave me solid pit stops and we came through with a solid race today. No issues, didn't get hit, didn't get knocked off or anything, nothing broke, so that's nice."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "Really disappointing day for us. We didn't have the quickest car in traffic, so we put ourselves on a strategy to run in clean air and it was working. We got ourselves to seventh place after that last round of stops after being back in 12th after the first stint. Credit to the Arrow Electronics boys in the pits and the car – in clean air it was strong. But then we found ourselves, with that yellow, on the wrong tires, and I burned a lot of push-to-pass to get ourselves up there, so we were really just a sitting duck on that restart with wrong tires and no push-to-pass. It's unfortunate that yellow (flag) fell, it really screwed our race. We were strong in certain conditions, we played our hand the best we could to put ourselves in a good spot and unfortunately the yellow just screwed us. We chalk it up to experience and move on to the next one."
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "I think today was a good race for the Lucas Oil car. We had a good strategy and good pace, it's just very difficult to overtake at this track. I think we had really good pace in the race, and that's really what is so important. Next time we need to qualify a bit better, and we know what we need to do for that. The guys had really great pit stops and worked so well to put together what ended up being a good finish."
MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): "I'm actually really happy with the No. 8 car performance and myself. Best fuel saving I've ever done. Race went really well apart from the start. We just got in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn't know where I was in the race. I thought I was eighth or ninth and then they told me I was 15th. Not a great representative of our performance in the race, but at the end of the day, our car wasn't quick enough at the moment in qualifying and that's what hurt us."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): "It obviously wasn't the way we wanted the race to go today for the NTT Data car. I really wasn't 100 percent happy after we tested here last week and in qualifying. I don't think we ever had the balance right where we wanted it. It felt like something broke on the car and we made some major front wing adjustments in the race. We had a problem on the left rear on pit lane and that took some time as well. Overall, just not our weekend. We held in there and fought, but need to regroup and get ready for Pocono in a few weeks. Points are really at a premium now with four to go."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): "I'm really disappointed with our race today. We had a huge challenge in front of us with starting so far back, but we were able to jump a few spots in the first half of the race. We made a call on strategy to come in under yellow to top off on fuel that just didn't work in our favor in the long run. It's been a pretty difficult weekend for us, so I'm glad we can move on and start thinking about Pocono."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "(The car) was OK. We just had too much push on reds (Firestone alternate tires). I think we were pretty good on blacks (Firestone primary tires), but even at the end there, red tires, the front would just not work. But solid day. Solid day for points. Obviously it's still very mixed up there, but we've just got to keep making hay."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Another long race. We went aggressive on strategy to get up front. We needed several yellows in the race to help us, but when we take a chance it didn't work. This year it seems taking a chance doesn't work for us in any of the races."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda): "It was a good run and the Steak 'n Shake boys did a good job in the pits. The strategy was fine. Our car had great pace today. We just could never quite get in clear air, but I'm really proud of everyone on the Steak 'n Shake team. Obviously to be the only team in the top five other than a Penske speaks volumes to the quality of people we have in this organization. We're going to keep our heads down, keep working hard. It was another good day for our United Rentals Turns for Troops program. We raised a lot of money to help the veterans today. We'll be back strong in Pocono."
ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ (No. 18 UNIFIN Honda): "It was a bit eventful, but I think we can be happy about the progress we made in terms of pace. The first pit stop impacted the outcome of our race. It was not good timing, there was a bit of miscommunication on my part, but we were able to continue the race and that was the important thing. We were showing very strong pace overall. I think that's the positive we can take out of this race. We lost the chance to finish in the top 10, which I was aiming for. It was still quite fun, especially on the restart at the front. Now we have to look forward to the next two races, two ovals. Hopefully we'll be making some progress again."
ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "Overall, it was a difficult weekend. The race didn't go our way, the car was a little hard to drive, then we had an issue on a pit stop which sent me to the back of the field, and then I had the spin that sent me two laps down. It was a bit of a weekend to forget, to be honest."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "First of all, it was great to even make the start of the race. All of guys did an amazing job building up a spare car for me in just a few hours, so a huge thanks to them. As far as the race, we had some damage to the rear of the car at the start that really didn't make it easy. Either way, I don't think it was going to be our day. I'm frustrated with how it all went, but hopefully the No. 20 car guys can rebound in Pocono with Ed (Carpenter) and I'll jump back in at Watkins Glen."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I'm just super frustrated and bummed for my Fuzzy's Vodka guys. We started on blacks (Firestone primary tires) and were able to run long, then when we got on our first set of reds (Firestone alternate tires) we were still running long and able to save fuel. I felt like I could have saved even more than I needed to. Everything was looking pretty good, then we sort of got hosed by our own success in a way. We had been saving fuel and were going longer than the cars around us; we basically got caught out by staying out too long. A yellow came out and we had to stop under a closed pit. Even just not making it in before that yellow would have put us all the way to the back of the lead lap anyway, but then, to add insult to injury, we had some sort of mechanical malfunction with the fuel probe and didn't get all of the fuel in. We had to pit again under green and just cruised around on our own until the end. We can feel good about putting ourselves in a good spot and bouncing back from what was a pretty tough weekend all around. We've got a little bit of a break now, then we'll see what we have in Pocono."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "I think starting third and finishing fifth isn't the perfect scenario, but we had an issue in the pits, and then we lost a couple of places when we went back out on track. At the least, it was actually fun. We overtook a couple cars and then regained and recovered the position. I think the four Andretti Autosport cars had a solid day under difficult circumstances and I think that we performed really well. Let's just say, the rest of the season we just need to have a solid performance to bring back the championship points."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda): "We didn't qualify as high as we wanted, so we knew we'd have a little bit of work starting from 14th. We were running well and had made up ground, then on the second to last stop, we had a short fill and didn't get all the fuel into the car, which put us in fuel-saving mode. From there, we had to make huge fuel numbers to make it to the end. I'm not sure if we had the car to win, but I do know it's hard to contend when you're saving fuel, so that was our day made. We'll get back at it in Pocono."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "We had a good race going today and the DHL team was going to be top five no doubt, until we made contact with (Alexander) Rossi. That set us back. We stayed at it and the boys did a great job in the pits all day. We were able to salvage a race that was going to be absolutely terrible and managed to keep it inside the top eight."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "We just really struggled with the balance all day. The car was on a knife edge, and I wasn't confident enough in the car to really make the most out of it when we had clear track. We fought traffic a lot, but that's what happens when you qualify mid-pack. Really a frustrating day. The bright spot was definitely the guys in pit lane. They work so hard day in and day out. I'm glad they'll be getting a couple of weekends off now moving forward. I hope they can relax and get some time with their families, because when we come back to Pocono we're going to be hungrier than ever."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda): "We chose a pretty aggressive strategy starting on blacks (Firestone primary tires) and I think it was working pretty well for us, but unfortunately the stint on used (Firestone alternate) reds was a lot more challenging than we originally thought it would be. We lost about 12 seconds on the reds and that was the difference for us between challenging for a podium and finishing sixth."
|18||14||Carlos Munoz||89||1 LAPS||48.2072||4||67||9||1:07.044||20||Chevy|
|19||20||Spencer Pigot||89||1 LAPS||0.7643||5||68||44||1:06.511||16||Chevy|
|20||18||Esteban Gutierrez||89||1 LAPS||3.5585||4||75||63||1:06.436||12||Honda|
|21||19||Ed Jones||88||2 LAPS||1 LAPS||4||66||12||1:07.031||15||Honda|
Winners average speed: 114.677 mph
Time of Race: 01:46:19.5989
Margin of victory: 5.1556 seconds
Cautions: 1 fo4 4 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 3 drivers
Fastest Lap: Alexander Rossi 1m05.970s
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 453, Castroneves 446, Dixon 445, Pagenaud 436, Power 401, Rahal 395, Sato 381, Rossi 358, Kanaan 320, Hinchcliffe 316.