Newgarden Scores Dominant win at Mid-Ohio
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.
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 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."
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."
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