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Newgarden owns practice day at Road America

by Mike Haag | Posted on Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series 

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Josef Newgarden sent a stern reminder that he’s alive and well in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship hunt, leading both practices on the opening day of the KOHLER Grand Prix weekend at Road America.

The reigning series champion ran the best lap of the day in the second session around the historic permanent road course, at 1 minute, 42.6279 seconds (140.804 mph) in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden won two of the first four races this season to take the championship lead, but he hasn’t finished better than eighth place since and has slipped to fifth in the standings – 68 points behind leader and defending Road America race winner Scott Dixon.

KOHLER GRAND PRIX: Practice 1 resultsPractice 2 resultsCombined practice results

Josef Newgarden streaks down the fronstretch during practice for the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America — Photo by: Matt Fraver

Newgarden is looking to right the ship in the 10th race of the season at Road America, the 14-turn, 4.014-mile circuit that is a favorite among most INDYCAR drivers.

“I think we are relatively pleased,” the 27-year-old Tennessean said. “The car has been easy to work with, which is great. It is nice when you don’t have to change too much.

“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 Lucas Oil SPM Honda. It was a year ago that Wickens – then a full-time driver in the DTM touring car series in Europe – filled in for an absent Mikhail Aleshin in practice at Road America, leading to his Verizon IndyCar Series ride this season.

Robert Wickens exits Turn 14 during practice for the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America — Photo by: Matt Fraver

“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 Team SealMaster Honda, with 2016 Road America victor Will Power fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:43.0545, 140.221 mph).

“Pretty happy with the day,” said Bourdais, winner of the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. “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 lone incident of the day came early in the second practice and involved Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend. Celis slid off course in 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 test driver in Formula One was uninjured but his car was unable to finish the session.

A final 45-minute practice starts at noon ET Saturday. Three rounds of knockout qualifying begin at 4 p.m. to decide the Verizon P1 Award pole winner. Practice and qualifying will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.comyoutube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. NBCSN airs a same-day telecast of qualifying at 6:30 p.m.

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

Malukas collects first Pro Mazda win

David Malukas started from the 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.

‘What They’re Saying’ from KOHLER Grand Prix practice

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think we are relatively pleased. The car has been easy to work with, which is great. It is nice when you don’t have to change too much. 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. We’ve been working hard with that group to make sure our power down and everything else is great. So far, so good with the Verizon car. We have a solid start; we just have to maintain it throughout the weekend.’

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Pretty productive day. Obviously, we tested here last week, which I think helped us roll off with a solid car. For Practice 2, we decided to go in a little different direction with our setup, just to try and cover our bases, so we have a lot of data to look over tonight. We have pretty good pace on the blacks (primary Firestone tires) and were into the top five, but when we put the reds (alternate Firestone tires) on, we just didn’t find the grip that we normally do; we’ll look into that. This Arrow Electronics SPM team’s got a way of turning things around and being strong in qualifying, so hopefully, we can do that and get the job done tomorrow.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): 
“I think it was a pretty decent Friday. 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.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think we started a little bit slow for some reason and had some work to do after the first practice session here at Road America. We know our way around here though, and after some changes tonight, I hope we can have the PNC Bank car pointed in the right direction, and closer to the top time the other manufacturer set.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m obviously not thrilled with the results today with the First Data Honda, but we know Scott (Dixon) had a great car here last year and won the race, so there is good data to look at tonight. We have some work to do for sure, but I’m confident in our team that we can find what we were missing today in practice and be ready for qualifying tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“We definitely changed the setup a bit, then went back. 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 (Newgarden) is really quick, so got plenty of data to look at. We’ll just keep working away at it.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “It was a good finish to the day for the GEHL team. We pushed hard and made some changes between the sessions and I think we went the right direction. This morning we had some mishaps, and unfortunately, it lost us the session, but we had a good recovery. We’ll try to keep improving the car a little bit and see what we can do in qualifying.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda): “(I’m) pretty happy. I think, obviously, we didn’t test, a couple of guys did. Felt a little bit off this morning. We’re pretty confident because it was just mostly understeer in the car. Just pretty happy with the day. Our guys did a good job. The Firestone red (alternate) tires are definitely giving a huge amount of grip in comparison to the prime. But for us, it really wasn’t much of a balance change, so that was nice. Could definitely get a pretty decent run. Consistency was quite good, as well. Looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s awesome driving an Indy car here. I love the Road America track and I’m excited to be back here. We had a tough second session today in our Paysafe car, but we made big improvements from our first practice, which is really encouraging. What Sebastien (Bourdais) has seems to be working really well, so we’ll look at that and also at what I need to work on to improve. With that and some steady improvements, we should be looking good for tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): 
“It is quite difficult to learn the circuit, relative to others that I have driven on. For example, St. Pete, it just felt a little bit easier to pick up the smaller parts. I feel quite comfortable in the car now, but it took a bit longer to get there in this morning’s session. It’s a longer circuit and requires a lot of confidence with the high speed and blind corners; when it’s only 45 minutes, you end up eating into your track time. I felt quite good in this afternoon’s session and we have a better idea of what direction we want to go in. A little bit annoying we haven’t quite jumped on it straight away, still a bit of progress to be made. Looking forward to having a good night’s sleep. I always find that when you are able to chill out, think about it, and sleep well it makes the second day much nicer. We all know where we need to go with the car and should be quicker tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “It was a pretty difficult day for us. We are kind of struggling to zero in on the balance and the setup that we want. We know what we need the car to do, we just have to try and find a way of getting it there. We are going to try and find some things overnight, then get the Direct Supply car handling a bit better and get more speed out of it tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“We’ve made big improvement this weekend. It is obviously another very important weekend with Menards on the car. This is John’s (Menard) country here. I am eager to do very well, and the whole No. 22 team is using the momentum we gained at Texas. It feels like a really good weekend so far. I think we have more in the car; I didn’t extract all the best out of during practice. But, it felt really good. Chevy is giving us a lot of power around here which is always useful on those long straightaways. Now we are just going to have to put it all together in qualifying tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Obviously, that wasn’t the day we wanted for the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We’re struggling for balance and grip-a little bit of both. But we’ve got some good ideas, good data to look through and some concepts to think about. We’ll make solid, reasonable, intelligent changes for tomorrow. Hopefully, we can pick a good direction out of that and be ready for qualifying.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “Overall, it was a pretty good day for us in the Relay car. We know, confidently, that we have a car good enough to be in the top 10, maybe in the top six. We’re fighting a bit of an issue throughout the second session, but we know what that is, so we’ll fix it and get the speed we need tomorrow. I haven’t felt this confident in an Indy car yet – but I said that at Detroit and I said that at Texas. I really just feel like we are coming into our own and this is going to be our best weekend yet.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “Today wasn’t the best Friday that we’ve had. I think we are stepping through changes and making small improvements, but we didn’t find the big improvement that we need, which is disappointing. Fortunately, we have another session tomorrow and three teammate cars to try and put our heads together and come up with a solution. Right now, we need a pretty big step in performance to be fighting for pole.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We made some progress with the DHL car today, we need to make another step tomorrow. We didn’t really have a clear lap, but if we had, I think we would have been around P4 or P5 and we can work from there. We’ll put our heads down tonight, check in with the teammates and see where we are at tomorrow. We have one more session before qualifying and we’ll put it to good use.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was a good day, a productive one. We wanted to improve a little more than we did in the second session, but overall, we tried a few things and we learned a few good things and a few not so good. I think we can continue improving for tomorrow.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today was going pretty well until the last practice. The day started off well for us. I was happy with the balance and I am still happy with the balance. We worked on some changes and I was happy with the direction we were going in. 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.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It was a challenging day at the office here at Road America for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. This is one of my favorite tracks – I know I can pedal a car around here pretty well. We were fighting for top six last year, so I’m trying to just drive the same, obviously, with less downforce. We’ve got an underlying balance issue – whether it’s new tires or old tires, it’s really just wherever we are, we’ve got the same issue that we just can’t seem to iron out. It’s slightly frustrating for a new team with the lack of testing we’ve been able to do, so we’ve got limited time to try and sort it. We’ll work it out tonight and if we can make some significant progress toward the end of FP3, I’m sure we can have a fairly decent qualifying.” 

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Road America is a great track and a lot of fun. Today was a bit challenging, as we are just working through our plan, but we found a big chunk of time between Practice 1 and Practice 2 today. That is very encouraging as we get ready for Practice 3 tomorrow. There are some things we are going to try out and that will hopefully take us to the next step to doing a great job in qualifying and then the race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I was definitely happier with the car this morning. We kind of went in a different direction for the afternoon session and lost the car. We definitely have a clear direction on where we need to go and we’ll put that to use to go forward tomorrow with the U.S. Concrete car.”

 

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.