ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (Friday, June 22, 2018) – 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.
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.
“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.com, youtube.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.