Josef Newgarden holds on to complete Grand Prix of Alabama domination


Credit: Matt Fraver / Courtesy of IndyCar

Josef Newgarden has won the resumed Verizon IndyCar Series 2018 Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The Team Penske driver picked up where he left off yesterday when the remaining hour and fifteen minutes of the race had to be postponed until today due to heavy rain, with the pole-sitter going on to control the race to take his second win of the season so far.

With the conditions at Barber much drier than yesterday, the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series field had a shortened race distance to complete. Just over an hour remained in the now time-limited race when the green flag finally flew, with Josef Newgarden immediately setting about re-building his gap to the cars behind.

The #1 Team Penske driver looked to have a massive pace advantage over the field, with the American building a three second lead in the first two laps alone, with Sebastien Bourdais trailing as he fended off a challenge from Ryan Hunter-Reay. Newgarden would continue to build his lead, stretching his legs to take a near ten-second advantage by the time the pit-stops came around.

Due to the reduced race distance and the fact that IndyCar officials had allowed the teams to refill their cars with fuel prior to the race’s resumption, the strategy now teetered on the edge of one to two stops. What made the decision even harder was the chance of rain hitting the circuit for the final stages of the race.

Race-leader Newgarden committed to a two-stop strategy early on as he pulled into the pits with forty minutes to go. He would soon be joined by fellow front-runners Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and many other drivers further back. Sebastien Bourdais, running in second, decided to try his luck at a one-stop strategy, hoping that the rain would stay away.

Bourdais would make his final planned stop with just over half an hour of the race to go. He had the fuel and tyres to go to the end, but the ever-looming rain threatened to ruin his strategy. Scott Dixon was also in a similar boat, but he was much further back and less of a threat to Newgarden in the lead.

As the race entered it’s final twenty minutes, the rain started to fall; right at the same time that Alexander Rossi made his final planned stop for another set of dry tyres. This ultimately proved to be his downfall, as the rain slowly started to get heavier and heavier; meaning that drivers would almost certainly have to pit for wet tyres before the end of the race. The question was, when would the changeover point take place.

Newgarden was one of the first to make the switch to wets. He had a massive twenty-four-second lead when he made his stop with fifteen minutes remaining. He rejoined the race in second place, with Bourdais in first and Hunter-Reay in third; both on dry tyres. The rain kept intensifying as the clock ticked down toward zero, with more and more of the field pitting as the race drew to a close.

Dale Coyne Racing tried to keep Bourdais out on track in the lead of the race for as long as they could. They still had a pace advantage of Newgarden at first, with Josef actually losing second place to Hunter-Reay due to the track not being wet enough. However, with ten minutes remaining, the rain reached it’s worst point. Cars with dry tyres started to struggle, with the likes of Rossi and Spencer Pigot going off track or spinning.

Bourdais knew that if he pitted, his chance of victory would be gone, but eventually, the conditions were too much to handle and he had to bring his Honda into the pits. He would rejoin the race down in fifth place, with Newgarden retaking the lead.

Credit: Bret Kelley / Courtesy of IndyCar

From there, Newgarden just had to manage the conditions for the final few moments. He had a twenty-second lead in hand over Hunter-Reay, so he didn’t need to push too hard to make it to the chequered flag. He had a brief scare at the turn five hairpin, but that would be his only brief bobble for the entire race. He would come home, almost twenty-four hours after starting from pole-position, to take the win in the Grand Prix of Alabama; his second win of 2018 and his third at Barber Motorsports Park. The win would also be Team Penske’s sixth win out of the nine IndyCar races held at the Alabama circuit.

Ryan Hunter-Reay would take his best result of the season so far in second place. He closed the gap to Newgarden down to just under ten seconds, but he ran out of time to properly challenge the Penske driver for the win. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would be the biggest winners when the rain hit, with their drivers James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens moving up the order to take third and fourth respectively.

After finally yielding to the conditions and pitting for wet tyres, Bourdais would drop from the fight for the win down to an eventual fifth place. The Frenchman had to hold off a final-lap charge from Ganassi’s Scott Dixon to take the position, with Bourdais edging out Dixon by just under a tenth of a second in a drag race to the finish line.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would get both of their cars into the top ten, with Graham Rahal coming home seventh just ahead of team-mate Takuma Sato in eighth place.

When the race was postponed yesterday, it came at a bad time for Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti. Both drivers had just elected to pit and drop to the rear with the hopes of moving back into the top ten if the race continued and the drivers ahead had to pit for fuel. However, IndyCar officials allowed all the cars to refuel before the race resumed today, meaning that Pagenaud and Andretti now had to fight through the field to get back into contention. After a strong drive from the pair, they would complete the top ten in ninth and tenth respectively.

Alexander Rossi’s race unravelled when the rain hit again. He had been running inside the top ten, but he made one more pit-stop than those around him, which dropped him back to an eventual eleventh place finish. The poor finish means that he has now relinquished the championship lead to race-winner Josef Newgarden, who now leads by thirteen points.

Further back, British driver Jordan King once again ran inside the top ten for much of the race but plummeted through the order late in the race to finish as the last car on the lead lap in fourteenth place.

Zachary Claman De Melo put in a spirited performance when the race resumed to try and bridge his two-lap deficit to the leaders. He pulled off some fantastic overtakes on the likes of Rahal, Andretti and Pigot, but he would still finish two laps down in nineteenth. Penske’s Will Power also entered Monday on the backfoot after crashing in the wet conditions yesterday. His team managed to get him back out on the track, but he would return to the garage, later on, to retire in twenty-first place.

Finally, what started out as an encouraging weekend for British team Carlin ended in disaster. Charlie Kimball would not get back out on track after his incident with Ed Jones yesterday, with Max Chilton joining him in retirement before the race resumed after his car ground to a halt whilst running behind the safety car.

The Verizon IndyCar Series will be back in action for the fifth round of the championship, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, on May 12.

Credit: Bret Kelley / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Race results:

POSNO.DRIVERNATTEAMGAP
11Josef NewgardenUSATeam PenskeLeader
228Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport+9.961
35James HinchcliffeCANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+15.539
46Robert Wickens (R)CANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+17.679
518Sebastien BourdaisFRADale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan+26.890
69Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing+26.977
715Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+30.119
830Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+30.553
922Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske+42.462
1098Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta+44.689
1127Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport+45.233
124Matheus Leist (R)BRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+57.929
1326Zach Veach (R)USAAndretti Autosport+1:05.930
1420Jordan King (R)GBREd Carpenter Racing+1:20.012
1521Spencer PigotUSAEd Carpenter Racing+1 Lap
1632Rene BinderAUTJuncos Racing+2 Laps
1788Gabby ChavesCOLHarding Racing+2 Laps
1814Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+2 Laps
1919Zachary Claman De MeloCANDale Coyne Racing+2 Laps
2010Ed JonesUAEChip Ganassi RacingDNF
2112Will PowerAUSTeam PenskeDNF
2259Max ChiltonGBRCarlinDNF
2323Charlie KimballUSACarlinDNF