Newgarden fastest in both Friday practice sessions at Road America

by Jordan Groves

After a week off, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to action today for the opening two practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s 2018 KOHLER Grand Prix at Road AmericaJosef Newgarden topped both of the sessions for Team Penske, with one more practice session scheduled for tomorrow morning before qualifying.

The Road America circuit at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is a true favourite for many of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, as the fast track often provides fantastic action. Conditions were perfect for the opening session, with the twenty-three drivers all gaining valuable data with many laps on the board.

It was reigning series champion, Josef Newgarden, who finished the opening forty-five-minute session as the fastest driver. He lapped the four-mile circuit in 1:43.0477 in his #1 Team Penske Chevrolet, a lap-time just under two seconds slower than last year’s pole position time set by Helio Castroneves. Many drivers are expecting the fastest lap times of the weekend to be much closer to last year, given that the teams are once again running lower downforce packages for the long straights.

Newgarden held a solid gap of nearly half a second over second-placed Takuma Sato in his #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Just behind in third place was the fastest of the trio at the top of the championship, Alexander Rossi. The Andretti Autosport driver, currently in second place in the standings, was just under a tenth fastest than fourth-placed Robert Wickens for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with Marco Andretti completing the top five in the session.

Sixth-placed Tony Kanaan was just under a second off of the fastest time set by Newgarden. Unlike the top five drivers, the times were much less spread out from sixth onwards, with under a second separating Kanaan from twenty-second placed debutant Alfonso Celis Jr in the Juncos Racing #32 Chevrolet.

Just behind Kanaan would be seventh-placed Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing, closely followed by rookie Zach Veach in eighth for Andretti and championship-leader Scott Dixon in ninth for Chip Ganassi RacingMatheus Leist would round out the top ten in his #4 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, with Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Ganassi’s Ed Jones just outside in eleventh and twelfth place respectively.

Further back, championship contender Will Power was fourteenth fastest. The Australian will be hoping for a strong weekend to decrease the gap between him and Dixon in the standings; with Dixon currently twenty-three points clear of Rossi in second and thirty-six points ahead of Power in third.

Both cars for Carlin and Dale Coyne Racing were further down the table in session one. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were fifteenth and twentieth, with Sebastien Bourdais and Zachary Claman De Melo sixteenth and twenty-first respectively. Graham Rahal was also toward the rear of the pack, putting his #15 Honda in nineteenth place when the chequered flag flew.

Propping up the times in the first session was the #88 Harding Racing Chevrolet of Gabby Chaves, who was one and a half seconds off of twenty-second-placed Celis Jr, with almost another two seconds between him and first-placed Newgarden. Chaves will be hoping to do much better than a 1:46.4485 in the second session.

Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – KOHLER Grand Prix – Practice one top twelve results:

11Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske1:43.0477
230Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing1:43.4729
327Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport1:43.5603
46Robert Wickens (R)CANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports1:43.5774
598Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta1:43.8825
614Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises1:44.0429
721Spencer PigotUSAEd Carpenter Racing1:44.1080
826Zach Veach (R)USAAndretti Autosport1:44.1306
99Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing1:44.1643
104Matheus Leist (R)BRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises1:44.2963
1122Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske1:44.3186
1210Ed JonesUAEChip Ganassi Racing1:44.3520

Full results of practice one are available by clicking the following link:

The cars were back out on track later on for the second Friday practice session. This time, the session would last an hour, with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden maintaining his position at the top of the time-sheets. The American lowered his benchmark, improving on his first session lap-time to set a 1:42.6279.

Newgarden’s best lap came on his third consecutive fast lap on the Firestone alternate red tyres. The time was 1.3-seconds slower than the pole position time from a year ago, but expect the lap-times to get fastest on qualifying day tomorrow.

Other than Josef, Robert Wickens was the only other driver who broke into the 1:42’s in the session. He was two tenths off of Newgarden’s time, with the rookie hoping that a return to his natural climate of a traditional road course will potentially reward him with a maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory on Sunday.

Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais improved his position greatly from session one to session two. He set the third fastest time, just ahead of the remaining two Penske Chevrolet’s of Will Power and Simon Pagenaud; who completed the top five. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal also improved, finishing session two in sixth place.

Points leader Scott Dixon was seventh fastest in the #9 for Ganassi, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti rounding out the top ten.

Further back, things got a little too close out on track between Zachary Claman De Melo and Max Chilton. Claman De Melo appeared to accidentally block Chilton, who was on a fast lap, in the middle sector. The pair came very close to making contact, with De Melo being called up to visit the stewards after the session as a result of the incident.

Alfonso Celis Jr.’s opening day as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver did not end how he would have hoped. Just ten minutes into the second practice session, Celis ran wide through the penultimate high-speed corner of turn thirteen and hit the grass on the exit of the corner.

Alfonso was briefly sent into the air over the bumpy infield grass and an escape road, before being pitched into the tyre barriers on the inside of the circuit. The #32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet hit the wall with the left-front corner first, before spinning around and breaking the rear wing off of the back of the car.

Thankfully, Celis would climb from the car unscathed, but the accident had given his mechanics some work to do ahead of qualifying tomorrow. He will be hoping that the rest of his debut weekend goes a touch smoother than it has gone today.

The teams and drivers of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series will be back in action tomorrow in final practice and qualifying, with the 2018 KOHLER Grand Prix taking place in the afternoon on Sunday, June 24.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – KOHLER Grand Prix – Practice two top twelve results:

11Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske1:42.6279
26Robert Wickens (R)CANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports1:42.9025
318Sebastien BourdaisFRADale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan1:43.0020
412Will PowerAUSTeam Penske1:43.0545
522Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske1:43.1599
615Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing1:43.1995
79Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing1:43.4212
828Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport1:43.4755
930Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing1:43.5410
1098Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta1:43.6221
1114Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises1:43.6559
1227Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport1:43.6666

Full results of practice two are available by clicking the following link:

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