Josef Newgarden ended a mediocre streak to beat Honda and dominate the weekend at Road America.
With the exception of Texas, where he was on pole only to have tyre problems, JoNew’s wheels had fallen off since Barber when he last won. This weekend he was fastest in practice, took pole and led all but two laps in a race where he fought for Chevy when outnumbered by Hondas.
It was a glorious day with sunshine and bright blue skies. As usual at Elkart Lake, a large and enthusiastic crowd had flocked to the magnificent circuit.
Indy 500 champ Will Power shared the front row with the Andretti chargers of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alex Rossi a row behind. Robbie Wickens was in the top five ahead of Sebastien Bourdais. Championship leader Scott Dixon was 8th with one second covering the first 18 cars!
At the start everything went south for Power as his engine decided it didn’t want to do the 220 miles. He went backwards and later retired. Therefore after the first lap JoNew led RHR with Rossi just ahead of Sato, who’d moved up from 7th on the grid and Seabass, with Wicky Bobby and Dixie behind.
Mechanical woes would also strike Seabass with a gearbox issue bringing him into the pits on lap 9. He’d get back out but would wind up just 13th at the finish.
Sato was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 13 with the rest following in a lap later. All that is, except Dixie, who stayed out an extra lap. Despite this, the order amongst the top men stayed as before.
JoNew was being very canny, using the push-to-pass when everyone else did with help from his engineer. He had a hairy moment though as Zach Veach came out the pits right in front of him. Fortunately Veach was sensible and got out of the way as quickly as a pub congragation rushes to the bar when someone shouts “free beer!”
Meanwhile Wicky Bobby was closing in on the leading quartet and by half distance the top two finally broke away from the rest, with Dixie catching the top five.
Taku was once again in the pits first with Rossi and Wicky following a lap later. On the way out there was a tremendous scrap between the former Andretti teammates as Rossi squeezed Taku out wide on the exit of turn 6, having been brilliantly passed round the outside the corner before. As this happened, a wry smile went across the face of Wicky as he had also been pushed out wide by Rossi earlier in the race in the same corner trying the same overtake.
Once again JoNew, RHR and Dixie stayed out longer and by doing so they emerged as the top three! Rossi, Taku and Wicky Bobby were now doing the chasing ahead of Rahal and Pagenaud, who’d worked their way up to 6th and 7th.
Lap 38 and trouble for Rossi! His front camber went awry and he was passed by Graham and Wicky before taking to the pits, dropping him way back.
Fast forward to lap 42 and Wicky and Pagenaud almost collided on their way in and out of their pit stalls, fortunately with no harm done. A lap later and Dixie came in followed by JoNew and RHR on lap 43. For now, they stayed in line although it was mighty close between Dixie and RHR. Captain America just held off the Kiwi who was flying around on hot tyres compared to his practically frozen ones.
Ten to go and the order was JoNew, RHR, Dixie, Taku, Wicky Bobby, Graham and Spencer Pigot having a marvellous run. Unfortunately for us watching the race was rather devoid of action from this point on, with Pagenaud providing entertainment by making a forceful pass on Ed Jones at Canada corner for 8th.
JoNew managed to pull out a little gap to win by 3 seconds from RHR, Dixie, Taku, Wicky, Graham, Pagenaud who’d passed Pigot as well, Jones and the Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe getting into the top ten.
Dixie increases his lead overall to 45 over Rossi, who finished 16th in the end, and RHR who’s now level on 348 points with his teammate. JoNew is fourth on 343 with Power slipping back to fifth on 328. Graham is four points ahead of Wicko on 278 with Pagenaud slowly creeping back up on 255. Seabass, Marco Andretti and Hinch round out the ten.
We’re just passed the halfway point in this championship and it’s anyone’s guess! In two weeks we go short track racing at Iowa Speedway, a place Captain America has triumphed three times. See you then!