Gateway IndyCar: Newgarden wins, disaster for Ganassi

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Josef Newgarden held off Pato O’Ward to score his second win of the season, as O’Ward took the points lead after Ganassi teammates Alex Palou and Scott Dixon were eliminated by a mistake from Rinus VeeKay.

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Team Penske-Chevrolet’s polesitter Will Power got the break at the start, and although fellow front-row starter Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport tucked in behind him, Josef Newgarden went for a gap down his inside at Turn 1. Then the Penske driver ran slightly wide on the exit and Herta repassed him, continued his momentum and took the lead from Power next time by.

Simon Pagenaud made it a Penske 2-3-4 ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the lead Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda and Pato O’Ward for Arrow McLaren SP, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi ran seventh and eighth in Andretti cars ahead of Scott Dixon (Ganassi) and Felix Rosenqvist (AMSP).

Then on the fifth lap, the full course yellow flew as Graham Rahal and Ed Jones dueled over 12th into Turn 1 and made side-by-side contact. Rahal’s spin into the wall, apparently knocking off only his rear wing but it turned out he had floor damage. He’d pit again for repairs back in the paddock. Jones limped to the pits to retire with suspension damage.

That conflict saw points leader Alex Palou to climb from his penalized 21st spot to 13th.

The Lap 11 restart was waved off because Dalton Kellett was tipped into a spin by Ed Carpenter under yellow. At the end of Lap 15 the green waved, and Pagenaud made a move to the inside of Newgarden to snatch third, but the latter turned in. The #22 Menards Penske lost the end of its front wing which fluttered away on the back straight, bringing out the second caution flag. Pagenaud’s repairs dropped him a lap down.

There was a messed up second restart when the green flag waved but the yellow trackside lights stayed on, and then it flew properly on Lap 26. Herta led Power and Newgarden, but behind them Rossi got around Ericsson for fourth, while Rinus VeeKay climbed to 10th (he had started 23rd!) and Palou surged forward too, to take 11th, only four spots behind one of his prime title rivals, teammate Dixon.

As the leaders hit traffic, Herta eked out his lead over Power to 1.6sec, while Power also managed to extend his margin over Newgarden to over a second when on Lap 55 Ed Carpenter crashed his ECR-Chevy at Turn 4.

Everyone took the opportunity to pit except Sebastien Bourdais’ AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet, which meant Pagenaud – who also stayed out – did not get back on the lead lap by staying out. while Newgarden’s #2 crew got him out ahead of not only Power but also Herta. Herta had been delayed as he tried to emerge without colliding with IndyCar oval debutant Romain Grosjean’s incoming Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda.

Behind Bourdais, Newgarden, Power and Herta, the #8 Ganassi crew had jumped Ericsson back ahead of Rossi, with O’Ward and Hunter-Reay in seventh and eighth. The Ganassi #10 crew put Palou ahead of VeeKay into 10th, directly behind Dixon.

Yet it all turned to ashes at the drop of the green for two of those Ganassi teams. While O’Ward showed restraint after looking down the inside of Rossi and wisely backed out as Ericsson passed the pair of them, VeeKay was bolder. Too bold, in fact. He suddenly changed lines into Turn 1, clipped Dixon’s rear. That spun the #9 Ganassi car into the wall, and also the Carpenter car pivoted around its own nose and spun up into Palou, sending the #10 Ganassi car into the wall too. VeeKay’s car was far too badly damaged to continue, Palou walked away, but Dixon limped to the pits.

Under yellow, Pagenaud was waved to the back of the field so was back on the lead lap, leaving Newgarden up front and he and Power comfortably escaped from Herta at the drop of the green on Lap 78. Indeed, Herta was immediately passed by Rossi for third through Turns 1 and 2, and Rossi kept storming forward, zapping past Power into Turn 1 next time by.

Not much further back, Takuma Sato moved his RLL car past Ryan Hunter-Reay for seventh to start chasing Ericsson and O’Ward, while Grosjean got the bit between his teeth, passing Tony Kanaan (Ganassi), Kellett and Conor Daly (Carlin) in four laps to move into 11th. On Lap 91, he sailed past Jack Harvey’s Meyer Shank Racing-Honda on the back straight, and then dismissed Scott McLaughlin (Penske) to claim ninth and move onto the tail of Hunter-Reay.

Up front at this stage, Rossi had stalled out 0.6sec from Newgarden, but the pair of them were 3.5sec ahead of Power who was half a second up on Herta, while his old Indy Lights teammate O’Ward had found a way around Ericsson to nab fifth. Were the race to end this way, O’Ward would head to IndyCar’s three-race west coast swing just a single point behind crashed out points leader Palou… That would change soon.

On Lap 107, Herta got around Power, while O’Ward did the same on Lap 108. Was Power saving fuel, trying to get the job done with just two more stops?

Hunter-Reay was the first of the Top 10 runners to duck into the pits on Lap 110, but it was a slow stop due to a jammed wheel. However, RHR started lapping at 172mph while the leaders were around the 165-166 mark. Grosjean stopped on Lap 125, but when he emerged he ran up into the gray, collecting marbles on his tires which slowed his pace, but the Frenchman kept it off the wall.

Rossi and Ericsson stopped on Lap 132, as did Kanaan, and next time by Newgarden, Herta, Power, O’Ward, Harvey and McLaughlin did the same. Power suffered a slow stop and fell back to eighth, behind Hunter-Reay and Ericsson, while Newgarden and Rossi maintained their advantage.

However, Rossi was only just ahead of Herta and the younger man didn’t take long to find a way past. Again, Herta kept charging and sent it down the inside of Newgarden at Turn 1 to claim the lead. Behind him, O’Ward got around Rossi to move into third, and two laps later it was Sato who passed the NAPA Andretti car for fourth.

However, everyone appeared to be working to a fuel number, the top 10 running around half a second apart. In most trouble, in order to make it on only one more stop, was Rossi who had stopped a couple of laps before most of those around him. Sato in fourth stopped four laps before that, so was pretty much committed to a four-stopper (providing there were no more yellows), as was Hunter-Reay who made his third stop on Lap 167 of the 260-lap race.

Further back, Grosjean lost places after another trip into the gray, losing out to Daly, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud.

Herta stopped on Lap 185, as did Sato, but it was because of a mechanical disaster for the Andretti driver –  a broken driveshaft spelt the end of a a great drive. Meanwhile Ericsson drifted high into the gray and tumbled down the order before pitting and from Lap 196 onward the on-strategy stops began..

Andretti Autosport’s misery continued, as Rossi on cold tires thudded into the wall on the exit of Turn 2 and triggered a full-course yellow – and brought the blowers out to clean the marbles off the track. Under that yellow, Bourdais, Sato and Hunter-Reay pitted for their fourth and final time.

For the restart, Newgarden would lead O’Ward, Power, the impressive rookie McLaughlin, Bourdais, Sato and Hunter-Reay, the four-stop strategy of the latter three having worked out perfectly with the way the yellows had fallen. Behind RHR were Ericsson, Pagenaud, Harvey, Rosenqvist and Kellett.

The Lap 211 restart looked wild but the top seven held their spots, while Pagenaud deposed Ericsson for eighth.

For the next 20 laps, the most prominent battle on the track was between Bourdais in fifth – trying to deliver Foyt’s best finish since the season-opener – and Sato, who was the leading Honda representative at this point.

In the final 20 laps, O’Ward tried to reel in Newgarden, pulling three seconds clear of Power and drawing to within 0.7sec of the leader, but Newgarden seemed able to respond and nudge his advantage to over a second. Then O’Ward charged again as Newgarden closed on lapped traffic ahead and the Arrow McLaren SP driver shaved his deficit down to just over half a second. However, the two-time champion reeled off his 260th lap and claimed his third Gateway victory, while O’Ward was happy to take the lead of the championship – 10 points ahead of Palou, and only 22 points ahead of Newgarden.

Power finished 5.3sec off the lead, while McLaughlin completed a Penske 1-3-4.

Bourdais retained fifth ahead of Sato, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud, while Ericsson and Harvey completed the top 10.

Daly delivered for Carlin again with 11th ahead of Dalton Kellett who scored his best result of the year.

Kanaan was the last car on the lead lap, while Grosjean completed a spectacular roller-coaster of an oval debut 14th, a lap down and final finisher in a high-attrition race.

NTT IndyCar Series point standings: 

1. O'Ward 435, 2. Palou 425, 3. Newgarden 413, 4. Dixon 392, 5. Ericsson 375, 6. Herta 324, 7. Pagenaud 320, 8. Rahal 319, 9. Power 315, 10. Sato 279.

Gateway IndyCar: Power edges Herta, takes first pole of 2021
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