• Pagenaud remains in championship contention with seventh-place run
• Aleshin leads rookie contingent
Issues in pit lane and a fuel strategy gamble that came up short hampered Honda Verizon IndyCar Series efforts Sunday at The Milwaukee Mile, as Josef Newgarden led the way for the manufacturer with a fifth-place run at the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.
Starting fifth, Newgarden ran in the lead group throughout the first half of the 250-lap contest. Then, during the only caution period of the race on Lap 133, Newgarden’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team elected to go “off sequence”, moving him up to third as the rest of the field pitted, in the hopes that a later, fuel-saving caution would permit him to finish with just three pit stops. But with no additional yellow flags, Newgarden was forced to come in for a fourth and final stop on Lap 236. Resuming in 10th place with just 14 laps remaining, but on fresh tires, Newgarden charged through the field, taking fifth place from Ryan Briscoe on the final lap.
Problems in pit lane delayed several other Honda-powered contenders, including Andretti Autosport drivers James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti, while Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay’s day also came to an early end with suspected suspension failure.
Simon Pagenaud kept his championship hopes alive with a seventh-place finish, gaining ground on second-ranked Helio Castroneves and moving into third in the title fight, 92 points behind leader and race winner Will Power.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads to California for the final two races of 2014, starting with the August 24 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, at Sonoma Raceway, just north of San Francisco.
Josef Newgarden (#67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda) started 5th, finished 5th: “It's really hard to pass around here; it's just a very difficult track to make something happen. I was trying so hard to save fuel, leaning out as much as I could. I was lifting and even then it was hard for Kanaan to get around me, and he was one of the strongest guys today. It's just a tough place. It's very dependent on aero [downforce], so when you get behind someone with the same mechanical grip, it's kind of what you got. I thought we had a really good car today. We took a gamble and it didn't work, but I'm happy we got fifth, because I think we deserved that."
Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda) started 16th, finished 7th: “When people talk about ovals, they tell you it’s all about momentum and timing. But until you really [experience] it for yourself, those are just words. In sports-car racing, you learn about fighting against other types of cars that [often] are slower than you in different corners. It is all about timing and momentum. Today, I made the connection between the two. It was a big step forward for me personally as a driver on ovals. The team did a great job this weekend. We decided to go a different direction in terms of setup. We were more aggressive, and it worked out really well. The crew was awesome in the pits, too. Coming into this weekend, I thought Milwaukee was going to be the hardest of the final three races for us. We gained some points today, so now I’m really looking forward to the last two races.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “This was a race of missed opportunities for us. Our Honda engines performed well all weekend, but issues in pit lane hampered several of our strongest runners today. The strategic call by the Sarah Fisher Hartman team for Josef Newgarden was a risk worth taking, but failed to pay off. Still, it was another strong run for them, and fifth was a good way to bounce back from the disappointment at Mid-Ohio. Simon Pagenaud did what he needed to stay in the thick of the drivers’ championship battle, and congratulations to Mikhail Aleshin on finishing eighth, as the top rookie, at a track that is notoriously difficult for first-year drivers.”