INDIANAPOLIS – Defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden drove the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to a statement victory in the stretch run of the championship race, winning the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR Race 1 Friday, Oct. 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Two-time series champion Newgarden made a decisive move on Lap 60 of the 85-lap race as he pressured Colton Herta for the lead on old tires. Entering Turn 1, Herta locked up the tires and overshot the corner, handing the lead to Newgarden and putting him in control of the race with just 25 laps to go.
Newgarden ended up beating Alexander Rossi to the finish by 14.2940 seconds in a caution-free race filled with clean but aggressive driving by every athlete in the 25-car field. It was Newgarden’s third victory of the season and first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory at IMS.
“I don’t think I can think about the race; I’m so excited to be up here on this platform,” Newgarden said. “Thank you to everyone that came out. We had a rocket ship. I knew we did yesterday in qualifying. I was so surprised by how quick the car was. It was a great fight today. It was strategy, it was close combat, it was everything you wanted in an INDYCAR race, and I had the quickest car.”
Rossi scored a career-best finish on the IMS road course by placing second in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation Honda. Pole sitter Rinus VeeKay scored his career-best NTT INDYCAR SERIES finish, third in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet. Herta, who led 29 laps, finished fourth in the No. 88 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda, and Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Newgarden, who is second in the series point standings, sliced 32 points from Scott Dixon’s lead and sits 40 points behind five-time series champion Dixon with two races remaining in 2020. The next event is Race 2 of this doubleheader, at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, live on NBC and the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.
Newgarden’s big points haul was assisted by a tough race for Dixon, who won July’s GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Dixon was running seventh with two laps to go in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, but pressure from Graham Rahal in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda forced an error. Dixon went off course in Turn 7 and lost two positions, finishing ninth.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” Dixon said. “We just really struggled on the primary tires with the PNC Bank car today. We had a really bad start where Rahal just moved us out of the way. Once that got us out of line, we just started to fall back, and that really hurt. The other stint on blacks just really hurt us again for some reason. We must have lost 15-20 seconds. But that’s the way it goes some days, I guess. It was just really weird, and we need to get it figured out fast before Race 2 here tomorrow.”
Newgarden started the race in second and ran in the top three for the entire race before he capitalized on the Lap 60 mistake by Herta.
After he was passed by Newgarden, Herta came to pit road and started the final pit cycle of the caution-free race. Following the round of pit stops, Newgarden retook the lead and cruised to victory. It was his first win at IMS since he captured the 2011 Freedom 100 Indy Lights race on the 2.5-mile oval.
Newgarden’s previous best finish on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course was seventh in July’s GMR Grand Prix. It also marked Team Penske’s first win at IMS since team owner Roger Penske purchased the historic racetrack in January.
“He’s done such an amazing job with this facility, and to see people back here socially distanced in the stands at least getting to watch a race, I’m sure he’s really happy today, and I’m happy to be up here representing him and Team Penske, everyone at INDYCAR, IMS,” Newgarden said. “I’ve always wanted to get up here. I want to get up here during the ‘500,’ but this is cool.”
Although Newgarden led a race-high 34 laps and cruised to victory, the INDYCAR Harvest GP was an action-packed show for the socially distanced crowd in the first race with spectators in 2020 at IMS.
The race began with an epic battle between Herta and VeeKay, the two youngest drivers in the field at age 20. Herta started third, but he made a daring pass into Turn 1 on Lap 1 and passed VeeKay for the lead and led the first lap of the race.
VeeKay went toe-to-toe with Herta on Lap 2 and attempted a pair of daring passes before charging to the lead in Turn 7. VeeKay led the next 15 laps for his first ever laps led in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Following the green flag pit stop cycle, Herta returned the favor to VeeKay with more intense racing. After another pair of exciting pass attempts, Herta overtook VeeKay in Turn 7 on Lap 21.
As the laps wound down and Newgarden cruised to his third victory of 2020, the remaining drivers in the top five duked it out as Rossi and VeeKay charged to the front and Herta and Rosenqvist lost track position on older tires. The second- through fifth-place drivers finished within 4.164 seconds of each other.