Senior staff writer
IndyCar strategist Andy O’Gara of Beech Grove kept urging Grand Prix of Alabama leader Josef Newgarden to reduce his speed to save fuel in Sunday’s race.
O’Gara, the team’s fuel calculations expert, knew the newly formed Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing team had a podium driver and car in Newgarden and the No. 67 Hartman Oil Dallara/Chevrolet before Saturday’s qualifications and Sunday’s race. But a winning car? ... Yes.
O’Gara’s and Newgarden’s abilities added up to the driver’s first career IndyCar win in 55 starts and the second for team owners Sarah Fisher, who’s married to O’Gara, and Ed Carpenter, who piloted a Fisher-owned car to victory in 2011 at Kentucky Speedway.
In the 90-lap, 207-mile road course race, Newgarden led the final 21 laps and preserved the win by saving fuel for the last 10 laps. O’Gara said they had a half gallon of fuel left at the end of the race.
“This wasn’t a fuel mileage race because we had outright speed from the beginning,” O’Gara said. “We thought we should have dominance; we had the right car to win the race. We had good strategists who helped me, and he (Newgarden) hit the numbers. We were among the top five in practice and in qualifying, and we never had a clean lap. I was confident that we had a podium car.”
Newgarden started fifth and charged to second on the first lap, which set the tone for his day. The former Indy Lights champion worked his way to the lead for 25 laps before making his final pit stop on the 63rd lap to get a full load of fuel.
Newgarden said he didn’t like conserving fuel for the last 10 laps, but he understood why. “We had such a cushion; there was really no need for us to try and eke out that lead more. We didn’t have to do that. I think it was just them being cautious, making sure we were doing everything to have enough fuel, probably being over-safe.”
The triumph was rewarding for many reasons.
It was the first IndyCar win for the team since Fisher and Hartman merged with two-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Carpenter, whose team moved into Fisher’s modern headquarters on Main Street in Speedway.
O’Gara said there are a half dozen crew members from Fisher’s original No. 67 car who have stuck with her through the years. O’Gara considered the win as a tribute to their efforts.
And it touched off a victory lane celebration that featured confetti, champagne spray, Newgarden’s parents and O’Gara’s family, including his parents, Johnny and Jeannie O’Gara.
Newgarden became the fourth winner in four races this season. The 24-year-old driver has raced in the series for four years with Fisher.
“There’s been a lot of work put in by a lot of people,” Newgarden said. “I’m just happy for everyone that we did that (win) finally. It was going to happen at some point. This team was too good. They gave me such good opportunities in the past.”
Newgarden’s best finish had been second twice, most recently at Iowa Speedway last year.
He considers himself fortunate to have been hired by Fisher, ironically after Carpenter left the Fisher Hartman team to strike out as an owner-driver.
“I was one of the lucky ones when I got a call from Wink Hartman, Sarah Fisher and Andy O’Gara, and they gave me the opportunity to be a professional driver,” Newgarden recalled. “Then they kept me in a seat for all these years ... I don’t want to win just one race. I’m a racer. You’re here to dominate and win many races.”
Newgarden is fourth in points with 119 points, 17 behind series leader Juan Pablo Montoya.
CFHR begins preparing for an open test Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 9.