Sweet home Alabama as Newgarden claims IndyCar Series lead

Josef Newgarden, pictured in action on April 7, 2018, won the Grand Prix of Alabama

Los Angeles (AFP) – Reigning IndyCar series champion Josef Newgarden stormed to victory in the weather-hit Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday, mastering treacherous conditions to reclaim the championship lead after four races.

It was the third career victory for Newgarden at the Barber Motorsports Park circuit, just a few hours away from his Tennessee hometown and often described as his “home” track.

The Team Penske driver led for 71 out of 82 laps of the race, which had been interrupted on Sunday by heavy rain with Newgarden in the lead.

Newgarden came home ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti in second, with James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt-Peterson in third.

The 27-year-old Newgarden had started the resumed race in the lead after leading for each of the 23 laps completed in Sunday’s racing.

The victory vaulted Newgarden into first place in the overall championship standings after four of 17 rounds.

The American has 158 points, 13 points clear of Alexander Rossi, who could only finish 11th on Monday.

Newgarden’s 9.96-second victory was complicated by a return of the torrential rain which forced racing to be halted on Sunday. 

The downpour lasted for the final 15 laps on Monday, making for a tricky finale.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden admitted. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows, it was dry, then that rain made it very nerve-wracking.”

Newgarden had started on pole for the resumption of racing, and quickly roared into a 25-second lead over Sebastien Bourdais before rain returned.

The champion gambled with an early pit stop to change to wet tires on lap 71, a calculation which saw him surrender the lead to Bourdais but ultimately paid off.

“I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early,” Newgarden said.

“Fortunately, the weather cooperated with what we needed, and I think that’s ultimately what got it done.”