WATKINS GLEN, New York – The Verizon IndyCar Series championship picture changed in dramatic fashion with 14 laps to go Sunday in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.
As points leader Josef Newgarden drag-raced teammate Will Power out of the pits on Lap 46, Newgarden’s No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet experienced understeer and slid into the guardrail barrier separating the pit exit road from the racetrack. He then bounced into the path of Sebastien Bourdais, who submarined under Newgarden’s No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet.
“We went side by side (exiting pit lane) and I thought I had him (Power), but obviously he got a better jump off the line, which surprised me, but I just made a mistake on cold tires and pushed wide. I don't even know that I fought hard, it was just a simple mistake,” Newgarden said.
“Maybe I was just too wide on the line because Will looked fine. It just seemed like it slid off — there was no grip. It's an error. I mean, cold tires, just a mistake. Not fun to make but it happens.”
After stopping several times for repairs, Newgarden dropped two laps down. He ended the day 18th and now heads to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 with a slim three-point championship lead. His cushion going into Sunday's INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen was a comfortable 31 points.
Bourdais felt he was an innocent bystander as soon as Newgarden hit the barrier.
“When Josef went in, it was game over. I was pretty high myself (on the pit exit road), but I think I was going to be OK. But when he hit, he bounced off and there was nowhere to go,” the Dale Coyne Racing driver said.
Trailing the Newgarden-Bourdais collision, Tony Kanaan also had nowhere to go and slid into the barrier as well.
“The slight little reaction that you do — I am pretty sure TK (Tony Kanaan) had the same thing and he went in (to the barrier) because of what happened in front of him — you just touch the brakes and you are on cold tires and you just go. When it's downhill and with a tailwind, you don't have much grip.”
Although Bourdais suffered front wing damage and a bent toe link, he was still able to be racy at the end despite finishing 17th. He put up the fastest lap of the race with one lap to go.
Kanaan's No. 10 NTT Data Honda sustained suspension damage and he retired in 20th place.
“It’s unfortunate that we got caught up in that pit out incident after the last round of stops,” Kanaan said. “It all happened right in front of me and I just locked up on cold tires. We were actually having a pretty good day and the car was good up until that point.”
A four-time Indy car champion, Bourdais also questioned the wisdom of Newgarden, a driver racing for the Verizon IndyCar Series title, battling so hard leaving pit lane, especially with a Team Penske teammate.
“He fought it out with his teammate. Why? What's the point?” Bourdais asked.
“You are going to try to make it two-wide over there? It's like, ‘Geez, calm down, man, you are leading the championship.’ I don't get it. It's a shame.”
For his part, Newgarden insisted that the title was going down to the last race no matter what happened at Watkins Glen International. With a double-points finale and such a close battle, he had no doubt that Sonoma Raceway would be the place where the 2017 champion will be crowned.
“It was always going to be a dogfight whether we won that race and had a 60-point lead,” he said.
“Sonoma is going to be tough. You'd have to have a big lead like 90 points or something going to Sonoma and that was going to be hard to get today, so it's going down to the final race.”