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The Way It Is/ Josef Newgarden is winning in the UK

by Gordon Kirby
Out of the starting gate in the UK's Duratech Formula Ford championship this year, 18-year old Josef Newgarden has demonstrated that he's a serious, race-winning driver. In his European debut last November as a Team USA prizewinner Newgarden got everyone's attention by winning the Formula Ford Festival's Kent engine race at Brands Hatch. This year Newgarden is competing in the UK's Duratech Formula Ford championship driving a Mygale for Joe Tandy Racing and young Josef confirmed his ability by winning the third of the three opening races of the Duratech series at Oulton Park last month. He also won a couple of Formula Palmer Audi races on the Brands Hatch long circuit on the first weekend in May.

Joe Tandy Racing is based in Bedford on the Tandy family's 200-acre farm. This year Tandy's team is running a Formula 3 Mygale for Joe's brother Nick Tandy and a pair of Mygale Formula Fords for Newgarden and Dutchman LiRoy Stuart. Newgarden lives about forty-five minutes away just outside Oxford city center where he shares an apartment with Formula 3 driver Philip Major.

"I have a very comfortable life over here and it's made the transition very easy for me," Newgarden remarks. "I feel very much at ease living here. Anything I need is accessible to me."

The British Duratech FF series comprises nine weekends of racing with three races on most weekends. The next round at Donington has been rescheduled to a date in July so Newgarden's next race is at Rockingham on May 30th. He also competed in the Formula Palmer Audi series on a one-off basis at Brands Hatch the weekend before last and shocked many observers by winning two of the three races.

© James Bearne
"I didn't want such a big break at the start of the season," Josef said. "So I did the Formula Palmer Audi race to kinda keep the rhythm going and it worked out really well. I think we got a lot of attention and publicity out of it."

A key element in Newgarden's budding career is sponsor Robo-pong which is owned by his grandfather. Robo-pong manufactures ping-pong robots, training devices for improving hand-eye co-ordination similar to baseball pitching machines.

"I'm fortunate to have a small sponsor, Robo-pong, which has backed me through my entire career so far since I started in karts," Newgarden commented. "They've done more than they can to help me out. They stepped up once again this year and helped me out.

"My grandfather is serious about it giving exposure for his company. It's more about that than it is family ties. He's always looking for the edge and getting the exposure he wants. It's been an interesting relationship. We've had some ups and downs together, but it's been solid, for sure.

"It's one of the things I believe gives me an edge over other people. I do so much work with Robo-pong that I have to be at a certain level with it and I think it's helped me a lot with reaction time when I'm in the cockpit."

Josef says he never would have become a racer without the support of his family.

"I played a lot of other sports for thirteen years of my life but I don't think I would have found racing without my family. Because of them I grew up with racing on TV and it always caught my attention. It took forever for me to get into karting. Living in Nashville, Tennessee, I had no way of doing karting. I begged and pleaded my father for five years to take me karting. When I turned thirteen he finally took me to a kart track and that's where it all started."

Newgarden took part in three Formula Ford test sessions last November and December to determine which team he would run with this year. He tested a Mygale for both Joe Tandy and Jamun Racing and a Ray for the RaySport team.

"It was a lot of fun," Newgarden reports. "I had two days with Jamun, one day with JTR and one day with RaySport. It was a lot fun getting to compare some of the chassis and the differences between the teams, and it was a very difficult choice because all of them had something to offer. It really came down to price and what we stood for and wanted to do.

© James Bearne
"I really liked the JTR team because it's more family-oriented and a kind of a skunkworks operation. If the money doesn't need to be spent, then JTR won't spend it. They only spend what they need to spend while accomplishing the same thing as everyone else. The team is operated out of Joe Tandy's father's barn on a beautiful 200-acre farm. It's just a kind of backyard deal but at the same time it's very professional."

Newgarden's tests with JTR and Jamun took place amid typical English autumn rain. His JTR test was at Snetterton and his Jamun test took place at Silverstone.

"It was difficult because when I tested they were both in the rain and obviously in the rain it's a bit more difficult to feel what the chassis is doing, especially at different circuits," Newgarden observed.

"The major difference between the two teams is that one runs a monoshock design and the other team runs dual shocks on the front. Jamun is currently still using the monoshock design and I think that was the real difference between the two. JTR was trying to go a different direction that they thought was better with the dual shocks.

"I was still able to feel some of the differences but it was difficult. There were little things here and there that were different. For instance, Jamun's car had a much different turn-in than JTR's because it was a monoshock. It was much more pointy and there were little differences in mid-corner grip that we had to work on with Jamun. I thought JTR's car might have been a bit better in the rain with more adjustabiity from the dual shocks."

Newgarden's third late autumn test was aboard a Ray chassis run by the factory team.

"With RaySport they were the only team I had some dry practice with and that was the first time I got to drive a Duratech car in the dry. So I had to compare RaySport to Mygale from dry to wet. So there were curveballs everywhere in trying to see the differences in each car.

"With the Ray chassis there was a lot more room. It's such a different design. Everything is so different with that car. They run completely different spring rates and all the geometry is almost the complete opposite of the Mygale. So I didn't really make my decision based on the chassis. I focussed more on what I liked in the teams and what the team stood for and how they operated.

"It made it tough because I liked Cliff Dempsey. I had an outstanding run with them for the Team USA program. Everyone bonded as a team when Conor (Daly) and I were over here. We had a great link with each other and that's what contributed to the success that we had.

"But with JTR I felt like we immediately bonded and we had a just fantastic connection right away. I could feel the family environment immediately and I'm really satisfied that I went with them.

"Jamun almost seemed more like the purely professional outfit where if you've got the money and you want to be with the best team, they're the guys to go with. It was almost like they provided insurance and would give you a sense of confidence with them, knowing that you would have everything that you would need. They had a limitless amount of testing and data. Whatever they need they can get it. You would almost be worry-free going with them.

"So there were a lot of different feelings," Newgarden added. "JTR provided a very good offer, which helped a lot. Cliff Dempsey also provided a very good offer, but Jamun was very steep. I think ultimately again, I liked what JTR stood for and how they operated. It kind of drew me into everything I had seen from them and I think today it was the right decision. I think it's going to be great to run with them and hopefully bring a championship to them."

Newgarden did five days of winter testing with JTR's Mygale prior to the season and has fifteen more test days budgeted this year. Josef is delighted with all the testing he's done this winter and spring.

"It's been a bit different for me," Newgarden said. "I'm not used to doing this many test sessions. Testing is limited in the Skip Barber series in America. You do some testing but it's not as extravagant as over here. It was more a case of putting in laps to get comfortable in the car and turn some fast laps. There wasn't really any testing.

© James Bearne
"Over here they budget so much time to get the driver more comfortable at a bunch of tracks but also to develop everything on the car as much as they can throughout the year. I like it from that aspect. It keeps me busy and the team busy and it's a lot of fun because you're a lot more involved. It's not like you're showing up and just trying to do the best you can. You're involved with the team and you develop with the team and are trying to get ahead with them.

"I really love to do this testing and development. I really never got that in the States. Here you get to go in-depth with everything, learning exactly how the dampers are valved, for example, and learning every aspect of the car and what things we can do to the cars within the rules that can give us an edge over everybody. All that is so much fun to play with."

Newgarden was particularly impressed with the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire. Oulton is a classic English road circuit running through wooded parkland.

"I really enjoyed Oulton," Josef grins. "There's so much to the circuit. It's not like Silverstone where everything is flat and basic and all the corners have a fairly standard design. Oulton has plenty of elevation changes and camber changes and little bumps and imperfections in the surface. It's a very challenging circuit to try to master.

"Overall, it was a very successful weekend. It was a good start to the season. I was a bit disappointed because I would have liked to have come out with a little bit more of a bang in the beginning such as winning all three races and all three poles! I'm sure everyone wants to do that on their first weekend. But ending the weekend with a podium and win was definitely good for points."

Newgarden made a couple of mistakes in qualifying at Oulton Park and wound starting a disappointing fourth for the first of three races.

"I think the mistakes and all the little errors we encountered throughout the weekend are just going to help carry us through the entire year. I'm kinda glad we got them out of the way on the first weekend because it keeps us in check. Now we know what to expect for round two."

Josef recounted the errors he made in qualifying at Oulton Park.

"I wanted to go with the setup we had run in testing on Wednesday, which was very quick. We ran some really quick and consistent times with that setup and I thought it would be the safer choice to go with. But that was a very bad decision because the weather and track conditions were very different. It proved to be a mistake and I know not to make that mistake again.

"We made another mistake in qualifying with the tire pressures. I'm surprised at how sensitive this car is to tire pressures.

"Normally during testing we would have the car either inside the garage or under our tent. Obviously that shielded the tires from the sun and any kind of heat building-up in the tire. But in Formula Ford over here you have to roll up to the grid about an hour and a half early to make sure you're going to get out first. It's kind of a dogfight to get up there and be the first man out.

"So we did that, but obviously it let the sun bake the tires a little bit. So when we bled-down the pressures to what we normally start from they didn't build as quickly as we thought they would. That meant we didn't get full pressure until my very last lap instead of being ready to go on lap one. That was our second mistake and we ended up qualifying fourth, which was okay. It wasn't too bad, but not what I wanted."

© James Bearne
Things got worse however when Newgarden stalled at the start of the first race at Oulton and was hit in the back, ending his race on the spot.

"I had a great practice start and we rolled into our pace lap and staged on the grid. We waited for the lights and once the lights went out I stalled the car! When I look back I just didn't expect it. I didn't really factor in that was something that was going to happen or even a variable that could go wrong.

"I'm still a bit confused about what happened. All these questions came into play. Was I in third gear? What went wrong? We had a look at the data and it wasn't too bad. I had plenty of revs. I would have thought that in the worst-case scenario the car would just bog-down, not fall straight on its face and die.

"So it was a bit of an unfortunate first start and what made it worse was when that happened Josh Hill, Damon Hill's son, ran into the back of me. That bent my car's left upright and put us out of the race."

A driver's second fastest lap in qualifying determines their starting position for the second race of each Duratech FF weekend and your fastest lap from that race establishes your qualifying time for the third and final race. Sunday was an off-day at Oluton Park because of Easter with both the second and third races run on Monday.

"When Monday rolled around I was as anxious as I could be to get in the car," Newgarden related. "I was ready to set things right and finally get the weekend started. This time I had a very clean getaway, no dramas at all. On about lap two I was up to second place. I had passed Daniel Kamish[??] and he ended-up dive-bombing me back. I tried to hold him on the outside but once he locked-up he had to use all of the track and me too!

"I went off into the grass and it was still damp from the morning dew and fog. I fell back about four or five seconds from the lead pack and after that I just ran as quick as I could. I caught them on the last lap and got third place back, which was at least a podium."

That put Josef on the front row for the third race which he proceeded to lead from start to finish.

"I was feeling good about it. I knew if I made a good start we could make a break and get on with it. I had a great start and once I got into the lead the race was fairly uneventful. There was a quick safety car about three-fourths of the way in. Coming from the States I know how to take off with safety cars. I've had good practice with that. So there were no excuses. I had another great start and finished the race to the checkered flag. It was a nice win."

The weekend before last Newgarden ran a trio Formula Palmer-Audi races on the long circuit at Brands Hatch. He did the Palmer-Audi race to help stay sharp between the long break in the Formula Ford schedule and despite running only a short, shake-down test in the Palmer-Audi car Newgarden went out and won two of the three Palmer races!

"That's the way I like to do it," Josef remarked. "I love to come in and get everything down as quickly as I can. I think that's one of my strong suits--being able to pick-up something immediately. We struggled with some issues but overall it was an nice weekend. It was kind of disappointing not to get the third win at the end and make the sweep, but it was still good.

"We had a problem with a massive imbalance in the car," Newgarden went on. "I don't like to complain but we were really struggling. We put it on the scales on Saturday afternoon and the crossweights were way off. Palmer does a good job of trying to make everything equal but we only pulled our deal together five days before the race so our car was added to their program at the last minute. That's part of the risk you take in doing something like that."

Newgarden enjoyed the power of the turbocharged Palmer Audi car which makes around 300 bhp with an additional fifty horsepower push-to-pass boost button.

"It's a different technique with the power band on that car. It was fun to play with."

The Palmer Audi races were Newgarden's first on Brands Hatch's full, 2.65-mile Grand Prix circuit and he couldn't have enjoyed the experience more.

"Oh man! That is one of the wickedest circuits I've ever been on. I loved the Brands Indy circuit when I first went there last fall for the FF Festival, but the long circuit is just very cool. The back section with all the fast corners really turns it into a high-speed circuit. There are three really quick righthanders and they took-out the chicane at the third quick righthander so it's a blind uphill corner which is superquick and sweeping before you come back onto the Indy track. It was great. I really, really enjoyed racing on it."

© James Bearne
Newgarden hopes to test and possibly race a Mygale Formula 3 car later in the year but will focus on the Duratech Formula Ford championship with Joe Tandy's team.

"The Formula Ford is surprisingly quick," Josef notes. "It's got 175 bhp but having no wings and being pretty light the Duratech cars are actually a tiny bit quicker than an F3 car in top speed."

Newgarden intends to continue to develop his career in Europe with Formula 1 as his clear goal.

"My plan is to stay here for the longhaul," he commented. "I plan on making it to Formula 1. But there are so many different directions over here. Anything can change at any time. You can have a set plan but two days later it can change because there are so many different categories and opportunities."

Newgarden has experienced none of the skepticism often experienced by Americans racing in the UK.

"Since I came over with Team USA I've always felt very accepted," Josef said. "I've really felt welcome over here. It's been nice. It's much different than what I imagined. I imagined we would be almost looked down upon and shunned, but everyone has been so friendly, especially the drivers. Nobody's looked at me as if I'm some kind of bozo who's not accepted. I think winning the Festival helped a lot. It gained me some respect.

"But people are very skeptical about Americans, just from history, or whatever it is. There are these stereotypical things you hear like, 'It's raining. Have you ever driven in the rain?'

"To be honest, I get a kick out of it. I think it's so much better when you win, or do well, when you're not expected to, as any driver would. It makes it a bit more relaxing when you don't have that pressure to do well because you're the home favorite and it makes winning, or doing well, so much more sweet."

It's too early to really be able to read the tea leaves, but based on his early performances in the UK Josef Newgarden is shaping up to be the first serious American talent to compete in Europe in more than twenty years. If nothing else he's caught the attention of the hard-nosed British racing community and that is not an easy thing to do.

So keep your eyes on this talented, motivated youngster from Tennessee. He appears to be very much the real deal.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2009 ~ All Rights Reserved

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