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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Josef Newgarden hopes to race Brit F3 next year

by Gordon Kirby
The past twelve months have been very productive for a brace of American teen-agers who've had the courage and financial backing to tackle the international cauldron of UK Formula Ford racing. Thanks primarily to Jeremy Shaw's Team USA each of Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Connor De Phillippi and Brett Smrz have been able to win major Formula Ford races in the UK, or at least put on a good show.

Newgarden won the Kent engine race in last year's Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and Daly won the Walter Hayes FF sectacular at Silverstone two weeks later. Newgarden went on to run this year's British Formula Ford championship driving a Mygale for Joe Tandy Racing. Josef confirmed his talent, winning ten races and fighting for the championship down to the wire with Brit James Cole who won fewer races but edged the young American on points. Daly raced in this year's Star Mazda series, finishing third in the championship, and has been testing F3 and Formula Masters cars in Europe.

And the latest Team USA scholarship winners De Phillippi and Smrz showed equally well in this year's UK Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes races. De Phillippi surprised most people with an impressive victory in the Walter Hayes race after recovering from a near-spin while Smrz came through from the back of the field at the FF Festival to finish a fighting fourth. De Phillippi broke Daly's record from last year to become the youngest winner of the Walter Hayes race at 16 years, 10 month and six days. During their two weeks in the UK, De Phillippi and Smrz were Newgarden's house guests in Oxford.

"They were a pleasure," Newgarden grins. "They're two really great guys. I really like them a lot and they were definitely the right choices. They did a hell of a job and I know they had one heck of a time as well. It was an experience in itself for them.

"It was cool. They both had their chance at the glory. Connor did a great job to win the Walter Hayes race and Brett had a fabulous drive in the Festival from twenty-seventh to fourth. They both shined pretty bright."

© Josef Newgarden
Next week I'll take a look at De Phillippi and Smrz's excellent showings in the UK for Team USA. This week the focus is on Newgarden's successful first season in the UK and his hopes of graduating to Formula Three next season.

"We had a decent season," Newgarden says. "We didn't win the championship but we achieved what we needed. For my first season racing in the UK I think we definitely got out of it what we needed. Overall, it was a good season. We definitely earned respect from a lot of people."

Newgarden raced a Mygale Formula Ford this year for Joe Tandy Racing. Tandy was a talented driver as well as a team owner who was tragically killed in a road accident last May.

"What happened with Joe really messed up a lot of things in the team's system," Newgarden says. "Joe was an engineer as well as a driver and team owner, so he had always been involved in everything we did. It's a very close, family team and it obviously hit everyone emotionally very much as well. He was literally the heart of the team.

"He was a special case, more so than any other team. He wasn't just the team owner. He did nearly everything. It was just unbelievable how much stuff he looked after. He essentially did everything. They didn't have the money to do some things sometimes, but he would make everything work. He was a very persuasive guy who was always able to get people to work with him.

"The difficult thing was everyone had to sit down and say now that we don't have Joe everyone is going to have to chip in a bit more. We had to make up for everything he did."

Tandy's mother Marilyn and brother Nick, also a racer, took over running the team. Nick raced successfully in Formula Vee this year. Guy McCulloch was Newgarden's engineer. McCulloch is a professor at the National Motorsports College at Silverstone and has worked for years engineering Formula Fords and FRenaults.

"We get along very well," Newgarden remarks. "It's been a pleasure to work with him."

Rick Impey was Newgarden's mechanic.

"They were the two guys I relied on throughout the year. We kinda formed this triangle and those were the two guys I relied on in making sure we got everything done correctly and we were quick for every weekend. Whatever needed to be done or discussed, we did it."

Newgarden won a September race on Brands Hatch's long circuit in impressive fashion, running away to win by five seconds, almost unheard of in FF1600. But he also had some tough races.

"It seemed like every weekend was an adventure," he observes. "We always had an up or a down every weekend. I would say Silverstone earlier in the year was one of the weekends that really hurt us in the championship fight. We ended up not finishing the first and third races. We got punted off in the first race by another guy who lost his footing under braking on the first lap. It wasn't anything blatant. It was just a silly mistake in the front pack on the first lap. It was kind of a shame for something silly like that to happen.

© Josef Newgarden
"We won the second race, which was really good, but in the third race I ended up tangling with another guy going down one of the middle straights. We were coming up to a brake zone and I lost my footing and slid into another driver and bent one of the wishbones. That took us out of that race.

"Finishing out of the points in those two races really hurt us overall. If we had won one of those races we could have taken the championship."

Newgarden believes he responded well this year whenever he had to perform.

"I think we were really good at keeping the pressure on. Even if we didn't get the results we were making a show at every race. If we had a bad qualifying and qualified tenth we would run right through the pack and win the race."

He's also confident that he's developing well as a test and development driver.

"Not just having the speed but having the technical capability is a powerful thing," Josef observes. "There are a lot of guys out there who are really quick and can really hustle a car. But you've got to be able to offer a team more than that."

Newgarden also demonstrated his ability by doing a couple of Formula Palmer Audi races on a one-off basis on the long Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch on the first weekend in May and winning both of them!

In contrast, last month's FF Festival on Brands Hatch's short 'Indy' circuit was a big disappointment for Newgarden. There are three days of practice for the FF Festival and Newgarden was quickest by far on the first day. "It was looking almost too good to be true," he remarks. "On Wednesday we had about a half-second on the field around Brands Indy. We couldn't believe how far ahead we were. We were so quick. With things starting off so high it was very disappointing for everybody for it to turn into a disaster."

Newgarden went the wrong way on setup on the second and third practice days, then had a clutch failure that resulted in him missing the final practice session. Despite his problems Josef qualified third, only to run into gearbox problems in his qualifying heat.

"Going to the grid for the heat race I couldn't get it into first gear and once the race got going I had difficulty selecting second and third gears. I started tumbling down the order and I finished seventh, I think, but it was a tough fight just to hold on."

The Tandy team changed most of the gearbox internals before the two semi-finals but the problem was still there. Still, Newgarden made up some ground before colliding with Dutchman Sepp Koster while trying to pass for third place. That meant he had to start the final from the back of the field but a water leak stopped him from taking the green flag.

"It was just one thing after another," Newgarden shakes his head. "It was so aggravating that it had to happen in the last race of the year. It was really a shame, a letdown for everybody after everything we've done all year. We were really looking forward to the Festival, but it was a learning experience."

© Josef Newgarden
For the Walter Hayes race two weeks later Newgarden drove an old Van Diemen RF92 owned by the National Motorsports College and run by his usual Joe Tandy engineer Guy McCulloch.

"My engineer Guy asked me much earlier in the year if I wanted to run the Walter Hayes weekend with their team," Newgarden explains. "I said yes because it was pretty much free. I had to pay the entry fee and that was it. They said, 'Come out and run the car and we'll take care of you.' It was a really nice opportunity and I was really excited to do it."

The old Van Diemen's chassis was weak and it had an equally aging engine so that Newgarden hoped for rain all weekend. He got his wish during Saturday morning's qualifying session and was able to take the pole.

"That was great! That was what we needed and qualifying went really well. We qualified two and a half seconds quicker than anybody in our heat and were the quickest car in all six heats. So we were really pleased about that. We knew we would have the advantage over everybody if it was wet."

But the rain stopped and the track was drying by the time Newgarden's heat race started on Saturday afternoon. He also ran into more gearbox problems and found himself stuck in neutral while trying to outbrake Tom Bradshaw for the lead.

"I ended up spinning, which was not cool when everything was going well. I ended up getting back to fifteenth and that put us at the back of the Last Chance race."

Run on Sunday morning amid pouring rain, the Last Chance race was tailor-made for Newgarden.

"We knew we could make it happen from the back in the wet and I was able to come from twenty-fifth to first on the very first lap! We ended-up winning that race pretty easily by a bunch of seconds but we wouldn't have been able to do that without the rain."

However, the weather improved as the day wore on. The track was half-wet for the semi-finals and completely dry for the final. Newgarden started his semi-final from thirty-second and came through to finish fifth, putting him tenth on the grid for the final.

"We had clawed our way all the way back into the top ten for the final, but the problem was now it was dry. The track was completely dry for the final and there was no chance of having an advantage, and we would now see the signs of our weak motor, too. It was a shame that it wasn't wet, but I made it up to sixth.

"It was a struggle from there to hold everyone back. The group of five cars in front of me had made a bit of a break and had their own drafting session going on. I couldn't get up to their draft and had to defend myself from everyone behind me. With a weak engine I was struggling to keep up in the draft and had to try to keep ahead of everyone on the brakes. So I finished the race in sixth and couldn't do much more about it.

"But the weekend as a whole was so much fun. It was so much fun coming through the field in the Last Chance race. I just had a total blast. A lot of things happened over that weekend. There was a lot of action. I really had such a blast at the Walter Hayes race. It was good because it put me in a mindset for next year. I'm already thinking I'm ready to go for next year. I really want to make things happen and do everything right in the series we move into next year."

© Josef Newgarden
Newgarden is focused on putting together a program to race in next year's British F3 championship.

"I can tell you that Formula 3 is the most likely thing that's going to happen. There are a couple of different series we've looked at but British F3 is always what we've been looking at. That's what the discussions we're having right now are about. I would say that's the series I'll be in next year. We're just trying to get the right situation and the money put together to make it happen. We're working on a couple of things. It might take a week or two, or it might take another month.

"We've been talking about it all summer and fall. I think everything is starting to come closer and the more serious discussions are starting to fall into place. Some people think it would be very unwise for me to run in British F3 next year. I personally think we'll be fine.

"The biggest problem is the budget. It's an immense jump in budget. It's about five times what Formula Ford costs. The basic budget is 500,000 pounds. You can do it for a bit less. But still, it's an immense number. It's going to take a lot of work and different strategies to make that happen. But I think we're going to be able to make it happen. That's my goal and the most likely thing that's going to happen for next year."

Each of Newgarden and Brit FF champion James Cole will run a half-day F3 test at Rockingham on December 2nd as part of the Formula Ford Sampler Day for young karters to try their hands in a Formula Ford.

"I've got a free test with T-Sport from finishing second in the Formula Ford series. They're giving us a free, half-day test in their B-car. It's seat time and I'll always take that.

"There are a couple of other tests we may do before the end of the month and that's it. I don't think I'm going to do much testing in December. I want to get the right deal signed and sealed. I probably won't start testing until February. I'll probably have five or eight days of testing before the season starts and there's going to be a lot of testing time throughout the year."

And Newgarden learned last week that he has won this year's John Gorsline Scholarship.

"So that's going to be a help for next year as well," he adds.

Josef is optimistic about not only his future but those of his compatriots Daly, De Phillippi and Smrz, too.

"I think we've got a bit of an American wave that's coming in right now. I think there will be some good things to come from some us in the next three or four years, which will be really exciting. There's a handful of us and we're definitely going to do all we can to make it happen."

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2009 ~ All Rights Reserved

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