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The Way It Is/ Keep your eyes on Newgarden and Daly

by Gordon Kirby
Last month in a column titled 'Swimming against the tide' I wrote about the sharp decline in the number of competitive American open-wheel and sport car racers. And just as the column appeared Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly showed the world that there's some serious, teen-aged American talent out there as Newgarden won the Kent race at Brands Hatch's Formula Ford Festival on October 19th and Daly took the Walter Hayes Memorial race at Silverstone on November 2nd.

The pair of wins by Newgarden and Daly, representing Jeremy Shaw's Team USA, were the best American performances in a major British Formula Ford race in the entire forty-year history of the category. To challenge and beat the established UK Formula Fordsters on their own turf without any previous experience of the cars or tracks was a tremendous achievement and I wish this pair of talented and motivated teen-agers the best as they pursue their careers in racing.

Newgarden, 17, hopes to race Formula Fords in the UK next year and dreams of racing in F1. Daly, 16, will race in next year's Star Mazda series, his prize for winning this year's Skip Barber championship. But Daly also sees his future in Europe and dreams of a career in F1.

"It's not a hundred percent sure but the plan is to go over and set myself in Europe and try to race over there," Newgarden said. "My goal is Formula 1 and you can't make it there unless you make the move to Europe.

"I played baseball and basketball for the first ten years of my life but I always had racing and F1 on TV," Josef added. "My family and my dad and grandfather are big racing fans, so when I was young I always had F1 on TV. I was thirteen when my did first took me go-kart racing and once I got a taste of it, that was it. That's what I wanted to do."

© Jeff Bloxham
Newgarden started racing karts when he was 13 at Mark Dismore's karting facility in Newcastle, Indiana.

"Mark helped me get a kart and get started and that's where I met Conor. I started out with Conor. We grew up together racing. We always seemed to find ourselves with each other in whatever series we were doing. He did a lot more national karting than I did. I did mainly local races with a little bit of national racing thrown in. Then we went straight into Skip Barber in 2007."

Newgarden ran the Barber series in 2007 and '08 and was runner-up in the championship this year to Daly. Josef won three races, including the season finale, and took two more podiums. Those performances earned Newgarden a selection by Shaw's Team USA to compete with Cliff Dempsey Racing in the two season-closing British Formula Ford classics.

Daly, 16, started racing karts when he was ten and raced karts for five years. Conor won the Stars of Karting Eastern championship last year and graduated to cars this year. With the enthusiastic support of his father Derek--a former F1 and Indy car driver and Sebring 12 hours winner--young Daly raced in both the Skip Barber Series and the Canadian FF1600 series in Ontario where he drove for Brian Graham Racing.

"The Canadian Formula Ford series was a really good move," Daly said. "It was a great place to learn about the cars. To work with the set-up was really key in my career and it was good preparation to go over to England as well.

"We did two races the year before in Canada and I learned a lot from those two races. We decided it would be good to race in that series because you can learn so much about car set-up a well as racing. We were already doing the Skip Barber Series and wanted to do more and I think it was a good move. I learned a lot. Having an engineer and a whole team behind you is a good environment to learn in. I think it's kind of a hidden series that a lot of people should consider."

By winning this year's Skip Barber championship Daly has earned a full season in next year's Star-Mazda series worth $350,000.

© Jeff Bloxham
"The Skip Barber championship teaches you a lot about racecraft," Daly noted. "Luckily, I was able to win that championship and that confirmed my seat for next year."

Neither Newgarden nor Daly were at all intimidated by jumping in at the deep end in England last month and racing against experienced drivers and teams who were very familiar with the cars and tracks.

"Our approach, to be honest, was similar to what we've done over here in the States," Newgarden remarked. "We did what we knew how to do and that was show up and try to get as prepared and as comfortable as we could in the car. When we arrived we were picked up at the airport by Cliff Dempsey and immediately we had amazing chemistry with the team which really helped the whole time we were over there. I think that's one of the biggest things that helped us.

"Right away we were comfortable in the car and we were really excited. Once we got to the track, we got right into it. We didn't want to waste much time and we were quick right away. Obviously we didn't want to throw the car off the road or damage any equipment but we tried getting into it really quickly and everything just fell into place. It all seemed to be kinda like we were over here in the States but just in a little different environment. It was like we had never left.

"I think both of us had the mindset that we were going to go over there and kick butt," Newgarden added. "And you have to, not in an arrogant way. You've got to have self-confidence, especially so you don't doubt yourself in the car. I could feel it in myself and I know Conor did too, that we both felt really good about the situation and we just wanted to do our best. And when the results started coming in we were just really pleased."

© Jeff Bloxham
Newgarden thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of racing at Brands Hatch and Silverstone.

"I think to our liking the tracks were really nice," Josef said. "The preparation work that goes into the European tracks with the FIA curbing and so on is much nicer than what we're used to. It's just a nice atmosphere. But the track felt very similar to an American track and with Paddock Hill there were a couple of unique corners at Brands that we had never seen before. But it was just another track really and it was realy fun to have the opportunity to try that type of circuit."

Daly said he and his teammate had no trouble adapting to the forceful style of racing in Europe.

We had to learn the car and the tracks and the style of racing," Conor commented. "The style of racing is so much different than the American style. Learning the European style definitely helps you because you come back to America with a lot more experience in how to be defensive and knowing when to make the right move. If you make one wrong move in those races over there you're ether off the track or knocked off the track. It's a very cutthroat style of racing over there.

"It was a bit nerve-racking because all the way until the heat races and semi-finals we were wondering how it actually would be. We got into the races we were kind of thrown into the deep end and just had to fight it out.

I kinda thought we would be there but not quite ready to lead or take any wins," Daly added. "But as I think about it, both of us have been able to jump into a type of car that was new to us and be really quick. After we started seeing the results of the practice sessions and qualifying we knew we were right there. Seeing how quick we were as we went through the weekend was definitely a confidence booster."

Newgarden says learning to produce crisp standing starts was the most difficult challenge in his first taste of racing in Europe.

© Jeff Bloxham
"I've got to say that was one of the toughest parts," Newgarden observed. "That, and learning how to deal with the races because, obviously, the racing style is a little different over there. So those were the things we had to work on but, to be honest, we picked it up pretty well. I struggled with the start in my first heat race at Brands but after that we learned from it and just transferred it into the semi-final. We had it down after that."

Daly derived equal enjoyment from standing starts.

"I'd never done that and it was definitely a steep learning curve," Conor said. "You couldn't really practice them. You could kind of practice them but not full on-the-line drama, waiting for the lights with everyone else around you. The first ones didn't go too bad. They definitely weren't good but we didn't get swallowed-up big-time. I really enjoyed the standing starts. I prefer them to rolling starts.

"When we went to Silverstone we had wet rolling starts. We really got the whole spectrum of learning in every condition possible, so it was good."

Newgarden surprised the Brits by qualifying fastest at Brands Hatch but he was beaten off the line in his qualifying heat. He fell to fourth on the opening lap and that's where he finished his fifteen-lap heat race.

"I got pushed back to fourth in the heat and I kinda got put back down on the ground," Josef remarked. "They said, 'Hey, this is a litle different and you've got to learn how to do it over here.' I actually had to do most of my work in the semi where I passed three cars, but as I said, we got it down pretty quick."

Newgarden recovered smartly to win his eighteen-lap semi-final, also turning the fastest lap. That put him on pole for the twenty-five lap final. He led away from the pole but a multi-car accident brought the safety car onto the track and Newgarden was passed on the restart by Patrick McKenna. Newgarden chased the new leader for three laps before pushing McKenna into making a mistake. Josef slipped by and edged away to win by more than two seconds.

"In the final I had a little bit easier start because I was on pole," Newgarden said. "Once I was able to get out front I had a lot of pressure behind me, but I'm used to that from America as well. When I got passed I tried focusing on how to get it back and just beating on his gearbox and trying to get in his head and make him make a mistake. And when the door opened I took the opportunity and it was clear sailing from there.

"It's very difficult to pass there, especially with the frontrunners because everyone is so close and so good that you start thinking to yourself, 'Am I ever going to get it back if he doesn't make a mistake?' But even if he hadn't made a mistake I still think I would have gotten him. I was trying to analyze the situation and make a smart decision. There were still ten laps left so I had a little time to think about what I was going to do. But fortunately putting pressure on him worked and he went wide. It worked out great.

"The draft was actually playing a pretty good factor down the frontstraight," Newgarden continued. "As short as Brands is, once we hit the straightaway I couldn't shake him. It's difficult to break away from the field. I think what happened is when Patrick made a mistake and I was able to get by it opened up a tiny bit of a gap, and I think that was enough to break the connection between me and the pack. When that happened I had to run good laps just to get away. I put my head down and I was really trying to run consistent and strong the entire time and the gap started opening up a litle bit."

© Jeff Bloxham
A throttle failure meant Daly qualified down the field at Brands Hatch but he came back to finish sixth in his semi-final before driving through the field from twelfth on the grid to take sixth in the final.

"I learned a lot," Daly said. "It was actually almost a benefit starting mid-pack because I got to experience a really hard racing environment that I haven't really experienced before. I definitely learned a lot by having to fight my way through the pack."

At Silverstone two weeks later for the Walter Hayes Trophy race, Newgarden and Daly were again right on the pace. Daly won the first of six qualifying heats and Newgarden won the third heat race. They raced together in the second of the two semi-finals and finished one-two, Newgarden ahead of Daly. The first semi-final was won by this year's British Formula Ford champion Graham Carroll chased by veteran Michael Vergers.

he weather was terrible at Silverstone. It was dry on Friday for practice and qualifying but rained overnight. The track never dried out and it rained off and on throughout raceday.

Newgarden was beaten off the line by Scotsman Carroll but was able to pass Carroll for the lead before the lap was out. A lap later however, Newgarden slithered off the road, then repeated the mistake two laps later. By then he was a distant thirtieth and had to work his way back through the field to finish a deeply disappointed fourteenth.

"For me," Newgarden explained, "the whole weekend was going really well, winning the heat and the semi, and having everything go really good and starting the final from the outside pole everything was looking great. Everything up to lap three when I threw it off was all good.

"Obviously, I made a mistake and threw it off the road. I think it was a good learning experience. I think I got a little ahead of myself. I know why it happened and, to be honest, I'll be better for having done that. Now I know for the future. It was a good lesson to take away.

"I think really what happened is I just got ahead of myself a little bit. Graham Carroll and some of the other really quick guys were merged together with us in the final. We had been separated from them all weekend in the heats and the semi and once we got with those guys I think I tried elevating my game.

"To have the lead and win the final you had to raise your game up that much more because you had the tough guys up front with you. And I think once I had a little bit of a gap on Graham I possibly got a little too ahead of myself, a little too anxious, and that's when mistakes happen. Silverstone's a tough circuit in the rain."

After his mistakes Josef pulled himself together and was able to make up a lot of ground in awful conditions to finish fourteenth.

"I've never really had this attitude toward any race but this kind of race it's either you're going to win or not," Newgarden observed. "It's not like a championship. It's just one race. I think this is another lesson I learned as well. I was kinda beating up on myself when I got off the road and feeling like it was over. And that's something you should never do. You should always keep fighting to the end. I tried coming back and I think I got back up to fourteenth, but it was very difficult."

Meanwhile, Daly drove a faultless race to win after Carroll also went off the road. Daly outduelled the veteran Vergers and went on to win by just over a second from Josh Fisher.

"I had really good starts up to the final," Daly reported. "I didn't lose any positions but I didn't quite gain on the guys in front of me. So I was just working on trying to catch the guys in front and I was slowly catching them. It was torrential rain all the way. I think the rain lightened up toward the end, but it was really bad in the beginning.

"Then Josef went off the track and I was catching them even more. I passed Vergers for second place around the outside going into the second turn, Becketts. Then as I was catching the leader he just slid right off the track. After that, I was gone."

Despite his own disappointment Newgarden was delighted for Daly.

"For Conor and myself it was another fantastic weekend," Newgarden said. "We were able to show that we were quick again and it wasn't really a fluke at Brands. It was great for Conor to win and to make an American sweep of our semi-final."

Daly will spend the winter getting ready for next year's Star-Mazda championship and has enjoyed three Star-Mazda tests over the last two weeks.

"I've got to decide what team I want to go with," Conor said. "Over the winter I want to really prepare for the season because, obviously, I want to go out and win the championship in the first year. I have no doubt we can do it. I've just got to be prepared. I've got quite a lot of onboard video from Peter Dempsey who ran our team over there. That should help. I just want to try to get ready as well as possible and challenge for the championship."

Longterm, Daly is convinced his future lays in Europe.

"I'd like to try to get over to Europe to do a couple of one-off races or just some testing," Daly commented. "Eventually, I want to race over in Europe. Hopefully, we can begin to find some opportunities over there.

"If I win the Star-Mazda championship I would then go on to Atlantic with the prize money from Star-Mazda. But after that I'd like to do something in Europe like GP2 or World Series by Renault, or one of those series over there. Eventually, that's where I'd like to be because Formula 1 is my goal."

During their two weeks in the UK, the pair of young Americans were treated to tours of both the Williams and McLaren F1 operations.

"When we went to Williams they didn't see me as just another kid," Daly remarked. "They said, 'Oh, that's Derek Daly's son.' To see his helmet in their helmet collection and to see his car in their car collection was really cool because I hadn't seen that stuff before.

To race there is one thing but to visit the Williams factory and McLaren, which is basically another planet, and to be around the European racing environment was really great. We were doing something pretty much every day for three weeks. It was definitely a tremendous trip. You can watch racing non-stop on TV over there and it's excellent coverage, not just NASCAR, like it is here."

Added Newgarden: "It was fantastic. It was a great outing for the Team USA scholarship this year."

Newgarden hopes to put together a full season of Formula Ford in the UK next year and wants to develop his career in Europe.

"You've got to make a time-line of what your goals and expectations are," Josef said. "I think we're looking seriously at the Duratec series and then hopefully from there, F3 and so on. But next year my mind is set on racing in the Duratec series and winning the Formula Ford Festival. Doing so well at Silverstone helped a lot. We've had a lot of interest with Conor and myself, so we're trying to take full advantage of that."

Josef flew to England for last weekend's BRSCC dinner in London for the formal presentation of the Formula Ford Festival trophy.

"We're going to try to line up some testing and get settled on what we're going to do," Newgarden explained. "Jeremy (Shaw) is helping me and we're just going to scope out the lay of the land and find a place for me to settle down over there. I want to figure out what I'm going to do, then come home and go back over in late January to get ready for the start of the season."

I admire the spirit displayed by Newgarden and Daly and wish them well on their 2009 seasons. Over the next few years these two young racers may find many American hopes riding on their shoulders.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2008 ~ All Rights Reserved

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