Presented by Racemaker Press

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

The Way It Is/ Josef Newgarden looks forward to 2016

by Gordon Kirby
At 24, Josef Newgarden showed everyone what he can do this year. In his fourth season racing Indy cars Newgarden scored the first two wins of his IndyCar career at Barber Motor Sport Park in April and Toronto in June. He also finished second at Iowa and in the Pocono 500 and finished the year by leading more laps (345) than anyone else including championship rivals Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya.

There was talk that Newgarden might move to the likes of Penske or Ganassi but there was no room at either team and Josef recently signed a new one-year contract for 2016 with CFH Racing. Ed Carpenter's team merged with Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman's operation last winter and Newgarden is looking forward to putting together even stronger results next year.

"It was really easy to do another deal to stay with the team," Josef says. "It wasn't a difficult decision to stay there because CFH is one of more established groups within IndyCar. They've gotten a lot of pieces of the puzzle in place in the past year. We got so many things right this year which is why we had not just two chances of winning but four of five shots of winning races. But we made two of them happen and we led the most laps, which tells you we're doing something right.

"Like I say, the puzzle is coming together, and Ed has brought a lot to the table. He's been great and we've been able to use the continuity and experience on the SFH side of the team to blend well with Ed Carpenter Racing.

"Going into the off-season last year we faced the challenge of putting together two completely different groups and making them one. There were different ideologies and ways of thinking on both sides and blending those things together is never easy to do especially in racing.

"But we were able to get on top of it extremely quickly. We started pulling together and moving forward and getting better each weekend. It was pretty amazing for year one. Year two should be one hundred percent better because of the time everyone has worked together over the past year and the additional time together they'll put in during the off-season."

Newgarden considers Carpenter much more a teammate and fellow driver rather than an owner or boss.

"We've got a strong level of top ownership or management in this team and for me, Ed is so fun to work with because he's my teammate. He's the only guy on the owner level who I work with as a teammate and your relationship with your teammate is very different than the one you have with your boss or owner.

"I don't think of Ed as a team owner. He's first a teammate and friend, and I think that makes our relationship very easy and fluid because we're so close. We train at the gym together almost every day so I see him all the time and we're able to talk just as friends. Because I have that relationship with him it makes my ownership relationship with Ed that much easier.

"Before merging with SFH Racing, Ed's team had some great success. Ed has won races and he took back to back poles at the Indy 500. Ed and his guys showed that they knew how to run a team and they brought a lot of great people to mesh with our strong guys. Their way of going about things was very good and we were able to mesh together their methods with ours and make it work even better."

Like this year, Carpenter will continue driving beside Newgarden in next year's oval races. It's not ye known who will drive Carpenter's car in the other races. Luca Filippi drove CFH's second car this year in the road and street races, finishing second to Newgarden in Toronto for an impressive CFH one-two.

"We'd like to have the strongest guy in the car," Josef remarks. "Luca did a great job. All the results weren't there on paper, but I thought he did a really good job and he's great to work with. It would be great to have him back but it's all about funding."

Newgarden is confident CFH will be more completely prepared for an even better season next year.

"You definitely want to win as many races as possible, but I think for us the primary thing is to put together all the pieces of the puzzle," he observes. "We've been fast in most races. We've had the speed needed to get the results. This year we had more pieces of the puzzle from the speed standpoint so the capability of winning races was there often.

"I think we just lacked being able to seal the deal sometimes. There were times when we didn't make the right decisions and you have to get it right all the time to win. So going into next year we've got to be more consistent.

"There were four or five races that really hurt us this year in the points. The Indy GP hurt us pretty bad. Texas and Fontana hurt us, and Mid-Ohio and Sonoma hurt us. All those races just killed us for points. Being inside the top three in points and maybe even winning it was possible, but we didn't do a good enough job of putting it all more cleanly together.

"We're going to do a lot of simulator work over the winter and the engineers are pushing their development work for next year, which is really encouraging for me. I think we're going to move the needle on development. We're going to test at Phoenix in December, which is going to be exciting, and we're going to have plenty of ramp-up testing in January and February."

Newgarden is delighted that both Elkhart Lake and Phoenix will return to IndyCar's schedule next year. He tested at Elkhart a month ago and cannot say enough about the place.

"Elkhart, to me, is the greatest road course in America and is one of the top road courses in the world," he grins. "It's a shame it hasn't been on the calendar, so it's great for us to be going back there. Elkhart Lake is pure road racing and very fast! There's zero margin for error. It's a proper track where you have to have the right line and make it as fluid as possible. There's not a lot of curbing to be able to cheat. The curbing is minimal and you can exercise the legs of a powerful race car at Elkhart.

"You get the full effect of what these cars can do at Elkhart. What makes racing these cars so much fun is doing it at tracks where you can get the full excitement of an Indy car, and there's no place better for that than Road America.

"I haven't driven at Phoenix but I was there last week for the schedule announcement. There were a lot of Indy car guys there for the announcement. Al Unser Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Buddy Rice and Lyn St. James were there and there was a lot of enthusiasm from the media and the fans. You could tell that Phoenix is a racing town. They have a history of Indy car racing in Phoenix and they're excited that they're back on the schedule.

"I'm also excited for Phoenix because I've always liked the short tracks. I've done well at places like Iowa and Milwaukee. I like that style of racing. I think it's so much fun."

Newgarden believes IndyCar's technical formula is very equitable giving most teams the chance to win.

"It's hard to get anything perfect," he muses. "There are always comprises, but I think we have a lot of things going right at the moment. If you want to see close racing and parity in the teams and everyone having a chance at success and being able to challenge the top teams and all the drivers being able to challenge each other, you can't ask for anything more. At the moment, you can really make something happen with almost any team on the grid and in my opinion, that's exciting.

"Compared to Formula 1, it's much more exciting. If you're not in a Mercedes at the moment in Formula 1 you don't really have much of a chance of winning a race. That's a little discouraging. As a driver, I want to be able to influence the result and be able to work hard enough on a smaller team to have the opportunity to win. That chance is there in IndyCar, which I think is great.

"The talent level of the drivers in IndyCar is also very high. Every era has a strong talent level and I think we have a very strong talent level for our era.

"I also think we have a strong schedule of tracks. Adding Elkhart Lake and Phoenix is great and I think it's the right direction to go to add tracks that have a history of Indy car racing that are also great race tracks. We need more stability and consistency in the schedule and I think those things are beginning to happen more.

"The argument about the formula and how the car should drive is always up in the air. I think we should be able to push more power in the cars but that's easier said than done. A lot of things have to happen to be able to do that.

"But it would be good to have more power and to move around the balance of the downforce on the car. I think that's the direction we're going in. But it's easier said than done because there are a lot of moving parts and when you change one thing it always affects every other aspect of the car's performance.

"I think this current car is great to drive," Newgarden adds. "It's produced some amazing races. So I think it's hard to knock on the current formula.

"The challenge for everyone is to work inside the box that the cars have to be in today and to get the best from that. And the way the formula is now all the teams have a shot at success. There's still an edge to be had with more resources and more budget but it's possible to overcome those odds. As a hard-working driver with a hard-working team, I appreciate that."

Newgarden hopes to do some long-distance sports car racing in 2016.

"I'd love to do some sports car racing," he says. "I've been trying hard to find a good situation in sports cars. I'm free on all the IMSA endurance weekends next year. I'd love to do it. Nothing has materialized yet, but eventually something will work out."

And having spent two years racing Formula Ford and GP3 cars in the UK and Europe, Newgarden continues to hold distant hopes of getting a shot at Formula 1.

"It's a very difficult thing to do," he remarks. "Trying to do F1 is near impossible. Just getting there is a conundrum. Not just getting there, but getting in the right seat is even more of a problem.

"If an opportunity came up and it was legitimate I'd love to entertain the thought and give it a try. But I think it's going to be really difficult to make that happen. I'm not closing it off. I'm just saying we'll see where it goes. It's a difficult challenge, but it would be great to try."

Meanwhile, Newgarden has established himself as one of IndyCar's fastest, most complete drivers. It will be intriguing and exciting to see if he and CFH Racing can win more races in 2016 and put together a serious challenge for the championship.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright ~ All Rights Reserved