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 on life with Team Penske

by Gordon Kirby
Josef Newgarden has quickly settled into his new job as a Team Penske driver. Immediately after the announcement early last month that he's joined Penske replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the team's #2 Verizon car Newgarden was able to run two very useful test days at Elkhart Lake and the Gateway oval.

All four Penske drivers ran at Elkhart while Newgarden was the only driver to run at Gateway which was a tire test. Newgarden also attended a test at Phoenix the following week where Helio Castroneves did the driving.

"It was a pretty quick transition," Newgarden grinned. "We got the contract done by October 5th and we were testing five days later, which was a really good thing. It was pretty much the best thing you could do right away. I was able to jump in and spend time of substance with the engineers and other drivers.

"Elkhart was a one-day test with all four drivers and it couldn't have gone better. There were no hiccups, the weather was good and we got through a nice day of working together. It was a lot of fun for me.

© IMS/Chris Jones
"It was like hitting the re-set button on driving an Indy car because there are so many new elements with Penske. You can say it's the same car but there are differences between all the teams and you notice right off the bat that you're driving a different car. And you're working with different people and have different drivers to interact with who are very good, very accomplished drivers."

Newgarden also enjoyed his first laps of the 1.25-mile Gateway oval which returns to the IndyCar schedule next year.

"That was great too because we got another test day right after Road America," he remarked. "Two days is a better than one and two different tracks is better again. I got to interact more with more of the guys on the team. We also did some testing for Firestone which was good for us and good for the series because we were able to collect some data before we go back there next year."

Newgarden says driving for Penske is not much different from driving for Ed Carpenter's small but very effective team.

"Some of the experiences are similar to what I saw at ECR," Newgarden said. "Ed has a really good team. There's a lot of talent and resources at ECR. What I went through on a test or race weekend with ECR was similar to my first experiences with Team Penske, but there are little differences."

Newgarden commented on Team Penske's capabilities.

"The thing that stands out is the magnitude of the whole group, the history of what they've done and the depth of what they're capable of. They have a lot of people and a lot of capability to do a lot of things, almost whatever's required to get everything and anything done. So operating on that scope is a little bit different than what I'm used to. I've never seen anything like it. It's very impressive.

"The other thing that's really good is getting to work with other drivers. I always thought that was important to keep things fresh. You can get very stagnant and comfortable in racing when you're working with the same people. After a while of working with the same people new thoughts don't tend to come up very often.

"But when you get with a new group and different drivers everything seems fresh from both sides of the table. They had ideas that were new to me and vice-versa. I had some ideas that were interesting to the whole group whether it's the mechanics, engineers or the drivers."

Newgarden won't be able to do any more testing until next February.

"We've burned the one test day we could burn which was the day at Road America," he said. "The Gateway test and Phoenix were tire tests so they don't count in our testing allotment. We're done until the first open two day test for everyone at Phoenix in February."

Meanwhile, Newgarden will be working through many details to make sure he fits Team Penske like a glove when the 2017 season starts. Brian Campe was Montoya's engineer last year and will continue on the #2 car in 2017 as Newgarden's engineer.

"I'm working on getting myself adapted to the team," Josef remarked. "There are a lot of details to work on. Right now we're working on my steering wheel to get the grips right for me and there are a lot of things like that we're gong to go through over the winter getting me as comfortable as possible in the car and the team.

"The Penske team is very detail-oriented group. They don't like to leave any stone unturned so over the winter we're going to dive into the history of what's been done in the past and what we're going to be doing going forward into next season, particularly with my engineer and myself. Then we'll try to hit the ground running when we get to the track next year.

© IMS/Chris Jones
"There will definitely be some simulator work as well," he added. "Chevrolet has a simulator in Charlotte and we'll be using that before we go to the February test sessions."

Newgarden is pleased with IndyCar's recent announcement that it will go to a new aero package in 2018 with more downforce produced by the underbody and less from the wings. Newgarden and many of the drivers have made it clear they prefer this package.

"I think it's the best thing they can do for the time being," Newgarden commented. "I think Jay Frye and his people are attacking it the best they can. They've made it very clear what their goals are. They're going to go to a universal aero kit again where everyone doesn't have to worry about developing their own parts. That provides an opportunity to go a certain direction on how the aero kit works. I think they're going in a really good direction.

"When the DW12 was first introduced it had pretty good underbody downforce. It had a pretty effective floor and the racing was fantastic. I thought the racing was really stellar when they first introduced the DW12. So I think going back to that floor is a great decision and I like what they're planning to do with the top side of the car and the bumpers.

"I'm really happy with the direction they're going. They've been working with the teams so they've got data from real-time testing. They're not just guessing. They've tried to put real numbers down and listen to the drivers' feedback. So I think the universal kit will be great.

"I think it will work well and will be really good-looking and it gives them the opportunity to look forward to the next car and what we're going to do in 2020. It's probably more of a tedious process than we would have liked but they're going about it the best way they can, not only for the best results but also for the costs for the teams.

"The other thing is Jay would like to get another manufacturers in the series and I'm all for that. The aero kit has proven a problem for attracting another manufacturers so a universal kit should be more attractive for them. Then we can all work together to figure out the best way possible to open up the formula in the future."

Newgarden also expressed his enthusiasm for oval racing and the wide range of challenges provided by the IndyCar series.

"I can't believe how much I love oval racing," he grinned. "I really love it and short track Indy car racing is my favorite form of racing. It's very cool. We've got to make the cars more racy on the short tracks but it's my favorite form of racing. It's a fascinating challenge.

"People look at IndyCar and say all the cars are the same and they make so much downforce that they're too easy to drive. But oval racing is a very different art to road racing in the way you set the car up and what you're priorities are from a set up standpoint and how you manage tire degradation. It's fascinating and really fun because you bounce back and forth between all these different kinds of tracks.

"When you finish a weekend on a road course you feel really good about it, but then you go to a short oval or a superspeedway the next weekend and you have to shift your mentality and processing. So you're always mixing it up and that makes it very exciting."

Newgarden plans to move from Indianapolis to North Carolina in the next two months.

"I hope to move down there by the end of December or early January. I'd like to settle in down there by the new year.

"I'm also trying to get a seat in the Daytona 24 Hours," he added. "I've tried the past few winters and hopefully this year it will materialize. If it doesn't, I'll settle for the simulation world, but I'd like to do the 24 Hours. I'd like to do it with Chevrolet but it all depends on what seats are available."

Josef Newgarden has well and truly arrived in the big-time with Team Penske. It will be interesting and exciting to see if he can emerge as a genuine championship contender in his first year with IndyCar's superteam.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright ~ All Rights Reserved