Newgarden, Dixon encouraged by aeroscreen and tire test at Richmond

The last two champions of the NTT IndyCar Series — Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon — got an advance look at two important elements of the season to come when they tested aeroscreen-equipped Indy cars on the Richmond Raceway oval on Tuesday, in preparation for the addition of the cockpit protection device to all cars and the series’ return to the short oval next June for the first time in a decade.

For Newgarden, it was the first taste of both, after teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had tested the Chevy-powered car equipped with the aeroscreen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Barber Motorsports Park, respectively. Like them, he didn’t report having any significant issues getting used to it.

“It honestly was pretty seamless. It didn’t feel that different,” Newgarden said of the aeroscreen. “When I first went out, in my perception of how much grip the car had and how much control I had in the car, was slightly different. But I think that was because it felt foreign. You’re not used to having a screen over your head.

“But after 20, 30 laps when you got used to it, the car feels very similar as far as the way I drive the car. The way the car feels compared to a place like Iowa or Gateway, it feels very similar. From a tuning standpoint, it didn’t take much to get the car back into the correct window as far as the balance. I think the balance is still very good, even with the screen on. From that standpoint, I don’t think the cars are going to change dramatically going into next year.”

The Tennessee native was equally enthused by the 0.75-mile track.

“Well, yeah, I like it. I’m pretty easy to sell on this stuff, though,” he admitted. “I’m a big fan of short-track racing, specifically with IndyCar. That’s really the only experience I have with short-track racing. I’ve always loved it. To get another one on the calendar has been very cool for me.

“It feels very, very similar to Iowa. It’s just a lot smoother. Iowa is very, very bumpy, has those characteristics to make you think about the setup. I think here from a compliance standpoint, you can run the car a lot more like a smooth short oval, but it still has that styling, what feels like raceability like Iowa. I’m hoping a second lane comes in. If it does, I could see it racing very similar to that place.”

Along with additional aeroscreen track time, the test included trying multiple configurations of tires for to help supplier Firestone determine the best options for the June 27 race.

“We’ve been going through 10 or 15 sets of different (tire) construction and compounds,” Dixon related. “The car does feel a lot different from when even we first ran here in the early 2000s to the last time we ran here, through that race as well. A lot less downforce, probably a little more power or similar power. It’s quite tricky, a lot of fun to drive. Feels fairly low grip at the moment in some situations. It’s hard to say, too, from a racing perspective as it’s only Josef and me here, and we’re mostly doing single runs at the moment.”

The aeroscreen was unchanged from the way it appeared at Indy, although Dixon expects some tweaks to be tried when he and Newgarden make additional runs later this afternoon.

“We pretty much stayed with the same configuration from Indianapolis. I know the noise box I think has a few more openings on it, which is helping the (air) flow there. There was a device that we tried earlier in the day, but it wasn’t secured well enough; that we’ll revisit later this afternoon.

“I think for the oval stuff, the car’s fine. I know there were some different additions they ran at Barber with the other two drivers there. Those I think we’ll try maybe later this afternoon as well with some helmet cooling options to prep everybody for the upcoming season.”

Dixon agreed with Newgarden that the addition of the screen did not have a significant effect on tuning, although he still expects the new device to have an effect on performance.

“I think you may see some differences, maybe, in outright lap time. We did add almost 60 pounds to the car. It may affect the aero a little bit,” said the New Zealander. “You’ll get some more (tire) deg with the higher COG, as well. There are some things that may slow down the performance a little bit.

“But honestly, I think it’s going to be almost a net zero on that kind of situation with the development in the off-season, people kind of working around it. I think it will be interesting.

“We felt some slightly different situations in running with Will at the speedway in traffic. We’ll have to see how that plays out. Again, I think it’s more of a tuning thing you’ll have to kind of build in for when we are racing in packs, at least in racing conditions.”

Newgarden added that he felt the aeroscreen actually made it slightly easier to hear radio transmissions although again, the effect was subtle.

“It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed,” he explained. “You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine. I don’t think concentration-wise you’ll be any different.”


Newgarden enjoys Indy car shakedown on Charlotte Roval

Josef Newgarden celebrated winning the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship with an exhibition run in his No. 2 Team Penske Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet during the NASCAR weekend around the Charlotte road course.

“It honestly felt really, really good,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t know what it was going to feel like, but everything was pretty smooth for the most part. I was most interested in the tire difference when you run a weekend with multiple series that have different tire makes and different cars. Normally when you go out after another session, you have to clean the track up. I was only one car, so I can’t clean the track for myself very fast, so I felt there really was no issue having two tire makes, and that was my big concern going into it. So, it was interesting to feel that.

“It felt good. It wasn’t bad. The banking was really neat just because the wheel was really, really heavy. We don’t have power steering in these vehicles, so it was pretty loaded up for a long period of time through the banking, but no problems. I tried to go fast, but not too fast. I think there might have been another second or two in it, but it was one run so we wanted to take it a little bit easy.”

Newgarden ran six laps at full speed. There was no transponder on the car, but the belief is that he ran approximately 107 mph about the 2.28-mile course.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric confirmed that the car Newgarden used was not a show car but the primary Simon Pagenaud used in the IndyCar Series season finale last weekend at Laguna Seca.

“It’s for sure different than anywhere we go,” Newgarden said of the Charlotte course. “I wouldn’t say it’s similar to anything. It’s clearly a road course, but it’s got some street course sections to it, like Turn 1, Turn 2 reminds me of a street course, and then you’ve got the oval which reminds me a little bit of the Indy GP that we run and then everything is kind of something new. So, it didn’t really remind me of anything as a whole , but it had some characteristics of some places we’ve been to.”

After his run Newgarden was greeted in victory lane by his NASCAR teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. It was Logano who had joked earlier in the day Newgarden didn’t deserve his 2019 IndyCar Series championship trophy if he didn’t run faster than a Cup Series car, and for how excited Newgarden was to get on track he kept pitching being able to run a stock car around the course.

Along with fans in attendance, the NASCAR garage was also curious about the run. Of course, the conversation turned to whether the IndyCar Series would ever hold a race on the Charlotte road course and Newgarden believes he’d have to think about what changes, if any, would need to be done to make that happen.

“There wasn’t anything that jumped out to me that was bad,” Newgarden said. “I would like to see more (cars) on the track because then you would have a better idea of how would we race. If we got a 20 car group running you’d see kind of how we draft. I think we’d have a pretty good ability to race off of the infield all the way down to the back straight chicane. We’d probably get a lot of drafting going on there and probably see some guys into that chicane which would be a good zone and probably the same thing again going into the Turn 1 and 2. So I think it has the potential to race really well here, but I wouldn’t limit it to this. I think this is where we chose to showcase our partnership with Pennzoil, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t do something together somewhere else.”

Also in attendance was IndyCar president Jay Frye, whom Newgarden will provide his thoughts on tires, race-ability, and other variables if asked.

“It was great,” Frye said. “An opportunity was presented, and the team took advantage of it with the help of Pennzoil. It was pretty cool to watch. I thought the car looked very natural out there; it looked good. Lap times were I think in reason of what everybody thought it would. So, who knows.”

The hurdles of making an IndyCar race at Charlotte happen are like anything in racing – scheduling, timing, how it works, etc. Frye said that would be something to look at down the road for Charlotte or any other tracks, but he doesn’t believe an IndyCar event would have to be on the same weekend as NASCAR.

Both Frye and Newgarden were pleased at least conversation and interest in both series working together has happened.

Newgarden added, “The more we can do together in the future is, in my opinion, the better thing.”

Newgarden to demo IndyCar on Charlotte Roval

Josef Newgarden is bringing IndyCar to the Charlotte road course.

Team Penske has announced that the newly crowned two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion will make an exhibition run at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Friday following Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying. Newgarden will drive his No. 2 Shell/Pennzoil Dallara-Chevrolet Indy car around the 2.28-mile course.

The Charlotte road course, or Roval as it is called by some, uses both the oval and infield portion of the speedway. It made its debut on the NASCAR schedule last year. Saturday will be the second race in the Xfinity Series playoffs while Sunday is the first elimination race in the Cup Series playoffs.

Newgarden, who led the IndyCar Series with four wins this season, captured his second title over the weekend with an eighth-place finish in the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. His first title came two years ago.

Also in attendance for the run will be fellow Shell/Pennzoil driver Joey Logano and Team Penske president Tim Cindric.


‘Potential from day one’ – Cindric on Newgarden

After taking command of the NTT IndyCar Series championship points for 16 of 17, Team Penske president Tim Cindric marveled as he has watched Josef Newgarden reward Roger Penske’s faith by earning two titles in three years.

“Anytime you can basically lead this series from start to finish, and I don’t know how many times that’s been done, but in recent history, that’s a tough thing to do,” he told RACER. “You’ve got to win the first one, then you have to win the rest of them, and the double points game and all the rest of it, and he never let go of it.”

As Newgarden’s race strategist, Cindric kept his driver locked in during Sunday’s season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on the bigger goal at hand, as faster drivers were allowed to pass without taking risks. Compared to the 2017 title they won with the No. 2 Chevy, an older and more mature Newgarden made it easier to achieve their ultimate goal.

“I know how difficult it was for him to stay cool the first half of the race because we’re pulling him back rather than pushing him forward,” Cindric said. “That’s a plus and a minus in some ways. But I think that’s probably the difference. I was asked earlier, ‘What’s the difference between this year and the previous championship?’ And you think back to it, and I think back then he might have reacted to all that differently, and said, ‘To hell with that. I’m going to go take my chances.’

“Fortunately, he didn’t then, and now you can see that fine balance of patience and aggression . That’s what you want.”

Cindric beamed with pride as Newgarden was celebrated by his pit crew and engineers on Sunday. Looking at all they accomplished together in 2019, there’s every reason to believe the 28-year-old Newgarden will add more championships in the coming years.

“Well, I think he’s shown that potential from day one,” Cindric added. “Now we need to get him an Indy 500 win.”

Second title “feels more special,” Newgarden says

It’s only been two years since Josef Newgarden won his first IndyCar championship, but his deepened appreciation for what goes into winning a title was evident in his emotional display after securing title No. 2 at Laguna Seca on Sunday.

“I don’t know why, but feels more special,” he said. “It really hit me. It just really, really hit me on the in-lap. I don’t know why. I was just so emotional. I didn’t quite get that way in the first one. I don’t know if you don’t have quite the respect for it, or what it is.

“When you’re in a season, those opportunities come every single week, but to win a championship, it doesn’t come every week. That opportunity seldom is there, and if it is there, you really want to capitalize on it because you never know if you’re going to get that again, and I think you really realize that the more years you do this.

“I think this one just felt like it was more ours to lose. It was more ours to give away. I thought it was our year to win, and if we didn’t, it was just going to hurt a lot. Just the effort would have been… not for nothing, but it just would have felt pretty bad to throw away what we had put together all season.”

Newgarden led the points for almost the entire year; a campaign fueled by a field-high four victories and an average finishing position of 5.6. But the vagaries of the double-points system meant that he still came into the final race with three mathematical rivals for the championship, and not a lot of wiggle room if things went wrong on race day.

“I’m just happy it’s done with, to be honest with you,” he admitted. “It’s just such a stressful deal with double points. I hated it. I hated thinking about it, and I know we didn’t build up enough of a gap to make it super-easy on ourselves, and I was just kind of dreading it, to be honest with you.

“Just didn’t know what was going to happen today, and I just wanted to make sure we secured the championship because I felt like our guys deserved it. Everyone works really hard in this paddock. It doesn’t matter which team or what driver you are. I think everyone works really hard. I’m pretty intimate with my guys and know how hard they work personally, and I just wanted them to be rewarded with the championship. That was weighing on me a lot.

“I was just happy we were able to get through today. It was kind of a chaotic event. There were moments where I didn’t think it was going to go our way. We kind of set a strategy and stuck to it, and I don’t know that it was working out part way through, but then you saw towards the end, the way things were positioned, it ended up being OK, which made me really pleased. But I think we were trying to cover our bases as a team.”

Newgarden spent the day covering Rossi, and although it created some nervous moments, it proved a winning strategy.

That strategy was essentially to cover Rossi — his closest points rival coming into the weekend, albeit with just a single point more than Simon Pagenaud — regardless of what else was happening on the track. This played to Newgarden’s status as points leader by neutralizing the driver that appeared to be his biggest threat going into the race, and also allowed Penske to hedge its bets by having Pagenaud in the position to win the championship position if Newgarden’s day turned sour.

That was cause for some anxiety on Newgarden’s part when he and Rossi began to fall back while Pagenaud was on a march forward.

“I’ll be honest with you, I thought we were going down a rabbit hole that wasn’t the right hole to go down,” Newgarden said. “It was just we had set a plan as a group to win the championship as a team, and however the strategy was going to play out was going to dictate who won the championship today.

“We were shadowing Rossi. That’s what I was doing. There were a lot of moments where I think I could have blown by him and I didn’t, and I just really tried to just stay around him all day, and in some ways that’s really good because we were right there with him; but then in other ways he could suck us into a bad situation, and there was parts of the race where I thought that was happening.

“I thought, you know, we had set out the routine that this is what I’m going to do and this doesn’t seem like it may be working for us, specifically, but if that wasn’t going to be the case, then the most important thing would have been for Simon to win the championship.

“Yeah, I had my doubts today, but I just followed protocol, listened to my guys, and they haven’t steered me wrong all year. And they didn’t steer me wrong today.”


Herta reigns in Monterey; Newgarden takes title

Josef Newgarden became a two-time IndyCar champion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in a race that was controlled from start to finish by Colton Herta.

Newgarden came into the race with a 41-point lead, and right from the outset it was clear just how important that buffer would be. A day-long struggle with his rear tires meant that he never had the pace to challenge for the race win, and even the relatively kind Plan-B scenarios that kept his claim to the title safe as long as he hung around the top six started to look at risk of buckling under pressure from teammate Simon Pagenaud.

“Man, it was… I was so pissed early; I thought we were throwing it away,” said a visibly emotional Newgarden. “I was thinking of the team there; we were trying to divide and conquer, and I was thinking of the team — we didn’t want to throw it away. I’m so proud of the team. To win the Indy 500 with Simon, and then the championship… you can’t ask any more of the team. It’s amazing. This is big for us man. I was crying for the whole lap.”

The signs that another championship was destined for Penske began to appear fairly early on when Alexander Rossi was beaten out of the pits by Newgarden after the first round of stops, and then never really had an opportunity to respond. Scott Dixon was eliminated from contention just after mid-distance when the bonus points that he required to keep his already-slim chances alive went elsewhere, but Pagenaud never gave Newgarden a chance to relax.

Newgarden’s rear tires required an especially delicate touch almost from the start, and without little hope of being able to push hard over a stint, his ability to influence the outcome was restricted mostly to not making mistakes and hoping Pagenaud didn’t start carving through the pack.

Pagenaud certainly gave his teammate reasons to be nervous. He’d muscled past Rossi after the first round of stops, causing Rossi to momentarily trip over the gravel, and then picked off Newgarden a couple of laps later.

He spent the next couple of stints hovering around third or fourth, gaining and losing places through the pit stops, but it was when he leapfrogged Dixon to claim second in the final round of stops that the radio chatter back to Newgarden’s car probably became a bit more urgent. Dixon got the place back almost immediately though, and then Power threw a cat among the pigeons by staying out two extra laps before his own final stop and popping out ahead of both of them in second.

Power set off in pursuit of Herta, while Pagenaud settled in for almost 30 laps of trying to pass Dixon, and with almost no push-to-pass left. His best opportunities came late when Dixon’s own supply of extra boost had been exhausted, but Dixon’s car can become supernaturally wide when he wants it to be, and unfortunately for Pagenaud, this was one of those days.

“I knew if I got Dixon I had a chance in the championship, because I really had a lot of pace in the car, but I was using up my tires,” said Pagenaud.

“He didn’t make it easy, that’s for sure. But we tried. He’s a racer, I’m a racer and that’s what we have to do . I think Josef was the best all season, he was the most consistent and he deserves it. I got the 500 and I’m happy with that. I think this was my most complete season, so I’m proud. And very proud for Team Penske. We’ll see what we can do next year, but this one will be hard to top.”

Rossi, meanwhile, had gambled by starting on scuffed reds when both of his Penske rivals started on blacks, but discovered to his dismay that the reds weren’t performing as well as he’d been hoping.

“I think the blacks were much friendlier for us, which was unfortunately because we started on the used reds,” Rossi said. “It was a risk that didn’t pay off, unfortunately.

“At the end of the race when we knew that the championship was out of touch it became about trying to close down Simon, but for whatever reason we didn’t have the tire life we needed. I think we were one of the better cars on blacks. Our bed was made on the first stint, unfortunately. It was diabolical. It’s unfortunate that for the second year in a row we were in the position of having to roll the dice, but regardless I don’t think we had the car to win. We probably had the car for third, which wouldn’t have been enough anyway.

“ was an educated risk. It wasn’t a shot in the dark. The conservative strategy would have been to match the cars around us and pick up spots through strategy or attrition or whatever. If you have the car, then any strategy can look pretty magical. But we just didn’t have it today.”

Herta led from the start, and for every lap outside of the pit stops, but his afternoon was no less straightforward than it had been for the contenders. Tire management was the obvious question; the high degradation rate at Laguna being amplified in his case by the fact that overworking his tires had been his undoing last time out in Portland. As it turned out, Portland had proven to be a valuable lesson that he leaned on this time around.

“We had a really good strategy,” he said. “We had to save a little fuel at the end and it hurt us a little, but we were really quick. Learning from Portland; we were really bad there so I was staying within the limits, not doing anything that hurt it, and that’s what we brought here.”

The win was Herta’s second of the season, but it wasn’t quite enough to wrest Rookie of the Year honors from Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist, who rebounded from the qualifying penalty that relegated him to 14th on the grid to put on a masterclass of overtaking that carried him up to fifth.

“It was an interesting race, because there was a lot of deg on the tires and we all knew that, so it was not just being aggressive all the time, it was about picking your moments,” said the Swede.

“You could feel every time you pushed through a corner properly — the next corner you were on ice, so it was tricky managing it. But the strategy was perfect, that safety car helped us a little bit for sure. It was a hell of a year. My crew has been flawless all year, and I think they deserve this sixth in the championship and rookie of the year.

“Yesterday was a tough day, and if I didn’t get angry I think there was something wrong with me. We all go 100 percent into this with full heart and when something like that happens — which I still think is a bad decision – it’s part of the show, I guess.”

The safety car in question was the only one of the race, and was prompted when Conor Daly caught the dirt and spun while trying to go inside teammate Marco Andretti at Turn 2.

The only other incident of any consequence came just after the restart when Santino Ferrucci made his first real mistake of the year and ran into Takuma Sato. He was formally deemed to have caused avoidable contact, but it was a moot point since by the time the decision came down, his car was already being pulled behind the wall with a broken control arm. He and Ed Jones, who dropped out with a mechanical problem, were the only two retirements. There could have been at least two more though when Sato, Zach Veach and Matheus Leist decided to see whether they could go three-wide through the Corkscrew. Spoiler alert — they couldn’t — but amazingly, the only harm done was Veach needing to take the Zanardi line before rejoining.

Outside of the championship battle — and Rosenqvist’s heroics — Ryan Hunter-Reay earns a salute after rallying to 10th after dropping to dead last when he stalled during his first stop, while Sebastien Bourdais rebounded from the neck problems that sidelined him from Friday’s warm-up session to finish eighth.