Newgarden Says He Would Love To Invade Europe

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden said this week that he would love to give Fromula 1 a whirl. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden’s pre-race preparations for today’s Indianapolis 500 likely were interrupted by a quick look-see at the nearest TV monitor for ESPN’s live telecast of Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Team Penske’s Newgarden, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, expressed interest this week in taking his talents overseas to compete fulltime in the FIA Formula One World Championship. As an aside, Newgarden also has penciled a drive in international sports car racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans onto his motorsports bucket list.

“Yeah, I would love an opportunity to try Formula 1,” Newgarden said during a Media Day press scrum at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of today’s 102nd edition of the Indy 500. “I think it would be something I’ve always wanted to do at some point in my life. Not that I didn’t want to run INDYCAR, but it’s natural to want to go do something like that.

“It would for sure depend…it would depend on what the opportunity is. I have one of the best jobs in the world right now, driving for Roger Penske, and I think personally we have the most competitive racing series on the planet.  My fascination would definitely lead me to want to try F1, but it would really depend on what the opportunity was, and then I’d have to think about it, talk with Roger and (Penske Performance President ) Tim Cindric and see what they thought. Because I think it’s important to be open and honest with them about what’s happening around me.”

Newgarden, a 27-year-old native of Hendersonville, Tenn., won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship last year in his first season with Penske’s juggernaut and sixth year in the series. Animated, aggressive and articulate, his all-American persona has marked Newgarden for superstardom in a series continually searching for a “face.” Newgarden will start today’s 200-lapper fourth in search of an Indy 500 victory that would add considerable clout to his resume.

Penske, meanwhile, clearly is aware that Newgarden _ the latest in a long list of wunderkinds who have made his organization the most successful in open wheel history _ has a serious case of wanderlust.

“Josef came on the team last year and there’s no question of what he brought to the sport,” said Penske, whose organization is seeking its record 17th Indy 500 victory and 201st open-wheel win overall today. “He’s an American, it’s an American series, he’s very, very confident as a driver. His effort within the team has been terrific. I think he gets it. He understands the commercial activity from the standpoint of the sponsors. I hope that you guys feel from a media availability that he’s given you exactly what you want, and you can help him that way. But I see him with a long, long run and I hope it’s with us.”

Newgarden strolled with little fanfare through the paddock at Circuit of The Americas as recently crowned INDYCAR champion/interested spectator last October during F1’s annual visit to Austin, Texas, for the U.S. Grand Prix.

Haas F1 Team, owned by American entrepreneur Gene Haas, is this country’s only entrant in the globe-trotting FIA World Championship. In its third season, Haas F1’s drivers are Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark. The team’s development/reserve driver is American teen-ager Santino Ferrucci of Woodbury, Conn. Ferrucci, 19, currently is competing for Trident in the FIA Formula 2 Championship.

Magnussen finished 13th and Grosjean placed 15th at the conclusion of Sunday’s 78-lapper through the winding streets of the Principality, an event dominated by Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing from pole position.

Newgarden said he would be open to running test laps for any F1 organization. “If Tim and Roger let me go do it, then I would love to test one (an F1 car),” said Newgarden, the series point-leader through five 2018 starts. “And if it was a good opportunity to go test, I see nothing wrong with that.  If Tim or Roger thought it was the right thing to do, they’d probably let me go do it, as well.”

Further, Newgarden said he doesn’t necessarily see driving for Haas F1 as a perfect all-American fit for himself.

“It seems like there’s an opportunity, I think, for Haas to have a U.S. driver. I just don’t know their appetite for it,” Newgarden said. “That’s a better question for them.  But I wouldn’t want to limit it to driving…if you’re going to go to Formula 1, I don’t think you have to drive for the American team, you can drive for anybody.  It’s just a matter of making it work and if somebody wants to put it together.”

In addition to the race in COTA, F1’s new owners at Liberty Media reportedly are pursuing a second venue in the upscale Miami Beach area.

Ironically, F1 competed at IMS on a 2.606-mile infield road-course incorporating approximately one mile of the 2.5-mile oval between 2000 and 2007. The crowd for the first race, won by Germany’s Michael Schumacher for Scuderia Ferrari, was estimated at over 225,000 and arguably was the most-attended event in F1 history.

Despite the multi-million-dollar garage and hospitality improvements made by then-Speedway CEO Tony George and the Hulman-George family, the FIA pulled the event from the F1 schedule in a dispute over rising sanctioning fees after the ‘07 race.

The Verizon IndyCar Series has kicked off its Month of May schedule here with a points-paying race on a revised 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course layout since 2014. Newgarden started sixth and finished 11th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 12 in his No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

All F1 races are contested on non-oval circuits of varying lengths. Newgarden’s nine career series victories, including two in the first five races of 2018, include six on either temporary street or permanent road-courses. Two of his three career poles also have been scored on permanent road courses.

The now defunct Championship Auto Racing Teams sent 1995 series and Indy 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve of Canada to Formula One, where he was crowned World Champion with Williams F1 in 1997. But domestic open-wheel championship-winners Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia, Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, Cristiano da Matta of Brazil, Alexander Zanardi of Italy and Michael Andretti of the United States moved onto F1 without noteworthy success over the past two decades.

In a career role reversal of sorts, American Alexander Rossi abandoned his pursuit of a fulltime F1 ride in 2016 to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series. That decision paid off when Rossi won the landmark 100th edition of the Indy 500 in May 2016 for Andretti Autosport and team-owner Michael Andretti.

Like Rossi, Newgarden’s racing resume includes seat time overseas _ the traditional “ladder system” into F1. In 2008, Newgarden finished second in the Skip Barber National Series for Racer of Tomorrow LTD after posting three wins, six poles five podiums and three fastest laps in 14 starts. He subsequently was awarded a Team USA Scholarship and competed in the International Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, England, winning Kent Class.

In 2009, Newgarden finished second in the MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain with JTR, scoring nine wins, four poles and 16 podium finishes. He also claimed two wins in three Formula Palmer Audi starts at Brands Hatch while also competing in the Formula Ford Festival’s Duratec Class and Walter Hayes Trophy.

Newgarden drove in GP3 in 2010 with Carlin Motorsport _ a fixture in European open-wheel racing that is making its Indy 500 debut this weekend with American Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton of Great Britain. Newgarden finished 18th in points for team-owner Trevor Carlin with a best result of fifth at Monza in Italy. He also qualified on-pole for the event at Hockenheim in Germany.

Last May, the Verizon IndyCar Series received a huge boost in profile and credibility when Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 World Driving Champion from Spain, competed in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport.

Alonso , who drives for McLaren F1, opted to skip the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix _ F1’s crown jewel street race_ to compete in his first oval-track event at IMS. Alonso started fifth and finished 24th due to a mechanical issue after leading 27 laps and endearing himself to American fans.

“For sure, I think INDYCAR is on the rise, specifically in the United States,” Newgarden said, “but I think there’s some global appeal to what is happening in this world in INDYCAR.  You saw that when Alonso came over that there’s genuine interest.  It’s not something people are adverse to. INDYCAR is interesting.  So I think it will exist regardless if F1 has a bigger presence here. 

“And yeah, I think right now in motorsports, there’s more of a shift to…if you’re a motorsports fan, you like everything, and why not?  I’ve always grown up liking everything myself.  I always fell in love with open-wheel cars first, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like other forms of racing and I think that kind of attitude is really good for the health of motorsports all across the board.  If you like F1, you can like INDYCAR; if you like INDYCAR, you can like F1.  It doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  You can have two great series, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Newgarden added he also could envision himself racing at Le Mans, the mid-June French classic that is the world’s most prestigious endurance race. “Oh, yeah, for sure.  I think everyone would,” Newgarden said.

When asked, Newgarden added he would prefer to wheel a car in the premier Prototype category over a GT entry.

“I mean, Prototype, just because you want to have a shot at the overall victory,” Newgarden said. “But I think if you had a shot in GT, you’d probably take it, as well.  You could win in a GT car overall _ it would have to be crazy circumstances, but it could happen.  Maybe something crazy happens, right?  But no, I think Prototype you’d obviously have a much higher chance of potentially finishing overall, so that would be my first choice.”

Interestingly, Penske is in his first season of fielding an Acura Daytona Prototype International team in IMSA’s WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with a lineup including former Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Montoya. That series’ premier event is the season-opening Rolex 24 Hour at Daytona in February.

“All these guys want to run in the sports car,” said Penske, referring to his championship-winning open-wheel lineup of Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud of France and Australian Will Power. “But I could see these guys getting a shot in the sports car. Look, we need to give them more. I agree _ we need to give them more opportunities and I’ll try to do that.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018
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