DETROIT – Josef Newgarden rocked the Verizon IndyCar Series world – and surprised himself in the process – by winning the 2017 championship in his first year with Team Penske.
After a short test recently in the 2018 car, Newgarden is expecting challenges to his title from all parts of the grid next season. Newgarden shook down the Dallara IR-12 chassis coupled with the new universal aerodynamic body work kit three weeks ago and declared today that “things are going to change a lot” from the past few seasons.
The 26-year-old star of INDYCAR racing was in Detroit to celebrate his championship with employees from Penske Corporation in suburban Detroit and to promote the launch of ticket sales for the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear at Belle Isle Park from June 1-3.
He also spoke to media about the new car, its aero package and how different it will be to race. Newgarden shared the Team Penske Chevrolet with Juan Pablo Montoya in a Sept. 26 test at Sebring International Raceway on a wilting-hot Florida day.
“I’ve only had a little bit of time (in the car),” said Newgarden, who clinched the championship in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series season by finishing second at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma last month. “I think I’ll have another day in November and a couple in December, but we are doing a lot of work on simulation to try and understand the kit as much as possible.
“In just a half day in the car, it was massively different to what we expected. The handling is completely different, the balance is totally different, the driving style will change from the way we drove the car before.”
That could open the 2018 championship to more teams and drivers, said Newgarden.
“That’s going to be fun and a challenge for me, and a lot of other drivers,” said Newgarden. “We hope we can catch it first in the opening race at St. Petersburg (March 11), but you never know how good a job everyone has done until you get to the first race weekend.”
Newgarden said from his brief time in new car, he noticed there was not as much grip. That’s a result of INDYCAR decreasing the amount of downforce the car generates overall, and in particular lowering the downforce level generated from the top of the car.
“You just don’t have as much downforce,” Newgarden said. “It is going to force everyone to adjust. You will have to figure out the braking zones differently, the way you approach corners, the way you set up the car, the way you prioritize tires and the general feeling.
“It’s all going to be really different next year and will force everyone to move out of the boxes they’ve built the last couple seasons. That’s going to mix it up and make it interesting.”
The Tennessee product doesn’t expect too many answers to be known after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that opens the 2018 campaign.
“It will be a moving target,” said Newgarden. “St. Pete won’t tell the whole story. It will change when we go to Barber for a permanent road course and when we go to Phoenix for a short oval. There’s going to be an evolution all year long.”
Until next season, though, Newgarden is savoring the spoils of his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
“It’s been a blast,” he said. “I feel like I’m more at home now, which is good. When you first start out (at Team Penske), you don’t feel like you necessarily belong here. Now, I feel more validated when you have a year like we did. Just really proud to be part – just a small part – of this organization.”
An ultra-confident and aggressive driver, Newgarden still didn’t think he’d get the job done in his first year at Team Penske.
“I certainly dreamed I could come in and win a lot of races and win the championship,” said Newgarden. “But I don’t think I believed that was going to happen. It was certainly hard to believe that.”
Newgarden will be part of a three-car Team Penske operation in 2018 with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. Team veteran Helio Castroneves has moved to Team Penske’s Acura assault on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, though team owner Roger Penske intends to enter the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner in the 2018 Indy 500 and INDYCAR Grand Prix in May.
“The good thing is that Helio will be with us at the Indy 500,” Newgarden said. “We will still have his help and support in a lot of ways. But the team will run smoothly. You take anyone out of the team and it will run smoothly. You take me out of the team and it runs smoothly.”
Tickets now to the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear are available at www.detroitgp.com/tickets or by calling (866) 464-PRIX (7749). The race weekend features the only Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader on the 17-race schedule.