Newgarden, SFHR make fan engagement connection

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A cool story out of IndyCar from a fan engagement perspective. Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing surprised one Indiana family, to help create an even more direct connection to the sport. Here’s the full story, via SFHR:

When IndyCar fan Lesa Tennant heard a voice scream “Go,IndyCar!” out of a vehicle window passing by her Bargersville, Indiana home, she assumed a few kids were acting silly.

Tennant didn’t realize inside the vehicle sat IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) mechanic Danny Klotz. The two were driving back to Indianapolis from Sweetwater Lake, where the SFHR team enjoys spending time away from the track during the summer.

Newgarden saw Tennant wearing an IndyCar shirt. After yelling from the window, both Newgarden and Klotz decided to make a U-turn and surprise Tennant.

“I didn’t recognize Josef at first,” Tennant said. “They pulled in my driveway and said, ‘We saw you are an IndyCar fan, and we like to meet IndyCar fans.’”

Said Klotz: “We talked about the Indianapolis 500. Lesa asked us where are seats are, and Josef responded with ‘Having the best seat in the house.’”

When Newgarden finally revealed himself, a shocked Tennant ran inside to get her husband, Leroy, an avid race fan.

“I was on the treadmill in the front room, and I thought he looked like Josef,” Leroy Tennant said. “But then I thought there’s no way Josef Newgarden would be in my driveway. When my wife came and told me Josef was out there, I just couldn’t believe it. That kind of thing doesn’t happen.”

Newgarden and Klotz have continued their relationship with the Tennants. Leroy and his son Kevin attended the IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway just weeks later, and they walked the grid with the team before the race.

Leroy, Lesa and their family recently made a visit to SFHR’s race shop, just minutes down the street from the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“These types of opportunities that you happen to stumble across are really neat,” Newgarden said. “The Tennants were able to see what we do more closely, and hopefully they tell five other people who tell even more people. Hopefully it gets the word out about IndyCar racing.”

Said Klotz: “I think any time you can get someone like Josef, who’s already a media magnet, out to meet people on a personal level, it can really bring true fans to the sport. Lesa was a Tony Kanaan fan, and I think Josef has her heart now. Something like this is heartfelt and goes a long way.”

A family who already shared a passion for racing has an even more direct connection to the sport.

“We love interacting with people,” Newgarden said. “We are not too sheltered to where we can’t talk to anyone from the outside or bring anyone from the outside in to what we’re doing. We want to be very involved with our fans. We’re just regular people who love racing, and meeting other people who like racing, too, is really cool to us. We welcome anyone to check out our family group here.”

Said Leroy Tennant: “I’ve been a race fan for a long time. But it’s great to root for somebody who’s like that. They’re just good people.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”