For Josef Newgarden, year three is chance to enter IndyCar’s elite

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If history is any indication, Josef Newgarden has the prodigious talent to enter an elite group of drivers in his third year of the IndyCar Series.

Current drivers that won their first race in their third season of competition, in the CART, Champ Car, IRL or IndyCar formats include: Helio Castroneves (CART, 2000), Will Power (Champ Car, 2007), Ryan Briscoe (IndyCar, 2008), James Hinchcliffe (IndyCar, 2013), Charlie Kimball (IndyCar, 2013) and Simon Pagenaud (IndyCar, 2013).

Others, such as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson, among others, have won earlier.

But their circumstances are different to the ones Newgarden faces, as the 23-year-old Nashville native prepares for his “junior year” in IndyCar.

Newgarden has had to learn and develop without the aid of a full-time teammate at the fledgling but growing Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing organization.

As a young driver, the expertise offered by a veteran could be beneficial, but as Newgarden explained, not having one can make you stronger.

“It would be optimal to have a teammate with more resources,” he admitted in an interview with MotorSportsTalk last week. “But working with what you have, and making the most of it can be very rewarding in its own right. Doing well as a single-car team builds confidence for all of us.”

As a result, he’s going through his first round of engine development work this offseason. Honda shifts from a single turbo to a twin-turbo engine specification, which essentially changes how the power is delivered.

While Newgarden said the team has had “really good success” figuring out the new challenge, the challenge that has presented itself from a personnel standpoint has been twofold.

The team lost engineer Nathan O’Rourke to Andretti Autosport, with Jeremy Milless now filling that role. Another team member, Mike O’Gara, has also departed the organization to run Chip Ganassi’s sports car team in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

“It’s been an adjustment period; a real tough offseason, with a lot of shuffling. But I think we’ve responded the best we can,” Newgarden said. “We have most of our guys still the same. This team never quits, and honestly I think we’ll be ready to go.”

Newgarden’s two seasons have featured some brief highs, but more lows in total. And that’s not for anything that’s been done wrong, but more down to either poor luck or poor pace.

Case in point: Newgarden was often quick in 2012, but he rarely had any results to show for it (not a single top-10 finish; ended 23rd in points) and dealt with frequent mechanical maladies. He also missed the Baltimore race after breaking his finger in a collision with Bourdais at Sonoma.

In 2013, the results improved (four top-five, seven top-10 finishes, jumped to 14th in points) but the qualifying fell off. Newgarden’s qualifying average of 17.5 was better than only three other full-season drivers: Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Sebastian Saavedra.

“For year three, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on being quicker,” he said. “We did better at finishing races, and putting results together. But we lacked outright performance and speed. We’re trying to understand and gain consistency, and also get more ultimate speed out of it. That’s where we will make more gains.”

Are wins – as mentioned in the lede – the ultimate goal? Not as much as translating that hoped-for consistency into a top-10 points finish, which is a lofty goal considering the mighty Penske, Ganassi and Andretti teams will field half (11 of 22) of the projected full-season entries.

“A realistic goal for us is top-10 in the championship, and to be a top-10 car at the end of the year,” Newgarden said. “Whether wins come or not is neither here or there. We have to be more consistent, and put results together. I think we’re capable.”

Newgarden starred on street courses in particular in 2013. He nearly won at Brazil but eventually faded to fifth, while at Baltimore, Newgarden attacked the infamous Pratt St. chicane like no other en route to second, an elusive but popular maiden podium finish (and one that featured a kitten named Simba, because Internet).

But he doesn’t want to be known as a one-trick pony, especially given that those two circuits are absent from the 2014 IndyCar schedule.

“I really think I can make it work on other courses,” he said. “Baltimore and Brazil people thought were my two best tracks. But I’m excited for St. Pete, Long Beach and Barber to kick off the year; we’ve worked harder on the package. I think we’ll have good results.”

What Newgarden is always good at – beyond his on-track development – is his candor, relationship with the media and occasionally self-deprecating sense of humor.

He’s grown his hair out this winter, and admits his love for Chipotle “still stands as strong as ever” despite “inroads made from Moe’s.”

But back to business, Newgarden is in a contract year, with 2014 marking the third of his initial three-year contract with SFHR. He could potentially play himself into a bigger seat for 2015; for now at least, he doesn’t want that to distract from the focus of continued improvement.

“It’s been a challenging road; it’s been tough learning the ropes,” he admitted. “But I’m very excited about year three. There’s so much I’ve learned in two years, being in the mix.

“What I need to do is apply the learning the last two years, and make that big step forward. We’ve built this team from essentially the ground up, improved and improved with each race, and I have with them. Hopefully that’s the recipe. There’s not pressure for year three, but more excitement from more experience.”

For IndyCar’s sake, as Newgarden is one of only two Americans 25 or younger (Graham Rahal is the other, at 25), taking that next step to enter potential superstar status will be a benefit to all of driver, team and series.

NTT re-signs as IndyCar title sponsor in multiyear deal starting with the 2024 season

James Black/Penske Entertainment
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The IndyCar Series has re-signed NTT as its title sponsor in a multiyear agreement starting in 2024.

NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, became the series’ title sponsor before the 2019 season after starting as a sponsor of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT Data (a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) will remain the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard weekend.

With the extension, an IndyCar spokesman said NTT would become the second-longest title sponsor in series history. The longest title sponsor was PPG from 1980-97 (under the CART sanction of the Champ Car Series).

NTT replaced Verizon, which was IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014-18 after IZOD from 2010-13.

“NTT is an excellent partner across our enterprise with strong expertise and a deep commitment to our sport,” Penske Corp. chairman and IndyCar owner Roger Penske said in a release. “From Smart Venue technology at the Racing Capital of the World to the reimagined Series mobile application, NTT is transforming the fan experience in new and innovative ways. We look forward to a bright future together.”

NTT has used artificial intelligence-enabled optical detection technology at IMS to provide information to the track’s operations and security teams, helping improve fan traffic flow and safety, the track said.

“IndyCar is a great partner for NTT Data because of our shared commitment to driving innovation, increasing sustainability and delivering amazing experiences,” NTT Data CEO Kaz Nishihata said in a release. “We also appreciate how IndyCar is so diverse, with drivers from 15 different countries, and races that range from short ovals and superspeedways to road and street courses. It’s both an incredible sport and a wonderful example for our world.”

NTT also has been instrumental in helping redesign the IndyCar app and providing more race and driver data for use in NBC Sports’ broadcasts by utilizing 140 data points from every car in the field.

“NTT is fully invested in the development and growth of our sport and has already established a terrific track record in our industry with problem-solving capabilities and access to top talent and tools,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

Said NTT Data Services CEO Bob Pryor: “We’re thrilled to continue our collaborations that enhance and expand the fan experience for motorsports and serve as proof points for data analytics, AI, and other innovative digital technologies. For more than a century, this racing series has pioneered innovations making driving safer for everyone, and by continuing this relationship, we will accelerate the pace of innovations and new technologies, particularly related to sustainability that ultimately can benefit organizations, communities and individuals around the world.”

Starting as a Japanese telephone company, NTT grew into a $100 billion-plus tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas.