LEXINGTON, Ohio – It seems with every passing year in Josef Newgarden’s Verizon IndyCar Series career, one thing has come better the next.
His rookie season in 2012 featured some speed but no results. Qualifying took a dip in 2013 but results improved. Then there was the mix of some speed and some results in 2014. This year, there’s been yearlong speed, yearlong results, but not the full consistency needed to make what’s been a career year even better.
Still, with two wins, a third podium at Iowa (runner-up finish), eight total top-10 finishes and a series-high 296 laps led through 13 races, Newgarden is enjoying his best season to date in the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet.
He sits eighth heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC).
“It’s been a good year in a lot of respects,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk in an interview at Mid-Ohio this weekend.
“Where we are in the points is a result of Indy GP, Detroit, Texas and Fontana. Those four killed us in points. When we haven’t had bad races we’ve had good ones. Iowa was strong. We had the car to beat over long runs and over the whole night. We missed it a little bit. It’s probably a good thing if we’re disappointed with second.”
Newgarden, who drove for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team the last three years before SFHR and Ed Carpenter Racing came together – seeds of which were sown at Mid-Ohio last year – said there hasn’t been as big a performance leap as it might seem.
Both teams had been thorns in the proverbial “bigger teams’” sides as single-car outlets, and they’ve only grown stronger as the combined CFH Racing unit, featuring Newgarden in the No. 67 car and Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi sharing the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.
“I don’t think our performance has been a huge leap, and I say that because we were good last year, particularly at the end of the season,” Newgarden said. “We came on so strong. We had fast racecars and we could never execute. This year we’ve continued to have fast cars. We made them even better. Built on the speed and executed better.”
Newgarden’s future, if it isn’t already, will become a major talking point over the next month or so.
Mid-Ohio is traditionally the kickoff to the silly season, but the nature of this year’s condensed schedule means deals might not be happening until the Sonoma weekend or even post-season.
Newgarden signed a one-year deal to remain with CFH Racing for 2015, with a team option for a second. While he’d be keen to stay, it stands to reason he will be exploring the market and other options when the time is right.
“Next year’s hard, because I think everything will happen later, with the way this season has gone,” Newgarden explained. “There’s time after the end of the year. I don’t think movement will happen until late August or September before people do stuff.
“For me, I’m looking at it as I want the best situation possible to win races, and a good environment. To be fair, CFH Racing has provided that for me. They have provided me all the tools they possibly could to be successful. Jeremy (Milless, engineer) is one of those tools.
“This whole group would like to have me back and I’d like to be back. But I have to look for the best opportunity for me, too.”
Newgarden hailed Milless, his second-year race engineer, who has been the young buck upending the veteran engineers and more veteran drivers in this first year of manufacturer aero kits.
“Jeremy is young, yes, but he’s very intelligent. I love working with him,” Newgarden said. “It’s a big reason I stayed with CFH this year, he was going to be my guy again. We have a good combo. He saw my career from the beginning in 2012, but he hasn’t been a primary race engineer that long. He’s put experience in for 10 to 15 years. He’s plenty talented and you see what he’s done. He’s really shined over two years.”
Heading into Mid-Ohio this weekend, Newgarden has a chance to win his third race of the season at the biggest one that got away from him last year. Coincidentally, the other two have been Honda-sponsored races at Barber and Toronto.
“It’d be nice to have a good result here after last year,” he said. “It looked like we’d get the first win last year and it didn’t materialize. I know we’ve executed well. I think we should be in the mix.”
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.
“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.
The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).
He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.
“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”
There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).
He was even better this year at Daytona.
He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.
A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).
“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”
Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.
“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.
“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).
“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”
Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.
The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”
Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.
And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.
“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.
“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.
“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”
A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.
It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.
“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”
Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.
“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.
“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”
Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.
“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.
This is what it’s all about. Not just a team but a 𝙁𝘼𝙈𝙄𝙇𝙔
“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”
Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.
A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.
With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel
“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.
“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”