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A special bond was forged early between Newgarden, Tandy in U.K.

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden’s road to the title this year had several key moments and people along the way that saw his potential to win races.

In his first full season in Europe in 2009, eventual Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Nick Tandy saw that in Newgarden, by way of his late brother’s, Joe Tandy, race team – Joe Tandy Racing.

Newgarden had drawn the team’s attention by way of his performance in the 2008 Formula Ford Festival, after he and Conor Daly had won the year’s Team USA Scholarship. Nick Tandy picked up the rest of the story from there.

“I paid attention to him the last eight years. We saw Josef come over to the U.K. the end of 2008, via the Team USA Scholarship,” Tandy told NBC Sports.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

“He raced in the 1600 division of Formula Ford Festival and won that in that class. I think I was racing in the other class at the time. So I kind of noticed what was going on with him.

“Then he decided it’d be a good thing, between he and his family, to race in the U.K.

“He joined my brother’s team, Joe Tandy Racing, as we started the team in 2007. It was well-established by then. He very nearly won the title in his first year. He won the most races of anyone in the season; he just had a bit of bad luck that cost him a few races.”

The year between the Tandys and the Newgardens was one of triumph and tragedy, as Joe Tandy lost his life that year in a road accident at age 26. The bond between Newgarden and Nick Tandy, 32, has remained strong to this day.

“We’ve been great friends ever since. It was nice when we raced at Long Beach, IMSA and IndyCar. We’d always check in on each other to see what he’s up to,” Tandy reflected.

Tandy said how Newgarden integrated himself into the European scene spoke to his determination to succeed, since it can be difficult for Americans living abroad to do so.

After his one year with JTR in the British Formula Ford Championship, where he finished second in points, Newgarden moved onto GP3 the next year with Carlin.

“He’s got on really well in U.K. He came over literally on his own. And sometimes that’s not so nice for young guys coming over, moving away from home,” Tandy said.

“He integrated into the team and our family at JTR. And he’s been part of the team ever since.

“So we’ve always followed him. It was great to see him win at Sonoma.”

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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