Newgarden looking forward to Barber after strong start to 2019

John Cote / IndyCar

Though it is still early in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden has already established himself as one of the championship favorites.

Kicking off the season with a win on the streets of St. Petersburg and finishing second in last weekend’s inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas, Newgarden sits at the top of the series point standings heading into next weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park (April 7 at 4:00 PM ET on NBCSN).

“It’s been a pretty smooth start overall this year,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “St. Pete was a big difference. I’ve never been able to have a strong weekend there for one reason or another ever since I’ve started in IndyCar. It’s nice to go there and finally figure that weekend out. I think that always sets a good tone for the rest of the year.”

With that tone set, Newgarden and his Team Penske crew will look to retain and possibly even expand his points lead with a great run at Barber, a track where Newgarden has won three of the last four races.

“[Barber] is definitely a highlight of the schedule for me,” Newgarden said. “I like everywhere we go, but Barber has always been for sure a highlight. A lot of people like going there. It’s a beautiful facility.”

“I don’t know why but I’ve always had a good fortune around that place. Races have always seemed to pan out for us. These IndyCar races are so tricky with the way yellows fall or the way the strategy plays out, or what just seems to happen when dominoes fall into place through the race. It’s just always seemed to work out pretty decently at that track.”

But even with his great start to the season and excellent chance to make it three straight victories at Barber next weekend, Newgarden isn’t taking it easy. With the majority of the schedule still ahead of him and a starting grid stacked with talent from top to bottom, the 28-year-old Tennessean knows that a second championship trophy won’t just fall into his lap.

He captured three victories last season, but despite entering the finale at Sonoma with a mathematical chance to win the title, his lack of consistent podiums diminished any realistic chance he had. With 2019 still young, he has little room for error if he wants to be a title contender come Laguna Seca in September.

“We’ve had a good start which is always positive, but it can change so rapidly, you can’t ever get too confident. You always just have to be prepared for what changes,” Newgarden said. “You have to be on your toes all the way through the season. There’s just no point where you can really take a break or breath. You just gotta be on top of it.”

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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).