Track Talk: Sit Down with Joseph Newgarden

Track Talk's own Victor Genova sat down with defending champion Josef Newgarden prior to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

[Victor Genova] First off, congratulations champ! How has your life changed since winning the 2017 IndyCar championship?

[Josef Newgarden] It’s not really changed much. I think the biggest thing for me is I’m more comfortable at my team. When I first moved to Team Penske it was a little unnerving. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. When you find success together with the group you feel a little bit more validated. Personally that helps you feel a bit more ease in your situation. That’s probably the biggest thing that I feel has changed, but anything else personally hasn’t been a huge shift for me.

[VG] #DFENDTHE1 is your title defence campaign. Some champions choose to forgo running the number one, Scott Dixon, for example. What made you want to take it?

[JN] It’s an honor to carry the one. It’s more so a team decision than mine. Penske’s always historically run the number one if they win the championship. I think it’s a huge honor to be able to carry it, and it’s pretty cool that we’ve been able to run it this season. I’m actually quite glad that’s the team’s viewpoint on it- to take that offer up and run it proudly on our plate.

[VG] Speaking of defending, you’re also the defending race winner of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Prior to winning, you didn’t have the best record there. What did you do differently last year vs previous Mid-Ohio races to find success?

[JN] Nothing too different, it just finally came together. I think we had a great shot to win there in 2014. I really thought we had that race locked up, but for the most part it didn’t materialize in the end. These races are so tough to win- everything’s got to line up. There are a lot of times where you’ll be close and one thing doesn’t line up and it ends up as a bad result. I don’t think we did anything that different. We just had fast cars, executed, and everything fell just as we needed it to. And when that happens a lot of times you can end up capitalizing on it.

[VG] You’ve spent quite a bit of time running European road courses in GP3, Formula Ford, and Formula Palmer Audi. How does Mid-Ohio stack up against some of those tracks?

[JN] Well Mid-Ohio has always been one of my favorites. We have really great old school road courses in North America. I would personally put Mid-Ohio as one of the best in North America, and I think compared to places in Europe it still has quite a bit of character. With the way track design has been progressing around the world they’ve lost a lot of their character, and mainly that’s driven from a safety standpoint- they’re trying make tracks safer. But I think for drivers, you always want a difficult element thrown in from having short runoff, having places that really penalize mistakes. I think drivers really enjoy that, and Mid-Ohio is one of those places that still has that character to it and difficulty. There’s a lot of charm there and certainly one of my favorite tracks to go. It’s a great, stable, American road course. Something that absolutely has to be on the calendar.

[VG] You might have just answered my next question, but what do you like best about racing at Mid-Ohio?

[JN] To me it’s a fun race to try and get your car to work well between the high and low-speed sections. There’s not a lot of low-speed corners but you have these really high-speed corners where the car has to work really well on the front end, and you have to be able to get the front through the corner like turn one or turn 11- very fast left handers. But then you have these like really short back-to-back quick change of direction corners, so just trying to get the car to work between all of that is a challenge. And I would say physically Mid-Ohio is a very difficult place. There’s not a lot of straightaway there, and you’re constantly in motion around that place. You really have to work to keep the car underneath you the entire time and stay physically prepared throughout the race. That’s a challenge in itself and it’s always been a fuel mileage race. I always find that you got to make good fuel mileage around Mid-Ohio and I think that’s the reason Scott’s (Dixon) been so successful there and it’s generally worked out for him. You can make things happen if you got a good car. You can absolutely pass people there it’s just a matter of how your car is flowing off turn two and off some of these low-speed corners leading on to some of the straights they have.

[VG] The new universal aero kit has produced some of the best street and road course racing we’ve seen. Do you expect to see this carry-over to Mid-Ohio?

[JN] I really do. I’d be surprised if we don’t have an improved show. To me, I thought the racing product was really good last year, it’s just that we’ve been trying to take it a step further and make it even better. And I think we’ve had really good steps everywhere. I don’t see how that won’t lead into Mid-Ohio as well. I think you’ll see a good racing product there. It’s going to be a little tougher because there is less downforce than last year, so those high-speed corners I was talking about I think will be even more edgy and even more difficult. I think the racing should be great. It’s been fun all year long to drive this car and to get the most out of it and sort of slide it more than the old car.

[VG] Favorite place to pass at Mid-Ohio?

[JN] I think T4 is the best place to get a pass done. That’s the most exciting I think if you can get a pass into turn four just because it’s difficult with how deep the break zone is, and the way the camber changes through the corner its generally difficult to get by someone there so that’s probably the most satisfying.

[VG] Favorite corner to drive at Mid-Ohio?

[JN] Favorite corner to drive? I’d think turn 11. Just because it’s quite blind in turn 11 and it’s a very fast, high commitment, fifth gear corner. To me that’s always been a rush.

[VG] Portland is back on the schedule. Are there any other former races/tracks not currently on the schedule that you’d like to see IndyCar revive?

[JN] It would be great if Milwaukee came back. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back there just because it really needs some support to get back up and running, but I was always a big fan of Milwaukee- always loved short ovals. Road course-wise, I think Laguna (Seca) would be fun to go to. I’ve never been there personally but it seems like such a fun track to race at so Laguna would be up there on my list. I don’t know that we can run IndyCars at Road Atlanta, but I think that would be a great track to race on. I’ve never been there personally with a professional race car but I think Road Atlanta would be a great one.

[Editors note: This interview was conducted before IndyCar announced its return to Laguan Seca for 2019]

[VG] I’m going to list a number of cars you’ve had the opportunity to race in North America. Pick one of those cars, and then any track on the current IndyCar schedule to race it on.

  1. Dallara DW12 [2012-2014]
  2. Dallara DW12 Manufacturer’s Aero Kit [2015-2017]
  3. Dallara DW12 Universal Aero Kit [2018]

[JN] I’d probably choose this current car. I think it’s a fun car but I’d put another 100HP on it though, which I think it coming. So I’m just going to change it up and I’ll say this current car with a HP boost and I would run it at Road America just cause you can’t beat Road America- especially with the current car. It’s such a blast.

[VG] If you could go back in time to 2012 and give rookie Josef Newgarden advice before his first ever IndyCar race at St. Petersburg, what would you say to him?

[JN] I’d probably tell him some setup stuff (laughing)! I didn’t have much information back then when I was starting out, neither did the team. It was a brand new car and there was no real information or historical data- and I had no teammate! So I would go back and give myself tons of setup advice and teach myself how to do it. I had to learn that the hard way, so now I know how to do it.

Victor Genova is a freelance motorsports writer and the host & founder of the Media People Podcast. You can follow him on Instagram @vicgenova