Gordon Kirby

New ground for Newgarden

Josef Newgarden has demonstrated that he’s one of the most talented American drivers to come along in many years. He’s also one of the most resilient and showed tremendous fortitude this past year, particularly in bouncing back from a big accident at the Texas Motor Speedway in June. Newgarden broke his right hand and a collarbone but returned to action two weeks later at Elkhart Lake before scoring a superb win on the Iowa oval only four weeks after his crash.

His performances this year have convinced Roger Penske to sign him for 2017. Newgarden replaces Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a tough 2016 season and finished a distant eighth in the points table while team-mates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves swept the championship’s top three places. 

“We are always looking to build towards the future and, when we had the opportunity to talk with Josef, we knew he’d be a great fit with our programme,” Penske said. “He is a fantastic driver on the track and will be great with our partners off the track. He is hungry to win more races and win championships and we hope to give him that opportunity.”

Needless to say, Newgarden is delighted with his move to Penske. “There are a lot of amazing people here, from the ownership to the crew and sponsors,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and honour for a young guy. I think I can learn new things here and try to grow as a driver and try to open up my role by working with a great team and some great team-mates. I just want to integrate myself into a system that obviously works very well.

“It’s going to be a different challenge for me. You’ve got more cars, more drivers, more engineers to talk to. I’m excited about all that. There’s so much to draw from. I hope I will learn some things I didn’t know and it will push me to a new level. Penske is an American dream so it’s great to be a small part of one of the best teams in the world.”

Tim Cindric is Team Penske’s president. “Josef has shown that he’s a winner and that he can handle himself on and off the racetrack,” Cindric said. “That’s the core ingredient for us. It’s all about how do we build the strongest team we can for the upcoming years. 

“There’s never a good time to make a change, especially when you’ve had success with the guys we’ve had. Replacing Juan Montoya with anybody is a difficult goal. I’m sure if he doesn’t end up racing for us in the future he’ll still be one of the guys winning races and one of the guys to beat.”

If Montoya is unable to find a ride elsewhere Penske has offered him a car for next year’s Indy. “We sat down with Juan at Toronto (in July) and told him we weren’t going to make any decisions until the end of the season. We told him we wanted to understand where we were with Josef. We were very upfront about that whole situation. 

“We told Juan we wanted him to be part of our team in the future, that we had a seat for him at Indy if he wants it. He said he wanted to drive at least one more season in Indycars, that he didn’t want this to be his last season because he felt he had some unfinished business. 

“It was a really difficult decision for us. Juan has been a big part of our success. He pushed the team and our other drivers very hard. He’s been a great guy to work with and we would love to work with him in the future.”

Team Penske finished one-two-three in IndyCar’s 2016 championship after winning 10 races, taking 11 poles and 22 podium finishes. With Newgarden’s arrival America’s most successful racing outfit should be even more dominant in 2017.