BY JIM MILLER WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
During a teleconference on October 5, Team Penske president Tim Cidric announced that Josef Newgarden will be joining their organization next season taking over driving duties on the No.2 car replacing Juan Pablo Montoya.
Newgarden, a five year IndyCar veteran with three career wins, is coming off his best season finishing fourth in the 2016 season championship with four podiums and 11 top-10 finishes. Team Penske also enjoyed success this past season with a 1-2-3 finish in the season championship Simon Pagenaud capturing the title followed by Will Power and Helio Castroneves.
“For any open-wheel racer – or any race car driver in general – Team Penske is a dream job,” Newgarden said. “Roger Penske is a legend in the motorsports community and his team has done just about everything they’ve ever set out to do. I look forward to working with all of Team Penske’s great partners. To get an opportunity to work with Simon, Will and Helio, along with the rest of the team, will just help make me a better driver.”
Newgarden, who won the 2011 Indy Lights Championship, has spent his entire Verizon IndyCar Series career with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) following a merger of the two teams in 2015. ECR had the right of first refusal on Newgarden, but Carpenter didn’t act on it in respect of the opportunity for the 25-year old driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee to join the most successful team in IndyCar history.
“When you look at the top talent in the series, both from a driving and commercial perspective, Josef is near the top of the list,” said Roger Penske, owner of Team Penske. “We are always looking to build toward the future and, when we had the opportunity to talk with Josef, we knew that he would be a great fit with our program. 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 as part of our team.”
The future for Montoya is still up in the air. Cidric stated that they sat down at the Toronto race in July to discuss future plans for the team. He emphatically stated it wasn’t an easy decision to replace Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who drove the past three seasons for Team Penske and narrowly lost the 2015 championship to Scott Dixon. But the team had targeted Newgarden since 2011.
Montoya has an open offer to drive a Team Penske car in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, but the Colombian has expressed the desire for a full season ride. After the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma last month, Montoya acknowledged he has strong interest from other teams.
“He’s been a great guy to work with and we’d love to continue working with him in the future. Really, the ball is in his court as far as whether it’s not the first choice for him, we’d like to continue some association with him if it makes sense for him. But we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to have Josef be a part of team in the future.”
Newgarden hit the ground running with his new team. The Monday after joining Penske he was testing at Road America with his three new teammates, and on October 13 was at Gateway Motorsports Park along with six other drivers participating in a Firestone tire test to assist Firestone in selecting the proper tire compounds for next summer’s race.
Experiencing Gateway for the first time Newgarden’s opinion was “It’s a cool track, very interesting, kinda like a combination of Phoenix and Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of loading in the corners and Turns 1-2 are tight and Turns 3-4 are more open and I think 3-4 is where you’re going to be able to make stuff happen in the race.
The other drivers joining Newgarden at Gateway were Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais.