NEWGARDEN MAKES ON-TRACK DEBUT IN SEBRING INDYCAR TEST
Tennessee Rookie Impresses SFHR Team in First Laps in Indy Car
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, March 9, 2012 – Most young American kids have a sports dream. It might be hitting a walk-off home run at Wrigley Field. Making a last-second three-pointer at Madison Square Garden. Scoring a game-winning touchdown at Lambeau Field.
For Josef Newgarden, from Nashville, Tenn., his dream was to one day drive an Indy car. That dream came true Thursday, March 8, at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway when he climbed into the cockpit of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car at the official preseason INDYCAR test.
Newgarden, 21, advanced to the pinnacle of North American open-wheel racing with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) after winning the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship. He will compete for IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.
At the end of the full week of the Open Test, Newgarden ranked 15th on the overall time sheet with a lap of 52.6551 seconds at 114.177 mph with 120 total laps.
“It’s pretty cool,” Newgarden said of his first experience driving an Indy car. “It’s an Indy car! Not many people get to drive an Indy car in their life, and I think it’s pretty phenomenal that I get to work with this great group. I really feel that way. I’m just really excited to be with these guys.”
Newgarden admitted he was nervous before turning his first lap in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. After a few stalls in the pits due to a combination of nerves and a balky clutch, Newgarden first entered the historic Sebring road course at speed at 10:20 a.m. (ET) Thursday.
Reality hit home: His IZOD IndyCar Series career was underway.
“The nerve-wracking part was doing my systems check and trying to get out on a clear track and just do a simple lap and come into the pits,” Newgarden said. “When I went out, there were just too many cars swarming around me. There was just too much going on. But as soon as we got in a rhythm in the afternoon, I felt pretty darn comfortable, to be honest. It felt pretty routine and normal.”
SFHR and Newgarden will be on the grid for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 25. Team owner Sarah Fisher is eager for the opener after watching her rookie driver from the SFHR pits most of the day.
“For the first day, I’m very impressed with the start,” Fisher said. “He’s young outside the car, but he comes across as very methodical and educated when he’s in the car. He has great feedback. We’re very fortunate to have a trained driver like that, and he’s worked really hard to be here.”
Fisher also was enthused and moved to see the team she started with her husband, Andy O’Gara, in 2008 take another big step in its growth with Newgarden behind the wheel.
“The whole team has put forth an effort to be here today,” Fisher said. “We just got our Honda engine last week. It’s been a great group effort. Standing back and being the face of the team, seeing that teamwork and chemistry already is so encouraging and gratifying.”
After winning its first IZOD IndyCar Series race last fall, the Indianapolis-based team announced in December a partnership with businessman Wink Hartman, the hiring of Newgarden as its IZOD IndyCar Series driver and plans to build a new race shop and offices in Speedway, Ind., in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A partnership with Honda, just signed one week ago, was another major step that will allow SFHR to race regularly at the front of the pack.
The team has one more private test scheduled before the St. Pete season opener.