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IndyCar Indy 500

Revealed: The key speed secrets of Newgarden's Indy 500 win

Josef Newgarden won the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 with a thrilling last-lap pass, and here’s how he did it from the man who helped make it happen.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, Newgarden’s race engineer at Team Penske, Luke Mason, describes the critical decisions that were taken ahead of the race – and how Josef took control of the race by advancing 16 positions to scoop the BorgWarner Trophy, a pint of milk and $3.6 million in prize money.

Amazingly, this was only Mason’s sixth race in the role, and he came into an organization that has struggled to conquer the challenge of The Brickyard in the past three editions. He joined Penske at the start of 2022 as a performance engineer and was elevated to Newgarden’s race engineer this year – winning the biggest prize in American open-wheel racing at his first attempt paired with Josef.

And here, from 17th on the grid, is how they did it…

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, front wing

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, front wing

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

1 They chose a low downforce route

The big question coming into the Indy 500 for any driver and engineer combination is how to play the downforce level versus trimming the car out for straightline speed. This year, it was complicated by IndyCar allowing extra aero options that added up to a potential increase of 10% in downforce, all of which comes at the cost of drag.

Add to that the knowledge that if you got up front on the final lap, you would be prone to being passed…

“You have to be very careful about what you run,” says Mason. “You’d think that starting down the back would mean you’d have to run a fair bit of downforce to be able to follow cars and be able to get through the pack, but at the same time if you overdo it there, once you get to the front you’re a sitting duck and you can’t do anything.

“So, you really have to make a decision on where you think you’re going to be at the end of the race. For us, I think if you went through the whole field and did a bit of a survey, that car was probably one of the lightest cars on downforce in the whole field.

“We knew that we probably qualified out of position but at the same time it makes life easy when you have got the best pit crew and the people we have got over the wall for us. The gameplan was, we didn’t need to pass many cars on track, all we had to do was get two or three every pit cycle and make the most of in and out laps and eventually we were going to find ourselves in the top five.

“Once you’re up with those guys, then being trimmed and running less downforce puts you in a position to do what we did, and when you get out in front you can stay there.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500 Open Test

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Indy 500 Open Test

Photo by: IndyCar Series

2 They circled back to an old setup

While two weeks of practice sounds like engineering nirvana, Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be a brainbuster when it comes to car setup. Different ambient and track temperatures can have a huge impact on performance, and some blustery wind days added to the potential for confusion.

Mason reveals they chased their tails throughout the practice days, and really struggled for speed in qualifying, but then realized they had the answer at their fingertips all along…

“All the hard work for Indy really is done in the off-season with the R&D that happens before you even put the car on the track,” he explains. “That’s where all the speed is, that’s where we’re aero testing and doing driveline work and everything else.

“You’re doing all this planning that all happens so early, so once you actually put the car on track in practice, that’s the easy bit for us really. All you’re trying to do is build momentum through those two weeks that you’ve got, so you try different things on the car and not everything works and then you reset and go back and you learn something else and gradually you make the thing better and better.

“Obviously qualifying didn’t quite go to plan unfortunately which makes it a lot harder – that’s not quite how we drew it up, we would have liked to start up the front and make our life a little bit easier there.

“But at the same time, going all the way back to the open test when we first rolled out the race car in race config and race set-up, that thing was a jet. Josef did 10 laps and pitted and goes, ‘this thing is a rocket, let’s build from this and let’s go’.

“So, to be honest, we went around in circles a bit with the race car and we got to Carb Day and we sat down and had a bit of chat and I came to the realisation that all I had done over the past two weeks was make the car worse. So we just bolted on that car we ran at the very first test, all the set-up settings there and rolled with it on Carb Day, and it was back and he was super happy, super confident.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, leads Marcus Ericsson

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, leads Marcus Ericsson

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

3 Newgarden executed perfectly when it mattered

Newgarden only led five laps of the race – the only winning drivers in history to lead fewer were Joe Dawson in 1912 (two) and Dan Wheldon in 2011, who only took the lead at the final corner when JR Hildebrand famously crashed. It’s only the second time someone won from 17th on the grid: Eddie Cheever in 1998 and Floyd Davis/Mauri Rose in 1941 (Davis was fired from his drive in the middle of the race, and Rose was subbed in).

Newgarden had lost the lead by the tiniest of margins before the final red flag to Marcus Ericsson, but that loss of track position turned out to be a blessing in disguise…

“There was sort of three shots at it, right?” says Mason. “We kind of thought that once the first one had happened, the precedent was going to be set that if there was going to be an opportunity to restart the race, whether it be a one-lap, two-lap, three-lap shootout, whatever it was, they were going to do their best as IndyCar to make sure the race finished under greens.

“In our mind, it was always going to be red flags because that’s what they have done the previous two times, so we always thought we were going to get another opportunity at it and I think we just ended up being very fortunate that started up front for the final restart… and then being second was actually the best spot to be in for that last lap funnily enough, and we just got lucky there and he made the most of it.

“He’s so focused as an individual when he’s in the car that I don’t think he would have been nervous at all. He’s trying to work out where he wants to put the car, what move he is going to do, where he’s going to do it and then once he’s got the lead how he’s going to keep it.

“So, I don’t think he would have been nervous at all. I think me and Ashley, his wife, and everyone else on the stand were probably a nervous wreck trying to figure out what was going to happen and hoping that we were going to come out on top. So I think definitely us on the stand were more nervous than what he was.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, crew celebrations

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, crew celebrations

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Mason says he’s still struggling to come to terms with the achievement, which meant Roger Penske is now a 19-time Indy 500-winning team owner.

“It’s a pretty surreal moment when you’re standing there and that thing crosses the line,” he says. “I sort of blacked out for the next 15 minutes and my voice was gone, you’re with all your crew guys jumping around and then you climb the fence and all the rest of it, all the celebrations.

“Finally, once you get through that you have that little moment to yourself: ‘shit, we actually did something pretty special and pretty cool that not many people get to do’. It’s still very surreal to be honest, I still haven’t quite been able to process it.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

And the final word has to go to Newgarden himself…

“Luke did an amazing job,” he says. “We basically just went back to our test car from the April test where our car was so good, and we had never run that car again in May, and we were both looking at each other laughing, like ‘what are we doing?’

“We left that test and said, ‘if we have this car, we're winning the 500.’ That's what I said.”

And that’s what he did.

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