By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Change in any Verizon IndyCar Series team can be major if the team and the new element don’t mix well. For Josef Newgarden and his teammates at Team Penske, things seem to be going as well as ever.
The 2011 Indy Lights champion joins a lineup that is stacked with talent. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are former IndyCar champions, while Helio Castroneves has three Indianapolis 500 victories to his credit.
According to Pagenaud and Castroneves, expectations are high for Newgarden.
“I think [Newgarden]’ll be strong right away, it all depends on how the season starts for him, I think. I think he will be aggressive, over I don’t know, certainly not under aggressive, it’s not his style,” Pagenaud said.
“He seems to fit (in) really well. We only have one practice, a couple of days of spring training at Elkhart Lake, one day at Sebring as well. He seems to be a great personality, obviously an amazing talent for winning races before and now here and Roger’s a perfect guy to spot new talent and I do feel that he will do really well this year,” Castroneves said.
Newgarden and Pagenaud’s situations joining Penske closely parallel each other. Both drove for much smaller teams throughout their time in IndyCar after winning a championship in a lower formula. The biggest difference is that when Pagenaud joined Penske, his team of mechanics and engineers had to be assembled from nothing, whereas Newgarden pilots a team already put together in the No. 2 camp.
“I think it’s a different situation, we started from zero, really building a team up, with people coming from the outside, some people from the inside, and it was about assembling the whole team. That’s just time, there’s nothing you can do to go faster than time,” Pagenaud said.
To prevent a similar season of struggle like Pagenaud had in 2015, the team shuffled a few people around.
Tim Cindric will be Newgarden’s race strategist in an effort to give Newgarden a better chance to win. As a comparison, Pagenaud’s best finishes in 2015 were a pair of thirds with a fourth and a fifth, but the Frenchman had eight finishes of tenth or worse.
“I think the change of Cindric from Will Power’s strategist to him probably is to prevent what happened to Simon. Roger is an amazing guy that gives opportunity to everyone, imagine if Roger wasn’t that person, we wouldn’t know the amazing season Simon had. I feel that that’s what they’re trying to do so we don’t have that scenario that happens.”
For his first day of practice, Newgarden had only one mishap. Going a little too fast into Turn 10, Newgarden went to the escape road. In his first official practice session, Newgarden was 15th, but managed to secure sixth. With a best start of 10th at St. Petersburg in 2015 and a best finish of ninth in 2014, Newgarden will hope to top both of those with qualifying on Saturday at 2:55 in the afternoon local time and the race on Sunday at 12:30 ET on ABC.