Without doubt, Californian rookie Josef Newgarden has been one of the revelations of the Indycar season so far. The likeable 21-year-old is among the dark horses to win Sunday's Indianapolis 500, and starts as the highest placed Honda runner in a top-9 monopolised by Chevrolets for Sarah Fisher Racing on the inside of row three. In contrast, Honda's flagship team, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and their two drivers, 2008 winner Scott Dixon and 2007/ 2010 winner Dario Franchitti languish down in 15th and 16th places. Newgarden, the winner of the Freedom 100 at Indy last year, who also went on to capture the overall Indy Lights crown, was consistently quick throughout practice, and could be, according to his good friend Conor Daly, in with a shot at springing a surprise.
Daly currently races in the European-based GP3 series, but last year proved a thorn in the side of Indy Lights title contenders Newgarden and fellow Schmidt driver Esteban Guerrieri during his irregular championship appearances. Indeed, arguably Newgarden's only mistake of the year, atLong Beach, came as a result of huge pressure from Daly, who nabbed the win as a result.
“He's done fantastic, it's really cool to see,” Daly said exclusively to The Checkered Flag of Newgarden's performance in 2012. “I mean gosh, we literally started at the bottom with each other, racing against each other every weekend and we kept racing against each other all the way up to last year. It's cool to see he's done a good job and he's only going to get better.”
Second in the Skip Barber National championship behind Daly in 2008, Newgarden made the move to Europe in 2009, blitzing the first round of the 2009 Formula Palmer Audi event at Brands Hatch, and finishing second in that year's British Formula Ford championship behind sometime Formula 2 racer James Cole. In 2010, Newgarden made the giant leap to GP3 with Carlin, but managed only three points finishes all year, two of which coming in the final meeting of the year. As a result, the Californian was unable to raise the sponsorship to continue his European adventure and was forced to return Stateside for 2011.
“It was very difficult for him and he told me all about it. He desperately wanted to do a second year in GP3 and really wanted to keep on at F1, but it was just a funding issue as it normally is,” Daly says.
When the two met each other once again in Indy Lights in 2011, Daly was impressed with the skills Newgarden had picked up in Europe.
“I was able to learn from him, and even when he did Indy Lights I was able to ask him more about it,” Daly says. “He's helped me a lot and we help each other as much as we can. He's a good friend.”
Daly for one was not at all surprised by Newgarden's pace at the Brickyard, and has high hopes that his friend can become the first American winner of the '500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.
“I think everyone has been impressed with how quick he's been. I mean, he was the only Honda in the top 9 in qualifying for the Indy 500! That was really cool to see, and I think he's only going to get better.”