Josef Newgarden believes there is still a split opinion on the future of head protection systems within the Verizon IndyCar Series, and he feels that the decision not to make a knee-jerk decision in the wake of the tragedy of Justin Wilson’s fatal crash at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
The much-liked Wilson was hit in the head by debris and once more the safety of the drivers was brought into the spotlight, but IndyCar officials are still investigating ways to improve safety, especially when it comes to head protection, and Newgarden believes that whilst plans down the line could involve some kind of head protection – such as the halo device being tested in Formula 1 – he is happy to continue to race without it, for now.
“Well, it’s obviously a sensitive topic, and I think you have a split — I don’t know if you’d want to call it split, understanding I’m not all drivers,” said new Team Penske recruit Newgarden. “That could be my take on it, and this is a driver’s take, this is coming from me personally, Josef Newgarden.
“I love the heritage and the history of open-wheel racing. I respect it. It’s why I’m in an open-wheel car. I don’t mind jumping in an IndyCar the way it is right now. That’s the way I fell in love with it as a kid. I’ve got no problem jumping in a race car as it currently sits and driving in it.
“I think anyone will pretty much tell you that for the most part. There’s always going to be inherent risks to racing. You’re never going to get away from that.
I think the biggest thing INDYCAR is trying to do is put in their due diligence for what they’re trying to find. You can’t just make a knee-jerk reaction to something like this. You never know what type of knock-on effects you could have of just throwing something on a car and not being responsible about it.”
Newgarden has admitted he has spoken to his former Ed Carpenter Racing team-mate JR Hildebrand about head protection, and he acknowledges it is an issue that is likely to be addressed, although everyone knows it is not a straightforward decision to make.
“When I look at just going into 2017 I feel very comfortable to get back in the car. Always have,” added Newgarden. “I’ve got no problem with what we’re doing. I’m exciting to go racing in 2017 in an Indy car.
“But going into the future, I get to talk with JR Hildebrand every now and then, and he’s a really smart guy and fun to talk to, and I think he put it best that we’re going to be able to find a solution at some point that keeps within the spirit of open wheel racing and open cockpit cars and advance the safety of that.
“So what’s that going to look like? I think we’re working on it right now. I think that’s coming down the pike, and I’m comfortable with that. I think we’re going to find something. We’re working on it. Formula 1 is doing the same thing. You don’t see them throwing something on the car right away, and that’s exactly what’s happening on the INDYCAR side, too?”