Verizon IndyCar Series race engineer Gavin Ward has stated that he is “really enjoying” his move to the series so far. The Canadian, who had worked in Formula 1 with Red Bull Racing for almost ten years, left the sport to join Team Penske and to ultimately become Josef Newgarden‘s race engineer.
Ward made the move to the United Kingdom to study at Oxford Brookes University as a means of finding a career in motorsport. After graduating, Gavin secured a full-time job with Red Bull Racing and would ultimately end up as a race engineer and, after that, an aerodynamicist.
However, late last year, Ward decided to leave Formula 1 to race with Team Penske in IndyCar. The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series is Ward’s first time working in the series, but despite the vast differences between IndyCar and Formula 1, Ward says that he is enjoying the transition.
“I’m really enjoying the atmosphere at the team. It’s exceptionally positive and there’s a real company ethos that’s strong and impressive, and it flows from Mr Penske down,” Ward said.
“I like working with Josef and so far, I’ve been super impressed. I feel like we both have been enjoying learning from each other about the differences in how F1 and INDYCAR go about setting up their cars. I think any engineer would count themselves very lucky to work with a driver of Josef’s talent and commitment level.”
“I’m in a good situation where I have time to get up to speed and learn what INDYCAR is all about,” he added later, “It’s probably an even bigger challenge than going to race engineer in Formula 1. With the cars being so similar, the driver-engineer relationship is really important over here. And if we are not on it, there’s nowhere to hide.”
Ward spent the vast majority of his time in Formula 1 as a race engineer for Red Bull Racing. He worked with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Daniel Ricciardo, and David Coulthard throughout the years, with his highlight most likely being his trip to the podium as the team’s representative when Vettel won the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In his last three years in Formula 1, however, Ward filled the role of aerodynamicist, which meant that most of his time was spent at the factory instead of at the race track. Gavin says that this one of the reasons he decided to move back across the Atlantic Ocean to become Newgarden’s race engineer in IndyCar:
“The factory-based design role wasn’t quite the same,” said Ward. “It just didn’t give me the same buzz – the sights the sounds, the smells and the childhood memories of going to the track – and there wasn’t the adrenalin rush you get from being in the thick of it. I learned much more about how to make a race car go fast through the aerodynamic work at Red Bull and I certainly wouldn’t change that, but I am happy to get back to the track.”
“From an engineering side, it’s been quite eye-opening and surprisingly different. I think I am learning a lot from it. There are areas that I can bring a little bit of F1 experience to and then there are areas where I am learning a heck of a lot. It is definitely more involved and you have the freedom to just muck into whatever you want, which is something I wanted. I am still sort of adjusting to that – it’s almost a culture shock. I’m used to being a bit more compartmentalized and you can just dive in here.”
It is not just Gavin who is enjoying his time in IndyCar so far. Reigning series champion, Josef Newgarden, has said that he is learning a lot from both Ward and his lead engineer Brian Campe:
“I have enjoyed our off-season testing schedule together. Gavin has such a strong background in open-wheel racing, and there is a lot we can learn from each other,” Newgarden said, “Along with Brian Campe, I’m lucky in that I get to work with two extremely intelligent top engineers this season, and I really look forward to seeing what we can put together on track this year.”
Gavin Ward’s introduction to the Verizon IndyCar Series will continue this weekend as he attends his first oval race whilst working for Penske. The 2018 Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway takes place on Saturday evening, with Penske hoping to take a second-consecutive race win at the Arizona oval.