Josef Newgarden has praised his Team Penske crew after they gave him the winning strategy in yesterday’s 2019 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Newgarden was put onto an alternate strategy for his penultimate stint of the race, with the successful pit-stop putting him out front on faster tyres than those behind him. Ultimately, he would take the win by almost three seconds.
The opening weekend of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series got off to an unassuming start for Newgarden and Penske. Newgarden placed no higher than seventh on the opening day of practice, but in final practice, Penske showed their hand. Newgarden, along with team-mates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all placed inside the top five; hinting at the great pace that was to come in qualifying later in the day.
Penske has often shown incredible speed on the streets of St. Petersburg. This year would be no different. Penske would lock-out the front-row, with Will Power claiming his eighth St. Pete pole position and Newgarden lining-up alongside on the front row. The third Penske of Pagenaud would qualify outside of the top ten after the Frenchman had his fast laps interrupted by red flags in the first group of qualifying.
Just under a tenth of a second separated Power from Newgarden, with Josef left disappointed in himself that he had not been able to take pole position. Josef stated after the session that he simply had not put the best lap together that he could have done in the final round.
“It was a medium start to the weekend,” Josef said on Saturday, “We weren’t bad and we got a top 10, but we weren’t crazy stellar. We definitely found our footing this morning and made the car really good. Everyone really executed today. I’m only disappointed in myself. I didn’t put together the best lap there when it really counted. We did a great job getting into the Firestone Fast Six as a team, so you can’t be dissatisfied.
“It’s really positive for the whole organization. Team Chevy did a really good job and worked really hard overnight for us to make sure what got what we needed for the No. 2 Hitachi Chevy. Thank you to Chevy for giving us everything we need. It’s hard to not be disappointed when you’re quick and we had a little better tires. We were on the preferred tire and you want to capitalize on them, but I messed up that first lap and booked it on the second. It was close, but wasn’t good enough.”
Newgarden lost ground at the start of the race yesterday. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist was able to get by in the braking zone for turn one, with Newgarden having to slot in behind. From there, Newgarden looked to be on the back foot to those around him, with Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon soon moving up into contention for the win.
Newgarden’s race was defined by his penultimate pit-stop. The team opted to leave Newgarden out on the track whilst the other leaders took to the pits. When Josef did make his pit-stop, the team also chose to put him on the alternate Firestone tyre compound; an opposing strategy to those around him, who had been fitted with the primary black tyres.
Both choices, ultimately, proved to be masterstrokes. The leaders were held up behind Marco Andretti and subsequently lost time to Newgarden. Josef would emerge from his pit-stop in the lead of the race and on the faster tyre-compound; allowing him to pull out a lead of up to ten seconds.
What made the strategy call even better was the way that Newgarden was able to go just as long into the race as his rivals, whilst matching their lap-times throughout; even toward the end of the stint when his tyres should have degraded much more than those behind him.
The final stint of the race saw all the drivers fitted with the primary tyres, with Newgarden able to navigate his way through lapped traffic and to hold his lead all the way to the end of the race. Ganassi’s Dixon tried his hardest to catch Newgarden, closing the gap from nine seconds to three, but the reigning champion ran out of laps to properly challenge Josef.
The win would be Newgarden’s eleventh in the NTT IndyCar Series and his first since Road America last June. More importantly, the win gives Josef a strong foundation to begin the season with, as he looks to claim his second IndyCar title.
After the race, Newgarden stated that the team’s alternate strategy “worked out perfectly” and that Team Penske had given him “a rocket ship” of a car.
“We were literally talking about [tyre strategy] right before the race.” Newgarden said in post-race interviews, “We were trying to figure out, should we go used [tyres] or new Firestone reds [alternate tyres] and we made the call at the last minute to stay with used [tyres]. We’ll have that advantage if we need it and we used it. It just worked out perfectly.
“I just can’t thank Chevy enough for all their support and what they put in this weekend. We had an incredible engine, we had everything we needed in fuel mileage and reliability and all the power. I’m telling you, we really figured things out on Saturday and it was a rocket ship. I’m so thankful to our group. We have the best of the best working at Team Penske.”
Newgarden will be hoping that his strong start to the season continues into the second round of the championship at the Circuit of the Americas in just under two weeks time. The 2019 IndyCar Classic will take place on Sunday, March 24.