lot worse,” he admits, “but to be honest,
we’ve had the mindset that every
weekend is a standalone weekend. We
had to keep focusing on what we had to
achieve at that moment and maximize
what we had. In fact, the toughest part
of that Long Beach crash was that there
was then a five-week gap until our next
race, so that was a bit demoralizing.”
In the end though, Newgarden was a
resounding champion. Even despite
suffering the Vegas assault, the
Nashville, Tenn., native was 94 points
clear in the final standings. This can be
put down to two things: one, Newgarden’s
immediate adaptation to oval racing; and
two, his ability to remain composed. He’s
a very smart racer, usually a step ahead
of his car, and has the ability to outfox
his rivals because he can think while
driving on the limit.
Schmidt agrees with both these
assessments. “At ovals like Loudon and
Iowa, you need the ability to set the car up
for the long run and manage the balance
of the car, through driving style and
using your cockpit controls, and Josef
seems to have taken to that like a duck to
water. For not having driven on an oval
before this year, he was very impressive.
“But just as impressive as the way he
dominated in Loudon [Newgarden lapped
Victory in the freedom 100 at indy was the first sign that newgarden had a knack for ovals. (Belo W) Posing with sam schmidt and al speyer of irestone became a regular occurrence.
unforced error and crashed out of the
lead. The contrast was striking.
Schmidt shares this perspective, but
“Josef is definitely
ceased being surprised by it earlier in the
season. “Josef is the whole package,” he
asserts. “You can’t just be a great talent.
Many of our drivers have been fast, but to
be successful, you need patience, great
judgment – know when to go, when not
to go – and pick your battles. That’s
on-track. Then you need to work well
with the engineers and deliver good
feedback. And then you also have to be
the whole package away from the car, too,
keeping sponsors happy and developing
relationships. Combine all that, and
Josef is definitely one of the top guys
we’ve had through our team.”
So Newgarden is ready to graduate…
but to where? “Well, I’ve had a couple of
very interesting offers from Europe for
2012,” he says, “but also from IndyCar
one of the top guys
we’ve had through
all his rivals!] was the way he made the
best of any given situation,” adds Schmidt.
“Look at Baltimore, for example.”
There, Newgarden was caught out by
a long brake pedal during qualifying (an
intermittent issue throughout the year),
and when he caused two full-course
cautions, he lost his fastest times and
was sent to the back of the field. Yet on
race day, he was fast and error-free as he
climbed through the field, patiently
applying pressure to the driver ahead,
then executing clean, decisive passes at
every opportunity on his way to finishing
second. Meanwhile, Guerrieri made an
teams. If I could tell you who, I think
you’d be quite surprised. But I can’t!
GETTING HEAVY IN LIGHTS
Newgarden certainly wasn’t the only ace in Schmidt’s lineup
Year on year, it can almost
go without saying that Sam
Schmidt Motorsports had a
great season in Firestone Indy Lights.
But 2011 was particularly special.
As well as making winners out of
Josef Newgarden (five times) and
Esteban Guerrieri (three), sending
them to first and second in the
end-of-year point standings, SSM’s
Victor Carbone clinched the season
finale at Las Vegas and the team’s
shared car arrangement paid off, too.
Bryan Clauson, reigning USAC
National Midget champion and
National Drivers champion,
competed in all six oval races for
Schmidt, earning himself a pole
position and four top-five finishes.
For the road and street course races,
his place was taken by Conor Daly,
who was racing full time in GP3 this
year. Daly went on to win the Lights
race at Long Beach.
In praising Newgarden for his title,
Sam Schmidt points out what a great
driver lineup he had this year.
“Esteban (RIGHT) could be the
fastest one-lap qualifier we’ve ever
had in our team, but you’ve got to
first finish to finish first, and he had a
couple of issues which precluded him
from giving Josef a run for his money.
Conor, if he did a whole season,
would be in the championship mix.
And Bryan was really getting the
hang of racing these cars, too.