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Firestone Indy Lights: Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 100

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 100

Firestone Indy Lights: Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 100

Josef Newgarden
Sam Schmidt
October 2, 2011


THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. We are pleased to be joined by our 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Josef Newgarden, who just by starting today clinched his first championship. Five wins and 10 podium finishes. Today's finish also clinches the title of Perkin Elmer Rookie of the Year. We're also joined by Joseph's team owner Sam Schmidt. This is his fifth drivers championship as a Firestone Indy Lights owner.
Josef, talk about the stellar season you've had with Sam Schmidt.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, we've had an immense season together. The whole crew, it's obviously a very tough weekend for us, as well. We lost our leader a couple weeks ago. It's very difficult to be here without him and certainly achieve this. He was such an instrumental part of the team. We're really going to miss Chris obviously. It's a tough time for everybody.
But he would have wanted us to push on. That's how racers are. We just want to go do our job and certainly for him. I'm pleased for everybody that was involved in this. Really the team deserves it. They've worked really hard. Everyone on the team really, not just everyone on my car, but everyone on the other cars, all the drivers, all the engineers, Sam. It's been a great team effort from everybody. I'm really pleased for all the hard work that's been put in all season.
Like you said, it's really been unbelievable. Not just me, but the drivers, we've had a lot of success together. There's a lot to be proud of this season for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, congratulations. Talk about the dominant program you've been able to put together over these years.
SAM SCHMIDT: Well, I mean, this year was quite unique. We had a few flame-throwers, so to speak, on the team. It made it enjoyable winning nine races as a team, three different drivers. I really think that helped each of them push each other in testing, in the races, to get those three cars towards the front. Truly a testament to all the hard work on all the teams. Proves all the cars are equal.
Really proud of Victor. He started off the year qualifying 10th to 13th and today was competing for a podium. All in all, very good season, rewarding, enjoyable.
Like Josef said, it's been a tough two weeks. Can't go anywhere in that shop without seeing something that Chris put his hands on. As Josef said, I think 46 victories, he was only in Victory Circle four or five times, but he always wanted to be guiding the team to get the glory and the win. That was just Chris, the way he was. We're working through that.
Great job by Josef all year. Without knowing the tracks, without knowing ovals, coming from three years in Europe, even though he's an American, it was a totally new experience. He did a great job. He drove smart all year and I think that's what got him the championship.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it for questions.

Q. Pray tell, this young man I've interviewed a number of times. He always comes up with drivers. Where did you two get together and how? Did he just call you one night when you were sleeping in a motel?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: That's probably Sam Seager (phonetic). He's pretty good at putting packages together and he knows a lot of people.
Yeah, we talked last year. There was certainly some interest there from both sides. Really it was going to be difficult to make this year happen. Sam was extremely instrumental in making it work. It was going to be tough to get into a car this year. A lot of it was down to him, he made it work. We've had a lot of people come on during the year to make the program work out. A lot of people stepped up to help out. Certainly Score Big, Copart, Robo-Pong, a lot of guys helping us this year. I'm really proud we've had the success we have had.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, what was it that you saw in Josef that you knew he had to be part of this team?
SAM SCHMIDT: Obviously this is a little different than the IndyCar Series. We got to start our scouting, so to speak, in Vegas in early November, look at those 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds. Certainly what he showed at Newcastle back in the day, went to Europe, did a great job over there. Just like Conor's experience in Europe this year, I think it will help him going forward. It will help Josef because he had some good runs over there and he's had some struggles because of the competitiveness over there.
That has probably really helped him a lot this year do what he's been able to do. I watched that whole process way back to Team USA and before. I know that if somebody can be competitive at that level and continue to be competitive over there that, you know, what's good about our team and drivers coming into our team, generally the only variable is the driver. The cars are fast, the cars are good, not always perfect, but you put a good driver in that scenario, he's going to excel.

Q. The plan is always to win a championship in Indy Lights and move up to IndyCar. Next year with the new car, the number of seats is going to be diminished. How big of a challenge is that for you to meet the next goal?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's going to be the toughest challenge. This is probably going to be the most crucial move of my career. I would say it sets you up. Every move is important. Every rung of the ladder that you go up you try to position yourself right, you want to be perceived by people correctly. Certainly the first year in the top level of the sport is going to be the toughest. It's an important move, the most important move of my career.
Obviously like you said, there's a lot of new cars next year, a lot of things. I think it's crucial for the teams. They want the right package as well because they want to be up top and they want to develop at a quick rate. The are looking for the right packages themselves. And certainly for me, we want to put ourselves in the right situation also to grow effectively and really surround yourselves with the right people. I want to be around the right people.
Obviously Sam has done a lot for us, he's done a great job. I'd love to be a part of his group in the future as well. You have to see how things shake out. There's a lot of opportunities, I think. I'm excited to see what the future might hold for us.
THE MODERATOR: A note on that. Last year we started the Mazda Road to Indy program. As a part of that each champion will receive a scholarship to help move up to the next level on the ladder programs.

Q. (No microphone.)
SAM SCHMIDT: The stars have to align. More than any other top level of professional sports, timing is everything in this situation. Brand-new cars, engine manufacturers, a lot of changes in the upper series, a lot of good guys battling for less number of seats. All of those things are challenges. We're still working on beefing up that scholarship program with Randy and the engine manufacturers in the Firestone because that would really help.
But Josef clearly has got the talent, American driver, all American boy, all that stuff. Those are all things that Stephen work hard to capitalize on.
I forgot to give a shout out earlier, I am remorse, I want to say hello to anybody that can relate to Dave Rininger (phonetic). He has been one of the spotters for many years. He was a spotter for Josef. He completely shattered his leg at Baltimore. I can't tell you how many emails I got that he's crushed that he can't be here.

Q. (No microphone.).
SAM SCHMIDT: He needs a four-wheel scooter next time.

Q. If the stars don't align as Sam indicated, would you run a second year? Most guys that have done it to win a second time, it's probably more difficult than winning the first time.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, that's a good question. It's one that's been brought up. I think it's one of those options. You have to look at everything that's on the board and try and make the best move possible.
It's certainly on the table as an option for next year.
Me personally, I'd like to be moving forward. I don't want to jump too early. There's a lot of opinions on how you take this process, the way you move up, timing of that sort.
For me personally, you know, to come back, it would be better to be in a seat than not in a seat. But we'd like to be moving forward. This year turned out exactly how we wanted it to turn out. It's been an incredible learning experience for myself. We just want to keep making progress and certainly we're looking at the right opportunity and the next step.
If that's not present, then I think there's opportunities that are very interesting in other avenues of the sport and in other places in the world. As you said, though, there is a scholarship program in place. The idea is to move up to the IZOD IndyCar Series. That's really our focus, I would say.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I would think so, absolutely. I mean, I don't see why not. I've received some interest. I think people look at the series. Maybe we didn't have as large of a field, but I certainly think there was some talent up top. There's no doubt about that. I don't think people are going to look down on it this year.

Q. What were your realistic expectations coming into the year? Did you feel you would have as many dominating performances as you had and would be sitting here as champion today?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I really hoped so. I said it before, but the big thing was, when you get to meet this team, you know the success, you know what they've done in the past, you see the chemistry, we did have a lot of chemistry together right from the get-go, I felt positive coming into it. I felt there was a lot of chance for success. Certainly people expect that.
You get a ride with Ganassi or Penske, people are going to expect big things from you. That's the same thing with Sam Schmidt's team here. He has a great program, incredible crew, great staff of engineers. Everybody is dialed in. The weak link would be the driver. That's what we wanted to do. That's what I hoped was going to happen.
I wasn't surprised that we could have this year, but it's more about making it happen. Was I going to be able to do it myself, there's always variables. It depends how quickly I was going to learn on the ovals and everything.
To be honest, I surprised myself. I learned a lot quicker on the ovals than I thought I would. There's a lot to learn on ovals. We only had four races on ovals this year. There's a lot to go in that learning process. But it accelerated quicker than I thought it would. I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

Q. This year, what would you rate as your most surprising win? Obviously you've said you're amazed how well you took to ovals. What would you say was the biggest shock? I was thinking pole at Loudon maybe.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think Indy was pretty special. It obviously was a little lucky with the way the yellows panned out. I have to tell you, we had some really good cars there. Esteban was there. He didn't get an opportunity to battle with me there at the end. That was a tough break for him.
I think that was a big win for us. That's something you want to win coming into the series. That's the top of the list of everywhere we go. That was a big win for us.
Certainly, like you said, Loudon was really cool. We had a very good racecar. It wasn't perfect from the beginning. But, man, we kept working all weekend, we got that thing so dialed in for the race. Esteban, I lapped the field, but he would have lapped the field, too. He caught an unlucky break with lap traffic there. He was very strong as well. You can look to us as a couple of us that had really stellar finishes, but that certainly ranks up there, like you said.

Q. After what happened to you in Long Beach, I'm sure you were thinking, I hope those points aren't crucial for the end of the year. Are you now amazed by the size of the margin you won the championship with?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It happened a lot better than it could have, for sure. I was concerned. But to be honest, we've had the mindset that every weekend is a standalone weekend. You have to keep focusing on a weekend as a weekend itself. The toughest part of Long Beach was the wait to Indy. It was like, gee, you had this enormously tough break, you feel so demoralized and defeated as a driver for what happened, but now you have to sit around and wait a month. I wanted to get in a racecar and try it again.
That was difficult to do. But, yeah, certainly a tough incident, but a good learning experience at Long Beach. That was a really good learning experience for myself as a driver.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, went to the team, which was all the better. I didn't win it. But we won it as a team anyway. That's the most important part.

Q. Was learning to run side-by-side difficult to learn having come from Europe where you did road racing?
SAM SCHMIDT: I think it was 18 laps, to be exact. Between than that and Carbone's move three-wide on the inside, I was gasping for air myself.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: That's a good question. That goes hand-in-hand with learning ovals and getting comfortable on ovals. That was one of my fears. It's difficult to do. It's not easy to sit there wheel-to-wheel with a car. Obviously we're quite exposed with the wheels. Something bad can go wrong at any moment.
I think that was a big eye-opener at Long Beach. We went to Las Vegas a couple days afterwards and tested for the first time on an oval. That was the first time I went on one. People were just going nuts practice day. It's like, All right, let's go out and pack race with six or seven people. It was crazy.
But it was a big eye-opener. I think I got comfortable pretty quickly with it. It really depends who you're running with. I think Stefan did a great job of giving me room. He had a quicker car than us today. He needed to bide his time and work that outside lane. He got right in front of us and was able to pull away. I think he recognized that. He did a good job of not chopping me or doing anything rude to me. I tried to stay on my line and hold him off. That was the best I could do.
It wasn't too nerve-wracking with Stefan. He really did a good job with that. It turned out fine during the race.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, Josef, congratulations on a wonderful season, amazing accomplishment with the championship.

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