CHEVY NTT INDYCAR SERIES: PRESEASON ZOOM CONFERENCE WITH TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET INDYCAR DRIVERS

CHEVROLET RACING IN THE NTT INDYCAR SERIES
PRESEASON ZOOM CONFERENCE
TEAM PENSKE TEAM CHEVY INDYCAR DRIVERS
JANUARY 26, 2021

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 2 HITACHI TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
YOU HAD A GREAT YEAR IN 2020. YOU HAVE A PRETTY SPECIAL RACE COMING IN AUGUST ON THE INDYCAR SCHEDULE WITH RACING ON THE STREETS OF YOUR HOMETOWN IN NASHVILLE. TALK ABOUT THAT A BIT.
“Yeah, I’m extremely excited about Nashville. I think the NASCAR guys are, too. Obviously, they are different tracks but it’s certainly a city that supports events I think almost better than anywhere. It’s growing in population and popularity among sports fans and it’s a perfect destination as far as visiting a city for tourism and to see an event like INDYCAR and NASCAR for that matter, I think it’s just the best destination. So, I’m very excited about INDYCAR coming back. I would never have dreamed of that happening when I was a kid, growing up in the northside of Nashville, that we would one day have a street course race in the downtown streets of Nashville. So, it’s going to be fun. I think it has big potential to become one of the marquis events on our calendar and certainly a blockbuster for a street course race.”

YOU’VE BEEN WORKING A LOT WITH GAVIN WARD RECENTLY. IS HE GOING TO BE YOUR RACE ENGINEER AGAIN THIS YEAR? AND HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE DOES THAT BRING YOU GOING INTO THE SEASON GIVEN YOUR STRONG YEAR LAST YEAR?
“Yes, confidence is big. I agree with Ryan (Blaney) in saying you’ve got to feel good about your ability in the car and the people around you. Gavin Ward is stellar. I’m such a fan of Gavin. He’s brought a lot to our team specifically being in the Formula 1 world. In a lot of ways, INDYCAR and Formula 1 are very similar and in other ways they’re very different. They approach a race car a little different than we do. They’re both open-wheel cars, so a lot of it transfers, but they may be focusing on one area of the car that we would never look at.
“So, for me, that’s brought a lot of confidence to our team to try and open up our scope in how we’re developing the cars in the off-season and what we’re thinking about over race weekends. And when it just comes to race day execution, he’s really good. He’s a great collaborator for me, to figure out what we need on the car specifically for each session and then maximizing race day. So yeah, he’s going to stick around. We’ll have the same program as last year and obviously just trying to up our game in all areas. That’s the goal every season. I’m hoping we can find that extra that we need.”

YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT SMALL DETAILS IN THE OFF-SEASON AND THERE’S NO ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO FIX EVERYTHING. BUT IS THERE A PARTICULAR AREA YOU HAVE FOCUSED ON WHERE YOU FEEL YOU CAN IMPROVE DURING THE OFF-SEASON?
“Yes, we definitely have. We’ve put a ton of emphasis on the Indianapolis 500 as far as the way we build the cars, what we’re looking for in qualifying; I think we’ve definitely marked that even as we always do, even if we won the race by a mile, I think you’d be looking at how to be even better at Indy. I think after last year we really want to up our game. When it comes to qualifying, we want to be up higher. We know we can do that. We know that we have people to make it happen. So, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on that, which I think is very encouraging. I’m really excited to get to the month of May, to be honest with you. So, that’s number one.

“Then with myself, I think the biggest area that I can improve is qualifying. There are some places where maybe we were just a little behind as a team and ultimately, we got what we got out of a particular qualifying session. But then there’s other times I think that I can still contribute a little bit more. And I can still maximize those starting placements just a bit better. It’s not that we were bad in 2020, but if there’s an area to improve I think that’s the place to push forward. I think our race performances were very strong. Circumstances didn’t always fall in our favor, but if we can just give ourselves a little better starting spot every single weekend, I think that’s going to go a long way in helping our cause for the championship.”

ALONG WITH YOUR TWO INDYCAR CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORIES IN YOUR CAREER, YOU HAVE BEEN SEMI-CLOSE SOME OTHER TIMES, BUT HAD NEVER FINISHED SECOND PLACE AND BEEN QUITE AS CLOSE AS YOU WERE AS RUNNER-UP IN 2020. AFTER HAVING SOME TIME TO REFLECT OVER THESE PAST COUPLE OF MONTHS, HAS THE REFLECTION AND DRIVE YOU’VE GOTTEN ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHERE YOU FINISHED?
“I think for me, if anything, in all honesty, I was really just disappointed. I felt like we had a championship performance last year. Circumstances didn’t always fall our way. It was one too many times that circumstances went against us. And I think ultimately that’s what kind of decided our fate with the title. But we fought all the way. We got pretty close. We fought our way back every time. It was just too big of a deficit at the end of the day to make up, especially with a competitor like Scott (Dixon). I think if you give him too much of a window sometimes you dig a hole that’s too big to claw your way out of. But yeah, I was disappointed. For me, as a competitor, it would have been nice to knock off the third championship and then this year I would like to be working on the fourth. And so now you’ve got to re-set. We didn’t win the third; we’ve got to try and win the third this year. And that’s the way my mind works.

“For me I want to figure out how we can win as many championships as possible. And the Indy 500 is still on that list. I have not been able to personally knock that race off and get one on the board. So, I’m focused on that, but I’m definitely focused on us trying to find this third championship. I thought we had the performance for it last year and we’ve just got to maintain that and continue to up our game. That’s the mentality ever season. So, I’m just more determined and more focused after the disappointment of falling short last year.”

SCOTT MCCLAUGHLIN, NO. 3 PPG TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
TALK ABOUT COMING TO INDYCAR WITH A PENSKE LEGACY PARTNER SUCH AS PPG:
“I think it is fantastic that we were able to announce that PPG will join us for 10 out of 17 races in 2021. For me, to race car No. 3 was very special from what Rick and Helio have done for the team, but also to carry on a 37 year legacy with PPG and be a part of that in some way is going to be very cool, and hopefully I can add to what has already been achieved in the P, PG INDYCAR with people before me. We went though video on the announcement which I thought was very cool. It brought back some goosebumps. Danny Sullivan then Al Unser, Jr., Rick Mears , Juan Montoya, Josef (Newgarden) who have run these colors. To be a part of this legacy is very cool for me and it is starting in my rookie season. I appreciate the trust that PItPG put in me and my program.”

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON IN THE OFF SEASON TO GET READY FOR INDYCAR?
“A lot of things. Trust in the car and what it does. Trust the aerodynamics. It’s the first race car I have ever driven that relies on the aerodynamics and trusting within the car. The grip level you get. It can also bite pretty quick so learning that and learning the limit is quite difficult, but I’ve had some good analysis with my engineers and working a few things out. Making sure I am comfortable in the car. Another thing as well, and I noticed this in St. Petersburg, learning the tire in qualifying conditions, it takes time for the tire to come up to temp and it is a very short window where you can get the ultimate grip for the fastest laps. That is something I think I am going to have to learn over the race period, over the journey. We only get to run the red tires in qualifying or at the race track at the race meeting so I am going to have to learn that over time and test in them. I think our learning develop[ment has been going okay but time will tell and we will try to learn as much as w can.”

WHAT ARE Y0UR EXPECTTIONS?
“It’s one of those of those deals to say exactly what my expectations until we get on track and see where we are at. Like Will said, I think we are going to have a real strong race car and three strong teammates to push me. I think that will accelerate my process. If I get to the end of the year and I’m in the top-10 of the championship or the top-eight in the championship that would almost be a win for me. I am realistic about my expectations. But I am impatient. I’m competitive and I want to make sure we get to the front as quick as we can. I’ve got a massive amount of expectations from the sponsors that partner with us including PPG and some to be announced. It’s an exciting period but there is a pressure there and I am excited to take that on board and move forward with it.”

WILL POWER, NO. 12 VERIZON TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET:
ON HIS RECORD SETTING CAREER SO FAR BEING LISTED ALONG SOME OF THE GREATS IN THIS SPORT: “It’s amazing. It’s something that I would have never thought when I first started my career. To be five poles away from equaling Mario Andretti for all-time poles. Up there with Michael Andretti-three wins away from him to be fourth on the list. It’s reall cool-the Andretti name is such a legendary name in the sport. I’m still as motivated as ever. Love it as much as I ever have. So I expect to keep going here and have a real shot at the championship this year. Planning on having a good start to the season I think that is what has made it difficult for us the last few years. I have a very good crew. Obviousuy being with my engineer (Dave Faustino) for over a decade, we know each other so well. I have three very good teammate. Three very strong guys so I expect the team to be very strong this year as a whole.”

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE GIVEN SCOTT? “I told him when he was initially getting into it was just to creep up on it all. Because there is nothing worse than going into the wall, having a crash and losing your confidence. That certainly puts you back a few steps. He’s driven in a very high-profile series at a very professional level for a number of years so he knows all that. I think he knows the process he needs to take. There’s not really much you can give him. He’s got to really take from real-life experiences from here out honestly.”

WITH THE NEW ENGINE WHAT WILL CHANGE WITH PUSH TO PASS. HAS INDYCAR TOLD YOU IF YOU CAN DO IT DEFENSIVELY AS WELL OFFENSIVELY?
“No, I don’t think they know how that is going to work until we get around the engine to see how it all going to work when it is actually physically on the track. I’m guessing-I expect them to use the electric motor for the curves for push-to-pass. Not the engine, not the boost. Because I think you will have plenty of options for push-to-pass in two different ways obviously amounts of horsepower. What I’ve been for is when we go to a track like Mid-Ohio or St. Pete where there are short straights to me you should have a no reply system. Maybe on some of the bigger tracks where it is easy to get around. Them you could tailor that to the amount of horsepower you get. Because you don’t want to make it a brainless pass where it is easy like DRS in Formula One. I think you want to make it where it is still difficult but you can get a legitimate run on someone.”

HAVE YOU ALREADY BEEN TOLD THAT THEY AREN’T GOING TO USE THE ENGINE POWER TURBO BOOST FOR PUSH TO PASS ANYMORE? “No, I haven’t been told that. I expect them to use the electrical engine for push-to-pass for practical reasons and it has to make sense to the manufacturers. If they are talkimg about the electrical side being used as a device during the race, its good for the manufacturers.”

WHEN WE HAVE SUCH A CONDENSED AT BEGINNING OF THE YEAR. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS TO PREPARE FOR THE SEASON EARLY ON? “After reviewing the previous seasons, we’ve made adjustments. Obviously we struggled in the pit quite a bit. I’ve reviewed the mistakes I’ve made as well and I have a slightly different crew this year. I think the cars will be better as well. I’m pretty confident in that, the team has done very good development in the off season. The first three tracks, I feel like they are difficult tracks for us. The are strong Honda tracks. It’s going to be a very tight first three races. I think, as we do every year to win the championship and for me personally, I just have to make sure we are in the hunt. Properly in the hunt. Not clawing my way back from a terrible start to the season. For one reason or another, you can’t really pinpoint the same reason we have lost too many points in the first four races. That is a big focus.”

IS THE BROAD AGE BAND IN INDYCAR WITH TALENT YOUNG AND OLD,. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? “I think it is a sign of the times, If you look at football, Tom Brady is going to the Super Bowl at 43 years old. I feel like you can be as competitive and strong until you are 45 or so. I’ve been there so I know but certainly in your early 40s. But also drivers starting so young now. There are kids getting in cars when they are 12 or 13 years old. It’s crazy. So by the time they are 18 it’s a matter of experience of racing cars as we have seen with Colton Herta. Yes, it is a huge spread in age, but not in competitiveness as far as the level of skill. It is a very competitive series over a 20 year or more age group. Which bodes very well for those young guys. They can have a really long career. It certainly put us in pretty big numbers if you look at Colton Herta starting where he is.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, NO. 22 MENARDS CHEVROLET:
YOU ARE BUSY GETTING READY FOR DAYTONA FOR THE ROLEX 24. YOU ARE A BIG PHYSICAL FITNESS GUY. DO YOU FIND IT AN ADVANTAGE TO START YOUR SEASON WITH AN ENDURANCE RACE. DO YOU SEE AN ADVANTAGE TO THAT?
“Yes, I think it’s mostly just having a calendar in place and being able to have deadlines and knowing when you’re going to be in the car. It’s an assessment, Daytona is for me. It’s really an assessment of my work that I’ve done over the winter mentally, and also physically. It’s also, you’re kicking off a new season and it’s exciting. New car. New gears. New everything. You just get going. I’m very excited for 2021. I feel very refreshed. Obviously, the only advantage of COVID is really to stay home and really rest and focus on training. So, I really feel ready for 2021.”

HOW BENEFICIAL IS IT FOR YOU, OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE RACING THIS WEEKEND LIKE A KANAAN SEASON IN INDYCAR?
“Yes, anytime you’re in the race car it is beneficial. The sports cars, the prototypes, the way they are these days, they’re pretty close to an INDYCAR. The braking power and downforce level are similar. Obviously different tires and a bit of a different feel, but the driving is very close. And the fact that you’re passing people really allows you to work on those details. At the end of the day, I think the work of a race car driver is all about working on the little crafts, the little details for your craft. So, the more you think about it and practice it, the better. I really enjoy doing it. You know, my roots originally, came from sports cars. So, it’s good to go back and forth and keep me current in sports cars.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT APPROACHING THE SEASON NOW WITH YOUR WORK DURING THE OFF-SEASON? ARE YOU CONFIDENT MOVING FORWARD?
“Yes, it’s been an interesting off-season, for sure. I think as a team we were able to re-center on the No. 22 car. I’m pretty excited about this season coming up, really. There’s a big focus on Indianapolis. Personally, I want to go back there and try to go for another win. We know its Team Penske’s number one goal and the whole team has put a lot of effort into it. So, let’s cross fingers and hope that we get the speed that we want out of the cars. Certainly, on the road course, we just need to find some speed in qualifying for us. We’ve been working hard on that with my engineer, Ben Bretzman. We can’t wait to go to Sebring and get to test the car. We’ve got a few items that we want to try and see if that gives me feel that I want from the car to just extract the best out of it every time we go out on track. I think St. Pete was pretty good for us. We improved the car massively, so I think we’re on the right path. We just need to get going quite frankly. It’s been a long off-season and I just hate not driving. So as soon as we get to Sebring we’ll have a better understanding.”

AS YOU LOOK AT THE INDYCAR SERIES DRIVER LINE-UP FOR THIS YEAR, WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU MORE? THE YOUTH AND TALENT OF THE DRIVERS OR THE NUMBER OF GUYS STILL RACING AT LATE 30’S EARLY 40’S CONTINUING TO RACE AT A HIGH LEVEL?
“Straight answer is I don’t care. I’m focused on myself (laughs). That’s it.”

About Chevrolet
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, available in 75 countries with nearly 4 million cars and trucks sold in 2019. Chevrolet models include electric and fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on Chevrolet models can be found www.chevrolet.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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