Josef Newgarden, who just missed out on pole in qualifying at St. Petersburg, made fast work of finding speed with Gavin Ward, his new race engineer on the No. 2 Chevy.
Ward, who came to Team Penske from Formula 1 where he served as a race engineer for Red Bull Racing, got to know the Tennessean while working under Brian Campe last season. That time spent with Ward in Newgarden’s engineering group proved helpful as Campe recently was shifted to a shop-based role.
The feeling-out process between new driver and engineering combos can take a year or more, in some cases. But thanks to their familiarity gained in 2018, Newgarden said the transition from Campe to Englishman Ward was fast and smooth.
“It’s great for me because we got to work together all last year, so we already had a year together in many respects,” Newgarden told RACER. “The only sad thing is I lost my ‘double engineer system.’ I felt like I had almost double the resources on my car last year, so it’s sad to not have Campe here. But [Brian]’s always there at the shop, in communication whenever we need him.
“[Campe]’s working on a lot of things for us so he’s very much still in the game, but it’s nice to have Gavin. He’s definitely a great guy — very enthusiastic and a fantastic attitude, which is what you need in a team environment. So far, there have been no issues. We’re gettin’ along great, and I think we’re gonna have a good year together.”
Prior to Campe and Ward, Newgarden’s roster of IndyCar race engineers included Nathan O’Rourke and Jeremy Milless at Ed Carpenter Racing. In each instance, the 2017 IndyCar Series champion said he benefited by learning new ways to extract performance from himself and from the car.
“It’s fun to learn different techniques and thought processes from guys with different backgrounds,” he explained. “Gavin’s got a very different background than mine or what Brian had coming from NASCAR; and that’s a positive thing. He got to learn from [ours] and we’re learning from his. Certainly there are things from the F1 world that they think about very differently. They have very different tools and different objectives, sometimes, than us. And being able to incorporate some of those ideologies into our mix has been, in my opinion, very beneficial.
“At the same time, though,” Newgarden continued, “we’ve had to bring Gavin up to speed on what’s the norm in IndyCar racing. You can’t run an Indy car like an F1 car, to a certain degree.”
Campe brought heavy oval experience to the relationship, and that’s the one obvious area where Newgarden and Ward will need to build experience as the season progresses.
“I think for Gavin, 2018 was a year to learn about ovals and all the idiosyncrasies of IndyCar because it’s so different in a lot of ways. But you also need to be solely in charge of the car on ovals to get everything there is to know about tuning on the cars,” Newgarden said. “The competition’s so close, so it puts more emphasis on setup. Last year was just about [Gavin] learning that process but having an equal input. It was Brian and me taking the point, but Gavin jumping in whenever he needed, so it has made it an easy transition for this year, in my opinion, and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.”