We already knew that Josef Newgarden, @RacerOfTomorrow on Twitter, had made the bold move of declining his invitation to the FIA Young Driver Excellence Academy after his 2010 season in GP3 in hopes of securing a ride in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. Well, it seems that Newgarden’s gamble paid off big time as it was announced yesterday that he’ll round out the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Firestone Indy Lights full-time squad joining Victor Carbone and previously rumored, but not yet officially confirmed, Esteban Guerrieri. Bryan Clausen and Conor Daly will be splitting the fourth SSM car with Bryan racing on the ovals and Conor on the twisties.
“I am thrilled to be joining Sam Schmidt Motorsports at this important stage of my career. I felt that Sam’s organization would give me the best chance to be competitive this season; hopefully scoring race wins and competing for the championship. Sam has made me feel very welcome in his team and I really appreciate that. Now, I just can’t wait for St. Pete to get on the racetrack.” — Josef Newgarden, Newgarden joins SSM for 2011 season, IndyCar.com
Newgarden started racing karts in 2005 and won his class, Junior Revised, at the TAG World Championship. He also found the podium twice, a 3rd and 2nd, in the Junior Yamaha class at Kart Racers of America. In 2006, he would defend his TAG World Championship and improve in the Kart Racers of America to win both Yamaha Junior events. Late in 2006, Josef also began racing cars in the Skip Barber Southern Regional Series and would take three wins and 2nd place in the championship before moving up to National competition in 2007. In the 2007 BFGoodrich / Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda series, Josef would take two wins and three pole positions on his way to a 6th in championship.
The early success in Skip Barber lead him to England in 2008 to compete in Formula Fords. Success struck early as he would win from pole at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch besting the likes of Patrick McKenna and Conor Daly. That same year he also returned to the Skip Barber National series and improved on his 2007 numbers posting three wins, six poles, and five podiums on his way to a 2nd place in the 14-race championship. His success in the Formula Ford car enabled him to compete full-time in the 2009 MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain where he won nine of the 25 races and finished on the podium sixteen times. Unfortunately, it was still just shy of what he needed to secure the championship and he found himself in the runner-up position once again.
With his sights now firmly on the top prize of a Formula 1 ride, Newgarden entered the 2010 GP3 Championship with Carlin Motorsport where he had his first real struggling season. He would only find the top-five once and suffer from multiple DNFs. In spite of this first outing in GP3, Josef was selected to attend the FIA Young Driver Excellence Academy, an honor he shared with fellow American open-wheeler Alexander Rossi. I must admit that it was a bit of a stunner to learn that he’d declined that invitation in order to seek out a Firestone Indy Lights right, and he initially recruited by tested with Andretti Autosport. SSM appears to have managed quite the coup by snatching up Newgarden from Michael Andretti’s grasp. Either ride would have put good equipment under Newgarden, but history has shown that a SSM car is THE car to be in if you want to win the Firestone Indy Lights championship.
Although the car counts are still a little low, the talent factor in Firestone Indy Lights, both in terms of the drivers and the teams, is quite high. It should be a very exciting season with multiple teams and drivers capable of winning on any given race weekend.