I was really pleased when Josef Newgarden entered Firestone Indy Lights last year; this is a prospect that’s long been on a number of radars as a guy who could be a future American star in open wheel racing. Of course, like many racers, he’s had to fight funding demons over the years, so it was great to see him win that Firestone Indy Lights scholarship as that series’ champion.
Of course, as we well know, that scholarship does not equal a full-time ride, or even a partial one; whispers last year were that 2010 Lights champ JK Vernay didn’t impress enough in his IndyCar tests to secure a ride. Whether or not that’s the case, Vernay is no longer part of the Mazda Road to Indy.
So will Newgarden fare any better? I certainly hope so; I believe he could definitely be a big part of the IZOD IndyCar Series in the near future, if given a chance. Curt Cavin’s blog, although not specifically naming him, seems to float the idea he could be part-time at Sam Schmidt Motorsports in their second car (with Simon Pagenaud basically confirmed as their primary driver next year). Honestly, I’d rather see Newgarden in a part-time competitive ride than a non-competitive full-time one, if it comes down to it.
Josef might trail only Justin Wilson in terms of potential scenarios as far as where he goes for 2012; various suggestions have included Andretti Autosport and even AJ Foyt Enterprises. But it’s important to remember that Schmidt basically has first dibs on the young driver. I don’t think he’d hold him back, and it also might turn out that a second car at SSM is the best bet for the would-be rookie.
We won’t see anything close to the mass rookie class from Lights we saw this year (Hinch, Pippa, Kimball, Saavedra, etc.), but it is important that the ladder series functions as a true ladder, especially for a deserving young talent such as Newgarden. With the car count up and scholarship money in play, let’s hope something can be worked out for him.