The cat is out of the bag, or more point, the hair color is out of the bottle.
Josef Newgarden will be the first to tell you that Helio Castroneves is IndyCar’s true Silver Fox. Former teammate and 2015 NTT IndyCar Series champion Newgarden took time out on Friday from stumping for the upcoming Big Machine Music City Grand Prix coming to the streets of Nashville on Aug. 8 to share his thoughts on Castroneves’ return to the circuit on a full-time basis in 2022.
First, though, Newgarden let the media in on a little secret. And we’re not good at keeping secrets.
“Old Silver Fox Helio,” Newgarden told Autoweek. “You know he paints his hair. I think he should just let it go. I think if he let it be silver, he would be so much cooler. He’s the Silver Fox. He needs to let that thing fly.”
On Thursday, it was announced that Castroneves, 46, will be racing for Meyer Shank Racing next season for the full IndyCar season. That deal includes the opportunity for Castroneves to go for the repeat at the Indianapolis 500 and for what would be a record fifth Indianapolis 500 victory. A fifth victory would break a tie with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears atop one of racing’s most exclusive lists.
“I’m excited for Helio,” the 30-year-old Newgarden said. “There’s obviously plenty of room for him on the grid. He’s one of the best, absolutely one of the best. If it wasn’t going to be us winning the 500, it was so fun to see Helio get No. 4.
“We’re not going to give him any tips, though. He’s had enough tips over his lifetime. He’ll have to figure it out now on a new team full time.”
As for the upcoming street race in Nashville—a less than 30-minute drive from Newgarden’s hometown of Hendersonvile, Tennessee—Newgarden says that the unknowns still outweigh the knowns. The 2.17-mile temporary street circuit is highlighted by a long straight on the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Cumberland River.
“The raceability of it, I think, it could be a really exciting racetrack,” Newgarden said. “The bridge section is compiled of two super-long straightaways. One of those straights, Turn 1 is what we’re going to be calling it, is an extremely wide entry point. It looks like Turn 1 at Cleveland used to look off of a massive straight. I don’t know, and we won’t know until we actually get there, but the raceability is pretty high for that track. We’ll see how the tires perform and all that sort of stuff, too.”
Newgarden can’t afford to spend too much time trying to figure out the racing lines and passing zones on IndyCar’s newest downtown street circuit. He enters the race sixth in the points standings and is trailing leader Alex Palou by 69 points with just six races remaining in the championship.
“We need to perform well,” Newgarden said. “It’s six races to go in our championship. Each one is critical. We’re not in a perfect position, points-wise, but in the fight and every race is going to count now leading to the finale.”
Newgarden said that early success on a new circuit—one that the teams have yet to gather any data—comes down in part to hours on a simulator to give the drivers and teams their best guesstimate of what to expect.
“It’s a lot of simulator time,” Newgarden said. “The cool thing is this is probably the most useful time that we’ll have for the simulator all year. Really, when you want a simulator is when you go somewhere new that you’ve never seen before, never driven. So we’ve been really trying to work on getting everything correct in the model.
“Even now (the model) changes every time I’m in it. I was In the simulator probably a week ago, and now it’s got the whole skyline written into it, and it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I can Nashville now.’ It’s just getting a little better every time you show up.
“We just to try to make sure and get an idea of what we need before we show up. But it’s an imperfect science. We try and simulate these worlds as best as possible, but it’s never perfect until you actually drive the car in reality and you have something to compare it to. We’re doing our best guesstimating, if you will. And then hopefully that gets us in enough of a rhythm where I kind of know where I’m supposed to be going, I have an idea where I’m supposed to be braking, where I’m going to be doing upshifts and downshifts and then hopefully that cuts the learning time down so you can hit the ground running pretty quickly.”
After that, it’s all about keeping it real.
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