After two successful days of testing on the 3.067-mile, 17-turn road course at The Thermal Club in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California, the 12 full-time Chevrolet powered teams and drivers leave with a notebook full of learnings as they prepare for the season-opening race on the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 5, 2023.
Six Team Chevy drivers hovered in the top-10 both days as teams improved setups and performance. In addition, the debut of the Shell 100% Renewable Race Fuel in a competitive environment produced positive reviews from drivers, teams and manufacturers.
Callum Ilott, No.77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet was the overall quickest of the Chevy drivers. In a field that was separated by a mere seven tenths of a second, Will Power, No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, Scott McLaughlin, No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet, Felix Rosenqvist, No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden, No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet and Alexander Rossi, No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet all fell within that very tight window.
Although there were 27 cars in attendance, there were a few off-track excursions during the test. And no driver damaged a car in their mishaps.
Another two-day test will be held at Sebring mid-February before the 17-race season kicks off on the Streets of St. Petersburg.
Press Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: Josef, I guess you go back to Content Day on Wednesday, you were curious about how it was going to play out, but not get overly excited about a good performance, too down on a bad performance. How do you leave here today?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think that rings true, for sure. Productive for us. A lot of new people on the 2 car. Nice to have this competitive environment.
Everyone looked like they were pushing. Looked like typical INDYCAR, right? A couple 10ths on the top split. It was really productive. I was happy with the second half of the day. We were getting the car in a good window. I made a mistake about an hour to go, kind of ruined our last hour there. That was unfortunate.
These are things that happen. It's good to have this type of environment to make that mistake and get ready for St. Pete. I leave here feeling really confident that we've got a team that can build together and try and push from the very beginning of the season.
THE MODERATOR: We'll begin with questions.
Q. Josef, you had Jeremy (Millss) as an engineer for a while. Any tips and hints for Kyle?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: He's a unique individual. I've never met anybody like Jeremy. He's crashed four plans. He's probably not telling people that nowadays, so maybe you only know two of them.
He's a very unique man. He's a very good engineer. I think you'll have a good time with him. He's great to work with.
Yeah, I don't need to give Kyle advice. I think he'll naturally probably get on a good page with Jeremy quickly. He's easy to get along with, a lot of fun, great engineer. I'm sure they'll have a good go.
Q. Nobody knew quite what to expect entering this test. What did you learn?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, about what?
Q. The track, what it can do, whether it's capable of ever putting on a race here, the facility, anything about the car.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think it's a first-class facility, no doubt. I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.
It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup, this pre-season build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.
I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don't know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn't really relevant to anywhere we're going, but that's okay.
In a lot of ways it is relevant. For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That's everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, doesn't really matter.
For us, it was applying the principles of how we're going to work together. From that standpoint it was very productive for everybody. Race-ability-wise, it's hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big dropoff from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You'd have big tire deg here.
You'd have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it's possible. I don't think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.
Q. How good a race would it put on?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's hard to say. I mean, no one really ran together like that. It's pre-season testing. Everyone is working on big gaps.
I couldn't give you a good answer from my side.
Q. Josef, two days of testing, do you have a sense if you feel like things are going better at this point of the year in terms of everyone gelling together than maybe they were at this point a year ago?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think similar. In a lot of ways, the first race last year was an anomaly. We had another thing going on during that weekend that we just were struggling to overcome, which had nothing to do with the chemistry or the cohesiveness of the team.
Then you saw second, third race, we win two right in a row. It was really a dream start for that group. No real lag time to get up to speed.
I feel no differently about this new group, as well. I think they're very capable. I have the highest confidence in every individual that's there. Really excited for Luke Mason. I think he's an absolute star. I don't want to just single him out because I think it's everybody on the team. They're all fantastic.
I have a high level of confidence, but I'm also very aware of the increasing difficulty of this environment in INDYCAR. You can't get too ahead of yourself. It's one of the most competitive series out there and it gets harder every year. Every year takes shape differently.
I've said this before, but it's hard to compare seasons because they all take their own form. It's going to be interesting to see how this one shakes out, but I feel very good about my group specifically, then Team Penske overall. I think we got the best of the best.
Q. It seemed like over the two days we had someone off track, a red flag fairly frequently. Do you have any sense of why it seemed like things
People were pushing. Everyone has been off for five months. You have everyone pushing like crazy. It's the time to test the limit, get back in the swing of things.
Yeah, it was a challenging track in some respects, high tire deg, unfriendly offline. If you got a bit wide, dust and marbling was pretty high. That's what happened to me. I pushed a bit hard in turn nine, I was basically asking to spin. I just let into it. I knew it was going to happen. I let it happen. Probably some others did the same.
Not surprising. This is the time to do it, to test the limits, try to get back into the rhythm and push things. I think a lot of people were doing that.
Q. Do you know whether you were running 2023 spec engines? The reason I ask is obviously there's a lot of first-gear corners around here. Was it indicative of anything worthwhile, Honda top of each session?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I mean, I believe so. I don't want to speak out of term. I'm pretty positive we're carrying the engine that we just ran into St. Pete. I'm pretty positive, yeah. These are race spec engines. Yeah. This should be fresh. Everyone is on their first engines.
I felt really good with our package. The progress we made in 2022 was very evident here, very useful because of what you just asked about, first-gear corners, very big premium on traction, traction capability. I thought our drivability was fantastic.
I thought the performance on the 100% renewable fuel was fantastic. It's a huge step that we're making as a series with Shell to run 100% renewable fuel. The first series in the United States to be able to do that.
I didn't notice any performance loss from the engine. I can't speak highly enough about that step. We should be shouting that from mountaintops. It's very cool what Shell has been able to provide us. I think the Chevrolet engine has adapted quite well to it. The drivability has been excellent.
Q. Did you notice anything about fuel mileage? Does it vary track to track, and you don't get an idea of that here?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, probably a hard track for reference just because we have never been here so we don't have a reference point.
I didn't notice a big difference. I thought it was very comparable to years past.
Q. Josef, the drivers asked for it and Jay Frye delivered by eliminating the double points at Indianapolis. Now that the decision has been made, could you comment?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I mean, when I started at INDYCAR, this is what I looked like. It's back to the beginning for me.
Q. In a lot of ways wasn't it more of a deficit for anybody that finished below fifth than necessarily a bonus?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I know the implications of the double points, I can tell you that. If you look at the history the last five years, there would be some differences, for sure.
Q. From your veteran experience, watching some of the pre-season tests, do you feel like it's common that younger guys, if it's common to have some younger guys pushing all out, whereas veteran guys are honed in on trying to work through a checklist?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I wouldn't shortchange the younger guys. I think they're just excellent drivers. Kyle, he's a good shoe. There's some of that youthfulness where you're just ready to attack. I remember when I first started, it was like 10/10ths every session. That's not for everybody. I'm not trying to blanket everybody. But I think there's something to that, for sure, when you're young.
They're also very good. You're seeing them up at the top of the time sheets because they're good drivers. When they get in a good car, too, it only makes a bigger difference. That's more of it than anything, the fact that they're just really talented.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate everything you've done for the series in the last couple days.