NTT IndyCar Series stars Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin are relishing the challenge of making their Rolex 24 at Daytona debuts in LMP2, with the former describing it as “very different from our normal world.”
The Team Penske open-wheel teammates, who are both new to IMSA competition, are sharing Tower Motorsports’s Oreca 07 Gibson with John Farano and Kyffin Simpson.
They were introduced to the program by experienced motorsport engineer and strategist Peter Baron, whose Starworks Motorsport outfit ran the Tower program before it morphed into an independent operation.
Newgarden completed 35 laps during last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 while McLaughlin, who was the quickest driver in the Tower car, registered 59 laps.
“There is a lot happening,” Newgarden said of his experience driving the Oreca. “Very different from our normal world, but it’s been a great challenge. I think the race is going to be another level of that challenge, and one that we’re going to try and maximize.
“But it’s been great fun trying to absorb everything from our teammates and learn the knowledge of the way this place works.
“Trying to figure out your own personal book is pretty tough here. In IndyCar when you’ve got 27 cars on track, you’ve only got to learn 26 individuals. Now you’ve got to learn 100-plus and fill that notebook up with every driver you’re going to come across.
“There are some interesting predicaments you’re going to get into depending on what the car is. Just trying to learn that is going to be a task for the race.”
Newgarden tested the Oreca at Daytona last month, however McLaughlin didn’t turn his first laps until the Roar event.
The three-time Australian Supercars champion explained that he changed his braking foot as part of his acclimatization to the V8-powered prototype.
“It’s got similarities to some Supercar traits and some IndyCar stuff,” he said.
“Getting on top of the track first was just more of a thing, and then the car itself. Trying to find that clear track, just getting comfy with braking points and whatnot.
“I’m right-footed in this car, when I normally left-foot brake in the IndyCar. Just because it’s a little bit more comfortable for me to right-foot brake. Size-wise, it’s a very small cockpit, so that’s probably been the most difficult thing.
“We’re both pretty tall and reasonably broad so it’s been quite difficult, but other than that it’s been pretty seamless, and I felt like I got up to speed reasonably quickly.
“The wet tire is a great tire. [During the Roar night session] I was able to push the conditions and feel the limit, which was nice.”
McLaughlin added that the higher intensity of traffic in the IMSA field “sharpened” him up during this stage of the IndyCar off-season.
“It’s pretty well, traffic-wise,” he said. “If we get traffic in an IndyCar we complain and cry on the radio, but here you’ve just got to go with it.
“I haven’t driven anything this fast since the last round of the IndyCar championship. It’s really sharpened me up and just makes you think about where you position the car, and the timing.
“Learning the car has been a lot of fun. It’s pretty wild out there, with a couple of people taking more risks than others. But it’s all about risk management and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that.”
Newgarden Hopeful of Continuing Tower Form
Tower Motorsports finished second in class at last year’s Rolex 24 when Farano was joined by Ferdinand Habsburg, Louis Deletraz and Rui Andrade, while Newgarden is hopeful that the IndyCar-injected 2023 lineup can deliver a similar performance.
The team is aiming to bounce back from an accident for reigning LMP2 champion Farano during Sunday’s qualifying session.
“I’m real thankful to John for this opportunity to come down here for the first time, especially with Scott and Kyffin,” Newgarden said.
“It’s been a real treat to just work with the team. I think Rick [Capone, team principal] and everyone on the team has put together a great program. They’ve got a great track record: I don’t have to sell it. What they did in the championship was extremely impressive.
“If you look back at last year’s Daytona 24, these guys were in the fight until the end. The expectations are high for the group, and we want to contribute to that cause, doing the best job possible for the entire team.
“I’ve had a total blast up to this point. I just want to go racing right now. It’s really a great mix and we’ve got all the ingredients to have success.”