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Newgarden opens up over IndyCar rules breach: “I’m not a liar”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who was stripped of his IndyCar victory at St. Petersburg, says he is “embarrassed” and “demoralised” for breaching the rules but insists he’s “not a liar”.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet with team owner Roger Penske

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

In a special press conference held at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday morning, an emotional Newgarden – who had to regain his composure several times after his voice broke down – says he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.

He claimed that he misguidedly believed the restart rules had been changed, as per the exhibition race at The Thermal Club that followed the St. Pete season opener. He also admits it’s created a “not very believable story” amid a “crazy set of circumstances”.

“It’s really important to look at the facts of what happened,” said Newgarden. “There’s no doubt that we were in breach of the rules at St. Petersburg.

“I used push-to-pass twice at an unauthorised time at two different restarts. Those are the rules and we did not adhere to them.

“There’s only one person sitting in the car, so the responsibility and use of the push-to-pass falls directly on me. It is my responsibility to know the rules and regulations. With that regard I failed my team miserably, a complete failure from my side to get that right.

“It's demoralising in a lot of ways and there's nothing that I can say that changes the fact of what happened.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

IndyCar officials discovered the transgression, seemingly by accident, during warm-up on Sunday at the Long Beach Grand Prix, realising that all three Penske cars had access to the push-to-pass overtake system even when race control had not activated it.

This was due to an illegal line of code in its electronic setup files, which had been entered during electrical hybrid testing since last August, and allowed the overtake system to be active on its cars regardless of the race control signal.

IndyCar went back to last month’s St. Pete race data from its cars and found that Penske had, in effect, “manipulated the overtake system” so its cars could use push-to-pass at starts and restarts when it is not meant to be available.

Newgarden and team-mate Scott McLaughlin were both disqualified, as they used the system illegally; Newgarden pressed his overtake boost button three times for 9s and McLaughlin used 1.9s of overtake on one lap following a restart.

But Newgarden says the change to the start and restart rules of the exhibition race at Thermal, which occurred after the St. Pete season opener, coupled with the illegal line of code in his car’s electronic system, created the scenario where he was under the misapprehension that it was legal to use push-to-pass.

“The tricky thing about this whole situation is I didn't know I did anything wrong until Monday after Long Beach,” he said. “It's the first time I heard that I broke the rules.

“You can call me every name in the book. You can call me incompetent, call me an idiot, call me an asshole, call me, you know, stupid, whatever you wanna call me.

“But I'm not a liar. I didn't leave St. Pete thinking we pulled something over on somebody.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

Speaking directly about his error, he admitted: “I know why it happened… and I don't think it's very believable. Somehow, some way the [No.] 2 team convinced ourselves that there was a rule change to restart specifically with overtake usage.

“And you say, well, how do you come up with this? This never happened before. The only place that this got introduced was with the Thermal exhibition race.

“It's the only time in my time in IndyCar where we've actually had a legitimate legal change of the push-to-pass system, where it's gonna be operable at the start/finish line. There was a lot of discussion around it and we somehow genuinely believed and convinced ourselves that, at St. Pete, the rule was now you can use it immediately on restarts. It's gonna be available immediately.

“The craziest part of the story is the software issue that no one knew about just perpetuated that belief even further.

“Then you go through St. Pete, you go through Thermal where it's an actual change and everybody's using it, and then you go to Long Beach and it's still in the car.

“I still believed the procedural difference on restarts was applied for Long Beach. I tried to do the exact same thing leading the race at Long Beach. I even pushed the button.

“I came over the radio. I said, 'hey guys overtake is not working correctly'. I said it throughout the whole first lap. I mean, I don't know how or why in your right mind you would do that.

“Even when I try and tell the story back, I don't think any of us believe it will be believable to somebody, but it's the truth.”

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Newgarden, who was the overall leader after two points-paying rounds, has now dropped to 11th with 34 points.

He revealed that his legendary team boss Roger Penske “interrogated” him and “didn’t take it well”.

Revealing talks with legendary team boss Roger Penske, Newgarden said: “I've spoken to him once and he did not take it well whatsoever, as you could imagine.

“You know, I was interrogated at first.

“I don't want to speak on his behalf, but I've not met somebody with higher integrity than that man. And I mean that.

“Yeah, it wasn't taken well.”

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