Sarah Fisher signs Indy Lights champion for 2012

Sarah Fisher signed rising star Josef Newgarden to drive for her in 2012, as well as a business partner she hopes will strengthen her Izod IndyCar Series team.

Fisher announced Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway her team now will be called Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to reflect the addition of Kansas businessman Wink Hartman as a partner.

She also introduced Newgarden, the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion. He signed a three-year contract to pilot her No. 67 entry in IndyCar.

"Josef is the next generation," Fisher said. "With Josef there's going to be some rookie phases, and there's going to be some rookie learning curves. But I think he's got the best attitude possible, and I think we've got the best people to teach him."

Newgarden, who turns 21 later this month, is a Nashville native. Fisher said she didn't choose Newgarden because he's American — the IndyCar Series is trying hard to develop homegrown stars — but his nationality didn't hurt.

"More importantly was the guy next door personality that he is — that brand, the professionalism that he already has at 20 years old," said Fisher, who added it was important the team find a driver who could race on the various different courses on the IndyCar schedule.

"I think we found that with Josef."

No schedule was announced for Newgarden, and Fisher did not give any details on sponsorship or engine manufacturer.

She's been in a rebuilding mode the last two months after her highest moment as a team owner was nearly crippled by the economics of auto racing. Ed Carpenter gave SFR its first IndyCar victory with a thrilling win over Dario Franchitti at Kentucky in October, but Fisher revealed after the race that sponsor Dollar General was leaving at the end of the season.

Carpenter announced shortly after that he was forming his own race team.

So the signing of Newgarden is the first step in Fisher putting a package together for 2012.

Newgarden spent three seasons racing in Europe before returning to the U.S. last year to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports as a rookie in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. He won five races and scored 10 podium finishes en route to the championship.

Newgarden said Wednesday he considered returning to Europe, but the offer from Fisher was attractive. He cited the family atmosphere Fisher has created with her race team and an opportunity to move through the ranks.

"I was heavily thinking about going back over there for next year, and that was really weighing on my mind," he said. "I wouldn't be here and be with this team if I didn't believe in this team and its potential, and I think that speaks volumes.

"I just really just believe in this opportunity, and I believe in this team and what they can do. I just felt like it was the best decision to stay here and see what I can do with that."

It's not clear what role Hartman will have with the team. He's been part of Fisher's sponsorship since the 2008 Indianapolis 500, and Fisher said Hartman is the one who suggested Newgarden for the seat.

"Wink has been a part of the team and a personal mentor since 2008," Fisher said. "In this new era of our team and the direction we're going, we're excited to have his leadership."