Potentially, the most successful owner in IndyCar may be branching out his empire once again.
Roger Penske has said before – most recently on a 2012 appearance on SPEED’s “Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain” (linked here, go to the 3:50 mark) – that the only major “first” thing left on his to-do list is to go to Le Mans and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Sports car racing insider Mike Fuller, whose Mulsanne’s Corner blog site is one of the most detailed when it comes to technical regulations and explanations of the sports car world, posted a tweet Wednesday that would seem to add fuel to the fire.
Penske HAS signed deal to run Porsche LMP1; BUT, crew is openly being solicited for operations…in Germany. Seems then WEC 4 Penske/Porsche
This follows a post on DailySportsCar from Graham Goodwin and Gary Horrocks a couple weeks ago that provided an update on a rumored P1 breakaway series, which may or may not materialize for 2014.
The reason that rumor ignited is because the P1 class has been eliminated from the merged United SportsCar Racing championship for 2014, and the P1 teams from the American Le Mans Series have to make alternative plans to either move down a class (the P2/Daytona Prototype/DeltaWing combined “P” class in USCR) or switch to the FIA World Endurance Championship, which still features P1 as the top class.
Now, if you’re not confused at this point, good on you. Here’s essentially what all the above copy means for the Penske file.
Penske last competed in sports car racing in 2009 with a Riley Porsche DP in GRAND-AM’s Rolex Series, after completing a three-year stint with the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 chassis in the American Le Mans Series.
The sports car crew used in 2009 in GRAND-AM eventually moved over to Penske’s IndyCar program, which ran Will Power in a third car part-time in 2009 before the Australian was promoted to a third full-time car in 2010. This year, keep in mind, Penske has scaled back from a three-car to a two-car full-time IndyCar program, with a third for AJ Allmendinger at selected races.
Penske and Porsche have always been inextricably linked from a sports car standpoint. The only place Porsche’s new LMP1 contender is eligible to race, at the moment, is in the WEC, with Le Mans as the centerpiece of the schedule.
We’re not saying this is going to happen, but having two sports car insiders link the two together means this is something that is definitely simmering. The question now is if or when it will come to a full boil.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.