Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves

Respect drives Penske-Ganassi rivalry – but is that enough?

Leave a comment

Open-wheel racing’s preeminent rivalry is not fueled by bitterness, but by mutual respect.

Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing have continually challenged each other for glory in the form of race wins and series championships, and in doing so, they have set themselves apart as two of the most successful squads in the history of the sport.

But instead of having their constant struggle for supremacy be tinged by acrimony, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi’s groups have, by and large, kept things gentlemanly.

Oh, rest assured that they definitely want to beat each other. And there have been the inevitable occasional flare-ups – in fact, the most recent ones came just this past summer with TCGR’s Scott Dixon and Penske’s Will Power involved in twin incidents at Sonoma and then again at Baltimore.

But for the two teams, it all comes back to admiration for their collective ability to contend week in and week out.

“That’s what drives us, to be honest about it, and I think that’s what drives us to be with them race in and race out, wheel to wheel, every weekend, because that’s the measure,” TCGR managing director Mike Hull said during an IndyCar teleconference on Tuesday in advance of Saturday night’s season-ending MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“There are other teams that we race against that do the same job, but what you have to do is you have to create a mindset that you’re going to do the job season in and season out, and that’s what we saw in Penske Racing when we tried to form the organization that we formed.”

In another sign of cordiality, Penske team president Tim Cindric then proceeded to thank Hull for those comments before noting how both teams “have the resources and the ability to attract the best people” and set themselves apart from the rest in the paddock.

“I think that’s the mindset that both groups have, is that second isn’t good enough, and that’s what you need,” Cindric said. “But the difference really is the people that I think both groups have and the continuity that we have with not only our sponsors but our people.

“The people certainly make the difference because they’re the ones that really execute on race day or they don’t.  But I think the reason why we’re all involved in it really is just the passion we have for the sport.”

Together, the two teams have become the major forces in the IZOD IndyCar Series, winning a combined 60 of 84 races over the last five years. Additionally, they have earned a combined six series championships since 2003; Ganassi has five, Penske has one.

And after Saturday, the Penske/Ganassi bloc will have added a seventh crown over the last decade. Dixon and Penske’s three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves are the last men standing, with Dixon holding a 25-point lead going into the final race of 2013; a finish of fifth or better at ACS will seal the deal for him.

So, Penske vs. Ganassi is, once again, the title fight. One could think that such a repeated occurrence could lead to a sense of ennui between the teams.

Not so.

“Mike and I have both been on teams that don’t run up at the front, and it just seems so far away,” Cindric explained. “You know, it just seems so difficult to get there, and when you are there, sometimes you get somewhat immune to it and you catch yourself maybe thinking, ‘Hey, is this really worth it or is this really what I signed up to do?'”

“And that thought goes away pretty quickly, because you realize what it’s like to be on the other side of it, and I guess I call it the real world and our world. Once you’ve lived in our world, you really don’t want to go back to the real world.”

No real hatred. No lingering ill will. And, from their perspective, no boredom from locking horns all the time. Emphasizing on-track competition, the Penske-Ganassi rivalry should be considered as one that stacks up nicely against its analogues from the stick-and-ball side of things.

And yet, to many fans within the IndyCar base, the two teams are despised. Perhaps we can blame that on their aforementioned collective dominance. Nobody likes it when somebody wins too often, after all. Ask Jeff Gordon or Sebastian Vettel.

These followers must have taken great delight in seeing how this season began with six different winners in the first seven races. None of those winners came from the Penske or Ganassi teams, and we’ll admit, that was quite intriguing to see.

However, the pendulum has swung back. In the last 11 races, eight have been won by Penske or Ganassi drivers. During this stretch, Dixon’s chalked up four wins (three of them in succession at Pocono and the Toronto doubleheader), Power’s grabbed two (Sonoma and Houston Race 2), and Castroneves and Ganassi’s third pilot, Charlie Kimball, have each scored one.

But when you push aside the supposed “winning too much” aspect for a moment, something else emerges. In an age where controversy often propels the news cycle and gets people talking and Tweeting, the overall sensibility of the Penske-Ganassi rivalry can be taken by some as being out of step with the times and not buzz-worthy.

And if IndyCar needs anything right now, it’s buzz. The title hype going into this weekend is certainly there for all of us who follow the sport but is there a huge, national anticipation for Saturday’s 500-miler in Southern California? I think we know the answer all too clearly.

Neither Penske nor Ganassi will ever apologize for how they go about their business, and they shouldn’t. For many years, they’ve been setting the standard and that’s going to remain their focus.

Still, the fact remains that IndyCar sorely lacks the lightning rod personalities that will get more people to pay attention to the series, whether they love or loathe them. They’ll get one next year when Juan Pablo Montoya returns to open-wheel as part of Team Penske, but one man won’t do the job alone.

In a perfect world, IndyCar’s tremendous racing would speak louder than anything else, and Penske and Ganassi’s relatively clean rivalry would be endlessly praised. But this is not a perfect world…Is it?

FIA clear Ferrari, Haas of wrongdoing on aero testing

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany  steers his car during the third free practice at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
© AP
Leave a comment

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Formula One stewards have cleared Ferrari and 2016 entrant Haas of any breach of rules limiting aerodynamic testing.

Stewards at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had been asked by Mercedes to clarify the rules due to fears that teams were skirting regulations that limit time spent in wind-tunnel testing and other aerodynamic development.

Mercedes did not directly accuse any team, but the complaint related to the close ties between Ferrari and U.S. team Haas. Ferrari, as a current competitor, was subject to testing restrictions, but Haas was not, because it enters F1 next year.

Stewards ruled Sunday that there is “no evidence that competitors have not complied” with the rules, but did recommend to the sport’s governing body that future entrants be subject to the same restrictions as existing teams.

Hamilton: Mercedes surpassed all expectations in 2015

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP lifts his trophy on the podium after finishing second in the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 29, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton believes that the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team surpassed all expectations in 2015.

Mercedes entered the new season with a big task of emulating its feats from 2014 when it claimed 16 race wins and 18 pole positions as well as setting a new record for constructors’ championship points.

However, the W06 Hybrid car allowed Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg to reach such lofty heights once again, taking another 16 wins and 18 poles while beating last year’s constructors’ tally.

The team finished with 12 one-two finishes and scored 86% of all possible points, both new F1 records.

Speaking on the podium after finishing second in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton paid tribute to the Mercedes team following a season that also saw him claim a third drivers’ title.

“It’s been a good year. I’m happy,” Hamilton said. “I’m happy it’s over for sure, so now we can really enjoy it.

“Really have to take my hat off to the team who once again did an amazing job in building this car. The pit stop today, just the performance through the whole year, they’ve surpassed their own expectations and our expectations.

“We’ve truly shown that Mercedes-Benz is the best team in the world, so I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Hamilton spent much of Sunday’s race toiling behind Rosberg at the front of the field, and tried to get ahead of the German driver by running an alternative strategy in the closing stages of the race.

Mercedes warned Hamilton against trying a one-stop strategy as he requested, but the Briton thinks going as long as he did during his second stint without trying to go to the end was the wrong move.

“I think in hindsight once Nico had pitted I probably would have backed off a little bit and probably made those tires last a lot longer,” Hamilton said.

“The tires were still fine at the end, so I honestly felt I potentially could have taken them to the end.

“But if that didn’t work out, going too longer probably wasn’t the right thing to do, but we gave it a try and did the best job I could with it.”

Rosberg: New season can’t come soon enough

Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg says that the new Formula 1 season cannot come soon enough after capping off 2015 with a third consecutive victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Rosberg saw his hopes of winning a maiden world championship end in Austin, Texas last month as teammate Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his third title with three races to spare.

Since then, Rosberg has found a second wind to claim his first career hat-trick with victories in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Speaking on the podium after his most recent success, Rosberg said that he was relishing the start of the new season and that it cannot come quickly enough given his momentum.

“Austin was a low point of the season, it was a tough weekend,” Rosberg said. “Since then I’ve just come back a lot stronger and I’m very happy about that.

“I’m excited about how the end of the season went, and next year can come any moment – it could start tomorrow for me, no problem, I don’t need any holidays!

“Anyway it’s great to end the season like this, go on holiday like this. Thank you so much, you’ve been awesome again this weekend for all your support and everything.

“Thanks to my team, absolutely stunning car you’ve all given me again today, unbelievable. I’m ecstatic.”

Rosberg struggled to compete with Hamilton for much of the year, but said that his recent successes were all the sweeter given the ability of his Mercedes stablemate.

“It’s always tough to race Lewis, he’s doing an awesome job and is one of the best out there,” Rosberg said.

“Even better feeling to win definitely against such opposition. It’s a great battle internally all of the time, and that’s what I race for, this battle. I look forward to more next year.”

Rosberg ends 2015 with third straight F1 win in Abu Dhabi

Leave a comment

Nico Rosberg rounded out the 2015 Formula 1 season with a third consecutive victory after seeing off the challenge of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to win Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Rosberg controlled proceedings from the front of the field, leading the majority of the race before coming under pressure in the closing stages after Mercedes switched Hamilton’s strategy so he could push hard on the final stint.

However, the three-time world champion was unable to bridge the gap, allowing Rosberg to claim a sixth win of the season and a third in a row to finish off a year that largely saw him struggle for form.

A poor start from Hamilton allowed Rosberg to retain his lead from pole position heading into the first corner, but the Briton managed to fend off Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez to hold on to second place. Rosberg was able to build on his good start, opening up a two second lead over Hamilton in the opening stages of the race before the first round of pit stops.

Further back, Fernando Alonso’s miserable 2015 season showed few signs of mercy even at the final race as he clashed with Pastor Maldonado at the first corner. The stewards deemed Alonso to be at fault, handing the Spaniard a drive-through penalty. The damage to Maldonado’s suspension was enough to end his race early.

There was further drama at the first round of pit stops when Williams released Valtteri Bottas into the path of Jenson Button, causing damage to the front of the Finn’s car. Bottas pitted again one lap later for repairs, and was duly hit with a time penalty for the unsafe release.

Mercedes had no such problems with its pit stops, but Hamilton was left scrambling for pace. A late push from Rosberg at the end of the first stint allowed him to create a five-second gap over Hamilton into which Sebastian Vettel – still yet to pit after starting on primes – dropped in to. Hamilton made light work of the Ferrari driver just three laps later, but the gap to Rosberg had already swelled to over six seconds.

Hamilton managed to work the gap down with a series of quick laps throughout the second stint of the race, though, piling the pressure on Rosberg at the front. The German’s led was halved in the space of a few laps as he struggled with graining on his tires and by the time he came in for a second time, the gap to Hamilton lay at just 1.3 seconds.

Rosberg was the first to pit once again, taking on another fresh set of primes on lap 31, but Mercedes opted to extend Hamilton’s stint before bringing him in. Rosberg was told to pick up the pace in reaction to this, closing the gap at the front so that he would be ahead once Hamilton made his final stop.

Just as he did in Brazil two weeks ago, Hamilton argued with Mercedes over strategy as he tried to get ahead of Rosberg once again. The Briton wanted to try and make a one-stop strategy work by going to the end, only to be told that this would be “impossible”.

All the while, Rosberg continued to close, giving him a lead of 12.5 seconds once Hamilton had pitted. Instead of putting on a set of options to make up for the longer second stint, Mercedes fitted another set of primes to Hamilton’s car, leaving him with the task of making up one second per lap in the final stages of the race.

It was one that Hamilton took in his stride, immediately laying down a quick pace on his fresh tires. Despite running 1.7 seconds per lap quicker than Rosberg at one point, Hamilton was unable to sustain this pace until the end and struggled with traffic, ending his hopes of victory in Abu Dhabi.

Instead it was Rosberg who crossed the line to take his third consecutive win and finish the 2015 season in style, beating Hamilton to the flag by 8.2 seconds.

Raikkonen rounded out the podium for Ferrari after enduring a rather lonely race, having been waved past Vettel due to their differing tire calls. Vettel managed to make his prime-prime-option strategy work perfectly to finish fourth, passing Perez in the closing stages to demote the Mexican to fifth.

Perez held on to finish fifth, two places ahead of Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg to cap off the team’s best-ever F1 season in style. Daniel Ricciardo split them in P6, while Felipe Massa followed eighth ahead of Daniil Kvyat.

Romain Grosjean’s last race for Lotus ended in style as he passed Carlos Sainz Jr. for the final points-paying position with just three laps to go. He was then able to pass Daniil Kvyat one lap later to secure ninth position, leaving the Russian to settle for P10 at the checkered flag.

Max Verstappen enjoyed an eventful race en route to P12, but was under investigation from the stewards when the flag fell after ignoring blue flags. They handed him a time penalty that ultimately dropped him to P16. Button and Bottas recovered from their earlier clash to finish 12th and 13th ahead of the Sauber duo of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.

Despite threatening to retire the car at one point, Fernando Alonso finished his race in 17th place two laps down on Rosberg. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the classification for Manor.