Roger Penske

Team Penske on verge of ending 8-year IndyCar title drought

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I’m not sure whether Roger Penske, or his right-hand man Tim Cindric, has Etta James’ “At Last” in their iTunes library.

But that may well be the song that would best describe the end to an eight-year title drought if Team Penske does, as it’s very likely to do, capture the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway.

Going back 20 years, Penske swept through the 1994 IndyCar season with a top-three sweep of the championship, led by Al Unser Jr.

The following year began a six-year title drought, dating until the year 2000, when Penske performed a radical team shakeup.

Gone were Unser Jr., Penske chassis, Mercedes engines and Goodyear tires; in were Gil de Ferran and his then-unheralded Brazilian countryman Helio Castroneves (who began the year with a hyphen in his surname), Reynard chassis, Honda engines and Firestone tires.

De Ferran ended Penske’s title drought in a year when 11 different drivers won races during the CART season and no less than eight drivers still had a mathematical chance at the title in the final two races.

If this all sounds like déjà vu, as we head into the 2014 season finale, it’s because it basically is.

De Ferran’s place in the role of star-who-would-be-but-hasn’t-been-champion-yet is Will Power, who since joining Penske full-time in 2010 (and part-time in 2009) has long been IndyCar’s fastest but never its finest driver.

Castroneves completes his 15th season with Penske this weekend and 17th overall, still in search of his elusive first title.

Juan Pablo Montoya has arrived back on the scene – for the first time since 2000 – and added a third set of valuable data and an invaluable presence on track.

In 2014, we’ve had 10 different race winners. We are guaranteed a first-time series champion with Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the last two champs, set to be mathematically eliminated once Power takes the green flag Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

All the stars are aligning for Penske to end its run without a title since 2006, and it would take a minor miracle for Simon Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, 81 points back of Power, to pull it off.

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada noted earlier this week, and I’ve noticed all season from the season opener in St. Petersburg, Power has been in a much better mental state most of if not all the season.

He’s overcome a mid-season run of penalties that threatened to destroy his title chances yet again; he’s also officially conquered ovals, and put to rest any notion that these aren’t in his wheelhouse.

Castroneves has done enough, once again, to be in title contention heading into the finale. He’s not entering Fontana in great form at the moment – four consecutive finishes outside the top-10 have cost him 79 points and turned him from 28 up to 51 down to his teammate.

Still, he’s smart and savvy enough to remain focused and committed in a 500-miler, and he will factor into the win.

The Penske pair made their championship charge early this year with three wins in the first seven races, and they’ve stayed atop the points heap despite their rivals’ challenges.

Meanwhile the Chip Ganassi Racing team – by its illustrious standards – stumbled out of the gates while adapting to an engine change and two of its four drivers also changing. Additionally, Andretti Autosport had the opposite season trajectory, with a fast start and a roller coaster second half with more downs than ups.

It’s been Penske that’s stayed consistent, yet fast, all season. Heading into Fontana, Penske has led 938 of 2,145 laps this season – a staggering 43.72 percent – between Power (615), Castroneves (241) and Juan Pablo Montoya (82).

Ganassi has the second-most laps led this season… with 440, less than half that.

The three Penske teammates have made 12 Firestone Fast Six appearances (Power 6, Castroneves 5, Montoya 1). Andretti, with four drivers, made only one more (13).

And outside of a handful of rough qualifying weekends, the three Penske teammates have given themselves less of a hassle on race days, with solid qualifying performances. Castroneves has an average grid position of 6.0, Power 7.7 this year.

All told, this has been the year where minimal outside influences have conspired to knock Penske down, and the team has been the class of the field in an intensely competitive season.

It’s time “The Captain” is rewarded with another IndyCar championship, because either Power or Castroneves has done enough to earn it.

A look to the future: 2017 Michelin Challenge Design cars revealed

All photos: Michelin
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This was not the best week for sports car racing with Audi’s departure from the FIA World Endurance Championship confirmed at the end of this season.

However, as Audi raised the game in so many aspects, so too could the next generation of designers, and that’s where Michelin Challenge Design comes in.

Announced last Friday, the winners of 2017 Michelin Challenge Design’s “Le Mans 2030: Design for the Win” competition were revealed, created in partnership with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.

There were more than 1,600 entrants from more than 80 countries who came up with design ideas for the next generation of cars.

“The winners of our 2017 Michelin Challenge Design presented numerous highly innovative features for the Le Mans race in the year 2030 and the quality of work from this year’s entries was truly outstanding,” said Thom Roach, vice president of original-equipment marketing for Michelin North America.

“We congratulate the winners for their thought-provoking, visually captivating designs for the world’s greatest endurance race, Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The three winners of the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design, and their designs, are linked below. Further information is available here via

Winners of the 2017 Michelin Challenge Design:

  • First place: Tao Ni of Wuhu, China, for design entry “Infiniti Le Mans 2030”
  • Second place: Daniel Bacelar Pereira of Vila Real, Portugal, for “Bentley 9 Plus Michelin Battery Slick”
  • Third place: Kurt Scanlan of Toronto, Canada for “Cierzo C1”

First Place


Second Place


Third Place


Red Bull GRC adds electric series for 2018

Speed leads. Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross will add an electric standalone series to its Supercars and GRC Lites divisions from the 2018 season. Further details about what type vehicles and the name of the series will be present will come in the coming year.

Here’s the release, below:

Red Bull Global Rallycross will continue to position itself at the forefront of motorsport technology with the creation of an all-electric vehicle series for the 2018 season. Electric vehicles will be added to Red Bull GRC race weekends as a distinct, standalone series, joining the Supercar and GRC Lites classes in the series’ race program. Red Bull GRC, in conjunction with USAC (United States Auto Club), will serve as the governing body for the new series.

“Red Bull Global Rallycross is pleased to add to our rallycross platform an electric series,” said Red Bull GRC CEO Colin Dyne. “The 2018 season will be a landmark year for us as we welcome electric vehicles to the grid for the first time. The electric car is one of the hottest topics in the automotive industry, and manufacturers across the globe have recognized its immense potential. We want to embrace this technology by welcoming it into our series as we continue to grow and expand.

“Our current platform is the most enticing in motorsports right now to a young, millennial audience. Our small displacement, high-horsepower, turbocharged engines allow our manufacturers to showcase the performance capabilities of their current millennial-focused offerings, and provide a glimpse into the exciting future of the automotive industry. This electric series will add a new dynamic that will never replace the current formula, but will be an important part of our expansion.”

Having just wrapped up its sixth season, Red Bull GRC has consistently been responsible for major announcements that have accelerated the growth of the sport of rallycross. The Supercar class now features four manufacturer partners: Ford, Subaru, Honda, and Volkswagen. In 2015, Red Bull GRC also became the first racing series to compete on an active United States military installation.

Further details on Red Bull GRC’s upcoming electric class will be released in the coming year.

Indian GP circuit rules out F1 return in near future

NOIDA, INDIA - OCTOBER 27:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing leads the field into the first corner at the start of the Indian Formula One Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit on October 27, 2013 in Noida, India.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 will not return to the Buddh International Circuit in India in the near future but remains a long-term ambition of track chief Sameet Gaur.

F1 first visited India in 2011, racing at the purpose-built Buddh International Circuit on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The track hosted its last grand prix in 2013 (pictured) when Sebastian Vettel won his fourth drivers’ championship before falling off the calendar due to financial difficulties.

The group that owns the track, Jaypee Sports International, is known to be struggling with mounting debts, prompting suggestions that it could sell the track.

However, Gaur insisted in an interview with PTI that this was not a consideration, despite there being no short-term plans to bring F1 back.

“Yes, we are not thinking of hosting any big race including F1 in the near future because of reasons well known,” Gaur said.

“But it doesn’t mean we are open to selling the circuit. The thought has not even crossed our mind.

“Maintaining a big facility like BIC is surely tough, but we have been able to do that well despite the constraints.”

In the long-term, Gaur said he would like to see F1 return to the Buddh International Circuit as well as other premier series.

“We built such a huge circuit to host big events like F1,” Gaur said.

“Yes, under the circumstances, it is not at all our focus but when the situation improves, we will surely think about making better use of the track.”

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last year that he would do “whatever is needed” to take F1 back to India, but for now, such aspirations must be cooled.

F1 drivers want greater challenges, not risks, when racing

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21:  Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo follows, Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo, Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo and Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Three Formula 1 drivers have responded to Bernie Ecclestone’s suggestion that more walls should be built on tracks by saying they want greater challenges, not risks, when racing.

In an interview with the British press in Austin, Texas last weekend, F1 CEO Ecclestone expressed his frustration that drivers were now able to get away with errors on-track due to the vast amount of run-off areas implemented on safety grounds.

Ecclestone suggested that 40cm walls should be built around tracks to stop drivers abusing track limits and punish errors.

When asked about the idea in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix, world championship leader Nico Rosberg said the sport had bigger concerns to focus on.

“Well, my opinion is that there are ten other areas which we should look at before,” Rosberg said.

“If we want to make the sport even better than it is before we start looking at turning back time on safety. That would be my view on that.”

Force India’s Sergio Perez echoed Rosberg’s thoughts, while adding that more gravel traps on circuits would make mistakes more costly to drivers.

“I certainly agree with Nico. There are so many more areas where we can improve the sport before starting to put safety at risk,” Perez said.

“I think we can definitely make the circuits a bit more challenging for the drivers, not necessarily with walls but making the driver pay for mistakes.

“If you go off, having a gravel trap and losing time, that kind of thing I think is good for the sport because that forces the drivers not to make any mistakes.”

Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr. spoke about the vast amount of run-off offered at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico, where this weekend’s race will take place.

“For me, obviously safety comes first but also challenges for drivers,” Sainz said.

“I just did a track walk this morning and you know when you see so much tarmac run-off where you can go wide like in Austin, it’s good for safety but I’m convinced we could use some devices to make it a bit more challenging, to make sure you use a bit more of the track.

“At least you pay something, you don’t gain an advantage. At the moment it’s too risky for us to just miss the braking point a bit, nothing happens, continue and you don’t even lock up the tires.”