The sky’s the limit for Penske’s “fab four” in 2015 IndyCar campaign


The term “super team” is sometimes thrown around a bit too loosely these days.

But Team Penske’s four-headed monster for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series certainly has earned that description.

With the defending series champion, the lone multiple-time Indianapolis 500 champion still active, one of the fastest and most exciting drivers to watch of his generation and a star up-and-comer who has made it to Team Penske for after a decade’s work, team owner Roger Penske has truly assembled a quartet of all-stars.

Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud, together, might make for Penske’s strongest team in its history.

It’s certainly the team’s biggest. Penske has traditionally run two cars, and sometimes three full-time.

But the expansion to a fourth IndyCar is an unprecedented move for the Tim Cindric-led organization, with Cindric having noted the extra amount of crew needed this offseason.

Power (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) enters the season brimming with confidence, having finally secured his elusive and overdue first series championship last August at Auto Club Speedway.

“Look, I like to make it interesting for people,” Power joked during IndyCar media day in February about his past failures before breaking through.

“The previous three times I just kind of had to keep them interested. I thought, I better finish it off this time. You have to keep people guessing, keep it interesting. You can’t go straight out there and win it.”

However, the Australian can’t afford to take his foot off the gas and rest on his laurels. Montoya (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) should easily be better in his second year back in the series; Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) remains a consistent threat and Pagenaud (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet) could potentially be a thorn in his side as the year progresses.

“It was super satisfying, and something I worked really hard for for the last 15 years,” Power said. “To finally get it, get the monkey off the back, yeah, it’s given me more motivation this year. I don’t have to worry about that; I know I can do it.

“I think it’s going to be a tight inner team battle honestly,” he added. “I think the team is going to be the strongest it’s been for a number of years this year.”

Saying that will mean the team will need to improve upon what was already a pretty successful 2014 campaign. Penske’s trio of Power, Castroneves and Montoya won five races and finished first, second and fourth in the championship, and led more than 1,000 laps.

The gold standard Penske season was its 1994 campaign, when Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy won 12 of 16 races and swept the top three in points.

While the 12 in 16 win number will be tough to match, it’s not inconceivable the three carryovers and Pagenaud could go top four in 2015. The drivers are looking forward to the extra set of data.

“It’s just an extra tool, extra information,” Montoya said. “At the beginning, I’ll tell you it’s a little bit hard because you have that much more data to look at. There’s more reference points.”

“Simon is very good technically. He brought some really good stuff with him,” Power added. “I think the combination of all four of us, we have very different driving styles, so we all learn off each other. Like Juan said, when the body kit comes in, it just makes it that much easier on a short weekend when you have hour-long practices to try a lot of different stuff.”

“I think his engineer (Ben Bretzman), as well, coming to the team, it’s another addition,” Castroneves said. “It’s another information, more data. I do feel for 2015 we going to have another great chance here. Hopefully we’ll be 1-2-3-4.”

Pagenaud, as team newcomer, can bring some fresh ideas to the table. He’s renowned for his development work in sports cars, where variety has been the spice of life over his career.

“I mean, what do I bring? Fresh blood, I guess,” Pagenaud said. “I’m very motivated. Like Will said, I’ve personally been working hard to get to this in my career. I’m here now and the pressure is off. I want to enjoy it.

“Technically, I would say that’s my strength. If I can bring something there, I would be really happy to help that way.

“But, yeah, like Will said also, we have very different driving styles all of us. It’s very interesting actually to see how much you can see on driving between all four of us. If you had to pick the perfect driver, the lap time would be a lot quicker, so there’s a lot into us. That’s very interesting.”

What will be the most interesting aspects of the year are how these four will continue to interact with each other as the year goes on, who will be best in getting a handle on the new aero kits, and how any or all of them will handle the pressure of being in the championship battle.

Each still has something to prove on the whole.

The next unchecked item on Power’s career to-do list is win the Indianapolis 500, and it’s a race where he hasn’t finished in even the top five since his first Indy outing for Penske in 2009. He’s at the point where 2012 title adversary Ryan Hunter-Reay was prior to last year, a champion without a win in the series’ marquee race.

To do that, he’ll have to get through Castroneves and Montoya, Penske’s modern day 500 masters. Castroneves is still motivated enough to get that record-tying fourth win and will no doubt want to avenge this past year’s microscopic defeat to RHR.

Montoya, in addition to seeking his second ‘500 win, will also look for his second championship. He and Power had a bit of friendly banter about that during media day as the subject of Montoya’s 1999 CART championship win as a rookie came up.

“You can’t go straight out there and win it,” Power said.

“I did that,” Montoya replied.

“Yeah, and it was boring, nobody liked it. Then you just left the series,” Power retorted, to a chorus of laughter.

Finally there’s Pagenaud, the wild card in the team, but potentially the driver with the highest upside.

At least initially, he figures to endure some good-natured ribbing and team rookie hazing from the trio. But given Pagenaud’s past history of overachieving in less than the best equipment, the potential of him in a Penske Chevrolet is a scary prospect once he and the new fourth team hit their stride.

It makes the quartet in total a scary, potentially unbeatable threat on paper, provided the internal battles between them don’t disrupt the goal of keeping it as one team.

“At this point Team Penske is prepared as much as they can to do what we did last year,” said Castroneves, who is the senior-most member of the team, having been on board since 2000.

“I do feel we have a strong team here so we can battle each other for the championship.”

After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”