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.”