Penske’s quartet pushes each other en route to qualifying dominance

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ST. PETERSBURG – If there is an intra-team rivalry at Team Penske between its four drivers, it hasn’t yet come to the surface.

In the wake of an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 sweep in the team’s first qualifying session as a four-car operation, ahead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, all four of “The Captain’s” men took the opportunity to praise each other rather than taking any shots.

Well, almost all the time.

“We’re having a good time,” said new recruit Simon Pagenaud, to which Juan Pablo Montoya replied, “Are we?” to much laughter.

Other than that, the compliments were flowing like the furious, fast lap times on the 1.8-mile street circuit.

“We basically worked a little bit harder than what we thought,” said Helio Castroneves, who qualified third behind polesitter and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power and Pagenaud. “I have three other very good guys in the team which is good because each one tries something different.”

“Really, we pushed each other so hard in testing,” added Montoya, who in fourth was actually the lowest placed of the quartet.

The Penske dominance rubbed off so much that it even caused a Freudian slip by INDYCAR PR ace Kate Guerra, who accidentally referred to KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais as a Team Penske driver in introducing him to the dais.

“I don’t drive for Team Penske… if I did I’d be slowest of them, and that wouldn’t be good,” Bourdais joked, after qualifying sixth and the best non-Penske Chevrolet in the field.

It was that kind of day.

Pagenaud praised the immediate and instant team chemistry.

“What Juan said is true,” said the Frenchman. “It’s almost easier for us because there is a lot of data available to us.”

Power continued his St. Petersburg qualifying dominance with his fifth pole in the last six years, and his 37th overall in IndyCar. He seeks his third win at the track Sunday.

For the others, though, the qualifying was a marked improvement over recent years in St. Petersburg.

Pagenaud – for whatever reason – has struggled in qualifying at St. Pete with starts of 16th, 19th and 14th in the last three years. The first of those three was actually a sixth place qualifying effort, but with a 10-spot grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change.

Montoya could be excused for an 18th place qualifying last year, in his first open-wheel race in eight years and his first IndyCar start since 2000.

Castroneves, a three-time St. Petersburg race winner, qualified only 10th a year ago, so he made a seven-spot leap year-on-year.

It’s likely game on between the Penske quartet on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET), although as Power noted, the timing of yellows can often alter the complexion of the race.

“It’s like a drive-through you get hit with if a yellow comes out and the pits close,” Power said, “so maybe I need to run away and hide.”

If Penske can end as they qualified, they’ll emulate the feat achieved by Andretti Green Racing – now Andretti Autosport – 10 years ago at St. Petersburg in 2005. The late Dan Wheldon led Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, to complete the only 1-2-3-4 race sweep in IndyCar history.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.