Team Penske considers return to sports cars; ‘We could move a program in tomorrow’

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. –Team Penske’s sprawling headquarters occupies more than 400,000 square feet, 90,000 of which remain undeveloped.

Could the team that has stakes in IndyCar, NASCAR and V8 Supercars (with a base in Australia) be considering another racing series to occupy its vacant space?

Yes, and it would be a familiar operation: Sports cars.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said a sports car team would be a virtual plug-and-play endeavor for the storied organization, and he believes a prototype push in sports cars might drive the funding to return.

“We have the flexibility to do that, and we’ve pursued that really since 2009,” Cindric said during an episode of this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“A factory-type program. But essentially the prototype side of it really hasn’t had a lot of factory support up until now. I think you’ll see in the next two to three years a lot of factories coming in and supporting this new IMSA series to where you have four different manufacturers now of the cars. There’s going to be a lot more factory support.

“So we’ll continue to look at that as far as a program to bring in-house here. But the moons haven’t aligned. But we could move a sports car program in here tomorrow and replace the one we had before.”

Team Penske raced an LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder in the American Le Mans Series from 2005-08, winning three consecutive championships, and ran the GRAND-AM Series in 2009. Those circuits merged as the rebranded IMSA championship in 2014.

If Penske were to restart its sports car team, Cindric said it might affect how any possible expansion plans for its two-car Sprint Cup operation.

“If we were to do sports car and add in NASCAR, we probably would have to add a little architecture to the place,” Cindric said. “But we’re well positioned to expand.”

Team Penske also is intrigued by the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, which has drawn entries from fellow IndyCar teams Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, SH Rallycross and Bryan Herta Rallysport.

The Red Bull-sponsored OMSE team also races Global Rallycross from a base in Mooresville near NASCAR’s Technical Institute. Cindric’s son, Austin, raced GRC Lites for OMSE last season.

Tim Cindric said Global Rallycross is “something we look at” but wasn’t a short-term priority for Penske.

“But it’s an up and coming sport,” he said. “It’s a differentiator. It’s the right demographics.”

Of course, a return to another racing series would make the biggest splash: Formula One. Penske fielded F1 cars in the 1970s, winning the 1976 Grand Prix of Austria with John Watson.

Could an F1 operation slide onto the same campus with NASCAR and IndyCar teams?

“Roger’s been there and done that,” Cindric said. “So I don’t think that’s something he’s interested in doing right now. But I guess within the Penske family, (sons) Jay, Greg and Roger Jr. all have the racing bug. They haven’t been there and done that. Jay has a Formula E team, and he races throughout the world in the electric series right now.

“So I wouldn’t say never. I’d just say Roger probably isn’t going to be the one to push the button on that one.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”