Indy history, banter displayed at Chevy stage, day before next ‘500

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INDIANAPOLIS – One-by-one, six of Indianapolis’ living legends took the stage at Chevrolet’s display Saturday afternoon. Three of them still have a race to run on Sunday.

Respect flowed in for each. The banter followed.

Between two of the three four-time Indianapolis 500 winners in A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, the lone active three-time winner in Helio Castroneves, a pair of two-timers in Juan Pablo Montoya and Al Unser Jr. and the 1996 champion Buddy Lazier, a total of 16 wins in the past 100 ‘500s were represented.

There were nearly as many one-liners uttered than that 16, if not more so.

Asked by the event moderator, WRTV-6 Sports Director Dave Furst, what Foyt’s first impression of the Speedway was, the four-timer had a four-word answer.

“Make the damn race!” laughed “Super Tex,” whose wins in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977 made him the first four-time winner in race history. “We had 120 or 125 cars going for 33 of them spots.”

A tribute to Foyt, now 82 and just off of stem cell surgery earlier this year, is happening at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. A video where Foyt and NBCSN reporter Robin Miller toured the museum is linked below.

Castroneves, who has Mears as both Penske’s driver coach and his spotter, showed up a bit late to this event after returning from the IMS Festival Parade (airs tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Asked what advice he’d get from Mears, Mears returned his own volley of a deadpan.

“Shut up and drive,” said Indy’s third and most recent four-timer, having won all four of his for Penske in 1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991.

Mears hailed his 1991 drive where he had his battle with Michael Andretti as his favorite, in part because he didn’t recognize the magnitude of his 1979 win as a race sophomore.

“I didn’t appreciate the first one as much as I probably should have,” Mears said. “I didn’t grow up here (he grew up as part of the ‘Mears gang’ in Bakersfield, Calif.) so I wasn’t quite aware of the spectacle. I never even dreamed I’d be driving here, let alone with Penske, let alone winning.

“In 1991, I had what you dream of as a kid when you’ve been driving here, is that late race shootout. And in ’91, that was my opportunity.”

Mears, always introspective and reflective, then responded to another question about whether he had any regrets for whether he retired too early, when he did after 1992.

“No,” he laughed, to which Unser Jr. responded, “Oh I absolutely agree with that. Rick, you retired just perfect!”

Unser Jr.’s 1992 win has been, understandably, getting a bit of attention this year. It marks the 25-year anniversary of the victory when he beat Scott Goodyear in the closest finish in Indy history. The great finish helped to erase memories of an otherwise dreadful race, dominated by Andretti before retiring just over 10 laps from the finish, and after cold temperatures contributed to a wreck-filled race that left Andretti’s father, Mario, and cousin Jeff, among several drivers taken to the hospital.

It was the 1989 race, though, that Unser Jr. talked about today, as he recalled a funny story about his dice with Emerson Fittipaldi that year that saw him come up short because of their famous – or infamous – coming-together in Turn 3.

“That dude,” Unser Jr., who is Gabby Chaves’ driver coach at Harding Racing this month, joked about Fittipaldi, the Brazilian who would then become his teammate at Team Penske in the mid-1990s.

“It was Turn 3, last lap of the Indy 500 going for the win. Of course only one of us was going to come out unscathed.”

Unser Jr. had planned to deliver Fittipaldi the “one-finger salute” of a middle finger after getting out of his car at the finish. Fittipaldi won his first ‘500 that day while Unser Jr. would have to wait three more years until 1992 for that elusive first victory.

Unser Jr. said the IMS Safety Crew gave him the go-ahead to deliver that message.

“So I’m going out on the track after I’m out of the car,” Unser Jr. recalled.

“And the safety crew asked me, ‘You want to flip him off?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said, ‘Go right ahead!’

“But then I thought about his day in full. He had led all day. I was essentially standing in the middle of a football stadium, among the 125,000 or so people in that part of the track.

“And I thought, Emerson is a good man. And he’d be the last one to hit anyone intentionally. So instead of flipping him off, I was the first one to congratulate him on his win!”

Montoya, who entered into the CART series in 1999 – winning the championship as a rookie in Unser Jr.’s final year with Team Penske, and in CART, before returning to Rick Galles’ team in the Indy Racing League in 2000 had the counter to that one.

“You showed him the finger, but the wrong one,” he laughed.

Montoya and Castroneves continued their own playful banter, and even that was followed later when Lazier – poking fun at himself and the little, family-run team that could out of Vail, Col. – when he showed up last to the dais.

“You guys have got the police escorts back here from the parade,” said the 49-year-old, the oldest driver in the field by a full seven years and change (Tony Kanaan is next at 42).

“Meanwhile I’m starting back on Row 10, and I’m stuck in traffic!”

Lazier only runs this race each year (this will be his 20th start, one of only eight to do so), and if he completes 153 laps on Sunday, he’ll pass Johnny Rutherford for sixth all-time in laps/mileage completed. He’s also in the Top 10 in career earnings.  He has one fewer top-five than Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser, and one more than Rutherford.

Perhaps even more cool is the fact his crew includes four brothers who are firefighters in Irving, Texas and his engineer and car chief, Indy veteran Mitch Davis, is also going to be a tire changer in this race.

As a driver who first attempted to qualify for that 1989 race Fittipaldi won and Unser Jr. crashed out of, who was an early retirement in 1992 when Unser Jr. finally won and Mears and Foyt retired, and who won in 1996 and has raced Montoya and Castroneves as early as 2000 and 2001 in each case (these two drivers won those two races), Lazier is the link between the generations past and present at Indianapolis.

“The reason I stayed here (in IRL in 1996) is that I’d been trying for years to be a part of a program where I had a car that could win. Ron Hemelgarn gave that for me,” Lazier said.

“But now, I’m so looking forward to the next five years – and there’s so much technology here now.”

Foyt had ripped on how relatively easy it seems to drive now compared to back in his day, thanks to that technology.

“Now y’all have got (fuel or engine) map one, or map two. I did it manually. I just used a hammer,” he said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone won seven or eight of these deals… if these guys stay on the ball!”

It was a great contrast to earlier in the day, when Chevrolet’s three youngest drivers in this year’s race, Gabby Chaves (23 years old), Zach Veach (22) and Sage Karam (22) all gave event car rides while driving a Chevy SS, thus making the days for people who now got to experience a lap or two of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of Chevrolet’s event car program.

“I’m used to driving paddle shifts. I haven’t driven proper stick shifts in a while!” Karam laughed before doing his own laps.

Indy’s history is what makes it great.

Seeing the three young guns, part of a group eager to prove themselves in a forum, while then also seeing the legends laugh about the history and about what’s still to come proved that point.

All, connected by a Bow Tie.

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”