ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) As usual, Helio Castroneves took charge.
Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud came in early for their news conference after a good practice at Road America for the Team Penske drivers. Castroneves, still in his firesuit, picked up the microphone and started moderating the discussion as if he was a veteran announcer.
“You’re such a natural,” Pagenaud said to laughter. “The guy is great.”
Chemistry on and off the track has helped fuel Team Penske’s IndyCar success. All four Penske drivers are sixth or better in the points race, within 63 or less of leader Scott Dixon.
“Between us, yes, we want to kick everybody inside the team,” Castroneves said. “But we want to give the win, we want to give the championship to Roger (Penske). But we know in the end of the day, working together, racing hard … but fair, everybody’s going to be benefit from that.”
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is a headliner on another impressive IndyCar roster for Penske. Pagenaud is the reigning champion. Will Power is a former series champ.
Josef Newgarden is the new guy after joining Penske in the offseason from tiny Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden, who finished fourth in the series last year, is the first American driver on Penske’s open-wheel roster since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2007.
The quartet dominated practice and qualifying at Road America last weekend, with Castroneves taking the pole while his teammates filled out the rest of the front row. A large team allows drivers to share information, giving Penske an advantage over teams with fewer cars.
“We have on-board cameras, have data, have notes from the session. If you wanted to hide something, you just can’t,” Power said.
Added Newgarden: “Really, it’s like impossible. No joke. It’s 100% impossible to hide anything.”
Not that they seem to mind. The addition of Newgarden has appeared to be seamless since he replaced Juan Pablo Montoya. They poked fun at each other all weekend in Wisconsin.
Newgarden, who turns 27 in December, is one of the circuit’s up-and-coming stars. A friendly demeanor meshes well with Castroneves, the jovial veteran of the group in his 20th season.
“First of all, his talent, it definitely (suits) the team,” Castroneves said of Newgarden. “Well, his personality, it helps, too. He’s a guy that fits in.”
Known for his outgoing personality, the 42 year-old Castroneves seemed as energetic as ever at Road America after winning the pole.
“He gets faster as he gets older, like wine, matured,” Power said.
The drivers look like mischievous middle-school boys on a series of lighthearted videos produced by Team Penske. The “Penske Games” include activities like building a Lego race car ; saying the alphabet backward ; and twirling a hula hoop.
“All right, everyone, `Dancing with the Stars,”‘ said Castroneves, the 2007 winner of the reality TV show competition. “We didn’t have this on Dancing with the Stars, but it’s OK.”
Pagenaud looked mystified .
“Well, I’ve never done it,” Pagenaud said.
Newgarden swayed and smiled into the camera.
“It’s all in the hips. That’s what Helio would tell you,” he joked.
They’re much more competitive on the track and for good reason: All are in championship contention.
With Pagenaud using fresh tires, Power blocked his teammate around a turn in lap 15 at Road America. Race officials penalized Power and ordered him to give up one spot on the track.
“We were just caught up in things all day,” said Power, sixth in the points race overall. He finished fifth at Road America.
It was still a good day overall for Penske, with Newgarden finishing second, followed by Castroneves and Pagenaud. It was a reward that comes with the cooperation between the drivers, engineers and mechanics.
But Dixon spoiled the Penske party after the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran won the Wisconsin race. The series resumes July 9 at Iowa.
“It’s kind of disappointing that Team Penske didn’t get the win here today considering how strong all of the cars were. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Castroneves said. “We’ll come back ready to go for Iowa.”