IndyCar

Here’s What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Indianapolis 500

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Win or lose, drivers had much to say after Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) — Indy 500 winner: “Man, I just can’t believe it. I changed my attitude a lot after Barber. Very positive, I had a great month. I just can’t believe it. I’ve got to thank Roger Penske, Verizon and my parents for allowing me to get to this point. I just … I can’t describe it. I feel like collapsing. I want to cry. I couldn’t stop screaming. I can’t believe it.” (About last restart): “I’m like, ‘I have to get these guys.’ I don’t know how much fuel they got, but this is the restart of my life. And then I go on, and the two (Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey) pit, and I’m like, ‘Man, I think I’m going to win this!’ I was screaming with one to go. Man, I got this. Unbelievable. I was wondering if I was ever going to win it, and thoughts went through my mind during the month like that. In my career, I’ve had so many wins, so many poles. But everyone always talks about the ‘500.’ And I won it. I just couldn’t imagine winning a race in front of crowd like this, this many people. It’s just amazing. What an event. I love it.”

ED CARPENTER (Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – finished 2nd: “I’ll feel pretty good about this in a couple days, I think. The team really did a great job all month long, all day long, really. Pit stops were really good. It was almost like being out front early probably hurt us a little bit, just because guys started saving fuel a little earlier. We got behind on the fuel save. Track position was everything we thought it was going to be coming into the day. You heard the drivers talk all week. Just couldn’t quite get it back from him. We were saving fuel through the middle part of the race when everyone was essentially trying to cut out a stop. That was a little odd. You never know how these races are going to unfold. I thought for the most part the team executed well. I thought there’s only a couple little things that I can reflect on in the short term right now that maybe could have made a difference. All in all, I thought Will (Power) won the race and we ended up second, and we’ll be happy with that. We’ll come back stronger next year.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 3rd: “We were trying to save fuel at the end and we knew we had to take a gamble with the PNC Bank car. We just didn’t have the top speed today and the restarts were tough. That was all due to my team though. They made that great strategy call and all I did was get the fuel number they gave me. Huge congrats to Will Power. I know he’s been very hungry for this and congratulations to him.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished 4th: “I feel like we did what we could, and we maximized what we had. The NAPA Know How Andretti Honda team did everything right. I don’t look back on anything and wish we’d done anything different. Despite, it was a good day from a championship perspective. We didn’t have enough to win, but congrats to Will [Power].”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 5th: “It was a good race all day. When we were all mixed up in traffic, the No. 28 car was really strong, but once it started stringing out, we just didn’t have it. We really fought hard, but we just didn’t have the speed in the end. But the bigger problem was the lapped traffic. We really had a good race car until we had to deal with guys that were doing 200 mph out there, like Jay Howard. Then (Zach Claman De Melo) came out right at the end in the mix of the top five – I don’t know what teams were thinking. The DHL boys did a great job today, just a little bit too short at the end. But, congrats to Will Power, he definitely has a well-rounded career now.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 6th: “It was all about track position today. We had a fantastic No. 22 Menards Chevrolet. I want to take my hat off to Chevrolet and the whole Team Penske. I’m so happy for Will (Power). We’ve been rivals. We’ve been friends and teammates. I know how he feels right now. That’s my next goal, and he has just accomplished that – race car life accomplished. It’s a big weight off his shoulders. I’m honestly super-happy for him. There’s no better man than Will to win this race. He’s been through a lot. Today’s all about him right now, it’s not about me.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 29 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda) – finished 7th: “It’s another top 10 for my career, I think I only have one outside the top 10 because of a penalty. I think what hurt me was the yellows towards the end. We had a really good strategy going on, same as Rahal, and we were in a really good place. I think I chickened out a little bit on the restarts because I wasn’t up to speed. That hurt me a little bit on the restarts. I was a little bit cautious, so some people overtook me but at the end of the day I think I gained back all the positions on track. It’s a top seven so… great!”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 8th: “It was more difficult this year, but I think still a great race. I think we fought back for points, which was good. We just got out of position there on pit stops and just struggled with the yellows; they didn’t fall our way. We were fighting from 20th, 15th place. I think we had a good car up front. I wasn’t so good in the back. Once I got 15th or 20th, I struggled a little bit. But we were making slow progress. We got back in the top 10 but can’t be too satisfied. It was a great day for Team Chevy and Team Penske, as well. I’m happy for Will (Power), I just wish it was our day. We had an amazing Indiana crowd, as always. This is the best race of the year, and hopefully we’ll have a better shot next time.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – finished 9th: “It was an emotional roller coaster today. I thought we had a great car, but we just couldn’t progress. We would make some moves forward with the strategy, and then we would get a yellow that would put us at the back again. Hats off to the Lucas Oil SPM boys – we had great pit stops all day. Finally, at the end we could let loose and pick people off, and we went from 19th to ninth in the last 10 laps. Today was a lot of fun. I’m leaving here feeling like I want more, but a top-10 finish as a rookie in the Indy 500… it’s hard to complain.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) – finished 10th: “I thought our United Rentals car was very good, it just became a track position race and the yellows were way too long. The strategy that we played when we got to the lead on Lap 100 — had the yellows not taken so long every single time  — we would have been one pit stop less than the rest. We were good to make it on one more stop and everybody else wasn’t. There were three or four of us in that situation – me, (Josef) Newgarden, I think (Robert) Wickens maybe and (Carlos) Munoz. We had played it right. It obviously sucks to leave here another year and not get a win particularly when the race car was pretty good. I need to be more aggressive on the restarts. I didn’t really want to try the second lane because there was a lot at stake. I didn’t want to put the thing in the fence but I saw a lot of guys doing it ( in the second lane) so the last restart I did, I made up three or four spots, but I’m just disappointed because I want to get out of here with a win someday.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 66 Salesforce DRR Chevrolet) – finished 11th: “It was a very long race. We tried very hard to gain some track position in the pits and every time it sort of ended up to be a little bit of a wash where the yellow fell. They guys did a great job all race long. No mistakes from anyone on the strategy side or pit lane side. Every time we took a gamble, it didn’t really seem to hurt us. Always good to get 500 miles under your belt here (the track) and to finish the race. To see so many guys today have a really tough day as far as handling very poorly really early in the stint. I was fortunate to be right around a few of them and watching them happen like that could have been us if we were a little worse or a little less careful. Happy to bring the thing back in one piece. Would have liked to have snuck it into the top 10 there at the end, but kudos to the team. They did a great job with the Salesforce car all month long and what turned out to be real tough conditions. You always appreciate being able to put 200 laps in here. You always are learn a bunch of stuff. You learn things about driving the car. You learn what you need in the car. You learn about conditions and what other guys have learned about the car. We won’t forget that stuff when we come back next year.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 12th: “We seemed to be there in the beginning and then just lost something at the end. We were trying to figure out what it was, but I just lost pace in the end. We were sort of where we needed to be, not really to win the race but right up in the thick of things and we just slipped down. We think we know what it was, but knowing that now makes us a day late and a dollar short. Big thanks to my U.S. Concrete guys for the hard work all month long.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 13th: “First Indy 500 done – I’m pretty happy with the performance – managed to complete the whole race and it was probably the most difficult race I’ve ever done, you know. pretty difficult, pretty tricky and the car was changing a lot from one stint to the other so it was a long day. I’m happy for the team, I think we deserved it and I’m looking forward to the next race now.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “It was a race of perseverance for us. First 150 laps were really tough because the car was a bit all over the place. At the end we had a nice change that completely turned the car around and, all of a sudden, I was passing cars and driving as hard as I could. That put us in a really good position to where if we hadn’t been unlucky in the last restart with the lapped cars that went through pit lane on the last few laps, we would have had a top 10 finish.”

STEFAN WILSON (No. 25 #Driven2SavesLives Honda) – finished 15th: “It was so close – a helluva strategy call by the team. The No. 25 Driven2SaveLives team did a great job all day. With that strategy call we knew we were gambling – we knew we were rolling the dice. We were just hoping for another yellow flag at the end. I was leading, and I knew we were strong enough and wouldn’t be able to be passed, but the yellow just didn’t come. While I was out there leading, I was just out there thinking if it goes yellow now my dreams are made. It didn’t happen, but we led our first laps, we learned a helluva lot this month and it was mad fun, so I’m leaving here with a smile on my face and my head held high.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM MSR w/ SPM Honda) – finished 16th: “It’s the Indy 500, the biggest one of the year, so the team didn’t have to apologize to me for going for it! We nearly made the strategy work, but there were a few bits where we just couldn’t hit the numbers. We ran up to the front at the end and went three-wide into Turn 1 on the last restart. I tried to drive the best race I could and we finished 16th, which is a pretty good day considering where we started. Looking at where we were last year and where we are today, it’s a night and day difference. Thank you to AutoNation and SiriusXM and all of the supporters and sponsors that we have and to Michael (Shank) for believing in me. This is a good program that’s getting off the ground and this is good momentum to keep going.”

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 64 Scuderia Corsa/Manitowoc Honda) – finished 17th: “I am really proud of the whole effort. When you come as a one-race team, it is really hard to beat the guys that are full season so just doing it for your-run-for-the-money like we did is really great. It was great running up front. It showed we had a good speed, great passes, and restarts. We took a risk on the strategy and it almost worked. I am very proud of everyone. Everyone at RLL (Rahal Lanigan Letterman Racing) and Scuderia Corsa were here to win and we showed that we really went for it.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet) – finished 18th: “Major props to everyone on the Carlin team – they’ve worked so hard since November to put this program together. To come out and qualify two cars in the top 20 and finish the race with two cars in one piece in the top 22 in their first Indianapolis 500 is impressive. I’m just really proud of these guys, everyone really did a great job all month. I’m excited to come back next year with everything we learned this year both in qualifying and in the race. We will definitely do some things differently, but that’s the thing about the first time, you learn so much and we’ll just keep moving forward from here. We’re looking forward to another 100 points up for grab next weekend in Detroit.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – finished 19th: “It was a cool experience getting to race the No. 19 Paysafe car at the Indy 500. I really enjoyed my time. As much as I wanted to do better we went for it, we gambled, and it didn’t work, but I’m happy we went for it. That’s what the sport is about, and we took a risk. I finished the race, I got a lot of experience under my belt and it will benefit me a lot when I come back next year. I think one more yellow and we would have had a better result. From the crowd, to everything, it’s been super surreal. I loved it. I enjoyed the whole month and I can’t wait to hopefully be back next year.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) – finished 20th: “We started off well, then came the speeding penalty and next thing I know, we’re a lap down. We weren’t able to get it back. I know we had enough speed to finish in the top ten, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have that luck and finished farther back. I’m still really thankful for my team, especially the Preferred Freezer guys for giving me a great car all month and our fans, too. It was good to be a part of it all.”

CONOR DALY (No. 17 United States Air Force Honda) – finished 22nd: “I think we have to be pretty happy from where we started. We thought it was going to be a lot more of a difficult day. We ended up being pretty competitive and passing some cars. On track we were running with (Robert) Wickens and (Stefan) Wilson, behind guys that finished in the Top 15, but every time we pitted it went yellow. Again, I can’t seem to find any luck here. I would have been super happy finishing in the top 15 because I knew I was faster than those guys all day. That’s just the frustrating part. But I want to thank everyone that helped put this program together from the U.S. Air Force, Thom Burns, Dale Coyne, everyone on the team. I’m super grateful for the opportunity.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – finished 22nd: “Yeah, that’s just the brutal life of the Indianapolis 500. At times you feel like you’re doing well and then at times it’s like the world is against you. I think we did a reasonable job for our first time entering the race as a new team and we did a good job in qualifying. There are definitely things we’ve learned and we’ll come back stronger next year. Honestly, I just didn’t have the pace. I tried in traffic, but I just couldn’t do much with the car. We tried a different fuel strategy at the end, but we just couldn’t make it. It was great to see so many Gallagher guests at the track this weekend to cheer on the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and we’re looking forward to Detroit next weekend.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay / Group One Thousand One Honda) – finished 23rd: “It was a long day in general for us to end up where we did – two pit fires and the balance of the car wasn’t where we would’ve liked it to be, so we had to work on it the entire time. We finally got it close the last couple stops but, just my mistake. I took us in a direction on a setup that I thought was going to be good, but I think that’s what hurt us come race day. Overall though, I’m just really grateful to have my first ‘500’ with the team under my belt and can’t thank my teammates and my Relay crew enough for all the hard work.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 7 One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/AFS Racing Honda) – finished 24th:“Today started off really well. We were moving forward, overtaking cars, so to be able to move forward felt pretty great. All of a sudden, it was like a light switch and the One Cure car, no matter what we did, it just wasn’t very quick. It was a frustrating day for everyone. I just want to thank the CSU and One Cure folks for giving us the opportunity to be here and work with the SPM boys and Honda. The positive out of this is that we brought it home with all four wheels on it. It was a good month for us, and I only wish we could end it on a bit more of a high.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 25th: “Man, the Speedway, right? We had a great day going and then we had a puncture that put us behind all day long, so I was playing catch up. It was not for lack of trying, we came back from all the way from the back of the pack to the inside of the top 10. Great restarts and…oh my God. So, it wasn’t our day. I mean we have a great thing going, this team is very promising so we will leave here with our heads up. We had great pit stops, and I mean it wasn’t our day and to finish ninth or last for me it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to make an excuse, I made a mistake trying and that for me, in my book, it’s totally fine. I’m looking forward to the future on this team.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet) – finished 26th: “I really don’t know what happened because the race car was stable in the rear end all day. Then all of a sudden, the car just snapped around without any notice.  It is extremely puzzling. We had a pretty good car all day and then that happened. I’m upset because I felt like we had a car to race into the top-five today. I feel badly because the DRR crew worked so hard to prepare a good machine this month. Then this happens. I love Indy so much and now my race ends like this.  I know I want to come back here next year and race hard again.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 27th: “The car was actually handling good, I couldn’t get too close to other guys. I guess when I went to pass (Ryan) Hunter-Reay on the outside, maybe got a little debris on the tire – I don’t know, that was obviously the first time. My worry was actually Turn 1, not so much in Turn 4, so I felt a little bit movement but I was feeling that most of the time. But this time, unfortunately the rear just over-rotated. The Shell Pennzoil Chevy was really good so now let’s cheer for our teammates. I mean Will (Power) is doing a great job, Simon (Pagenaud) and also (Josef) Newgarden up there.  [Heat for the day] Yeah, I think we were just learning the car. obviously, I mean you can see some other cars be able to run a more little closer without an issue. Myself, for example, when I had the opportunity, I went for it. Maybe with older tires, maybe it wasn’t the time to do it, but I felt everything was going to momentum. It’s a shame. It caught us by surprise. We will learn a little more and hopefully can convince RP (Roger Penske) to bring me back.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) – finished 28th: “The Sealmaster Honda No. 18 was pretty good, but on a couple of restarts I got caught out and wasn’t aggressive enough, so I got chewed up by a bunch of guys. I was trying to make up for lost ground and picking them off one by one. The stint before was really strong, the car felt very good, so when I left the pits I was trying to get ahead of (Alexander) Rossi. I got a good run on him coming off of Turn 3 and tried to stay in and make the pass. The car unloaded and I tried to dive through the understeer. The front hooked a little bit and snapped out on me and that was that. I gave it my best shot and, unfortunately, those things were really tricky today with the heat. The downforce was really low and it was very difficult to be flat. I’m just disappointed for the Dale Coyne Vasser-Sullivan guys. They worked so hard all month and we lost a chance on some valuable championship points.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet) – finished 29th: “Obviously, a disappointing end to what I think could have been a really good race. All month has been pretty amazing. We have fought our way back from a lot. We got the car pretty good and had an amazing qualifying and a really good starting position for the race. We fell back in the beginning of the race with a bad pit stop on my part, but we were fighting back. We got one lap back and I know we were going to get the other one back. We had a really good race car. We were hanging with guys that were running up front and we were fighting through the field. We are not 100 % sure what put us out of the race, but we know that it was out of our control.  I am just very happy with everything this month. It was a great experience. I was improving and I learned so much. I can’t wait to be back next year. I want to say thanks to the team and everyone on the team for doing their part and bringing me a great race car. I also want to thank NFP for their support and family and friends that came out to make this day possible and to cheer me on.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet) – finished 30th: “I do feel like it was unexpected, but on the other hand, the car was a little bit positive today and turning more than I wanted it to. I was just having to chase it a lot. Turn 2 did seem a little bit more edgy than the other corners, but I can’t say that in that point in time that I was on edge or felt like I was. It just swung around as soon as I recommitted back to the throttle again, I felt a little bit of understeer in the middle of the corner. I wasn’t expecting it by any means, but I think it just goes to show that these cars are tough to drive. All the drivers out there are great drivers. It was definitely not the way I wanted to end, of course. I wouldn’t want to end any year like this, but being my last race, it definitely makes it a lot worse. I did have some good moments here this month. I won’t forget that, and I won’t forget my fans either.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 31st: “It was an unfortunate end to our race in the NTT DATA car. We struggled a bit in the first stint, but then make progress and were looking better after the first pit stop. Unfortunately, there were two cars in front of me going two wide, and the characteristics of the car were understeer – then I got massive oversteer, and I wasn’t able to catch the car. My crew was outstanding and we’ll be back and stronger at Detroit.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 32nd: “James had a problem with speed and there was too much closing speed between us and I couldn’t avoid him. Once I realized, I backed off and even hit the brakes, but just once you get into an air pocket like that, you just get sucked in.  It’s’ really an unfortunate situation for both of us and I feel really sorry for the team, the fans and supporters.  Robert (Wickens) and I were catching the front of the train, the pack we were in.  Once he got it, I could see two cars side by side. At the time, maybe James was too much in trouble and he had to back off and get in the grey. The speed differential was way too great between us. I tried to avoid it but unfortunately I couldn’t.”

JAMES DAVISON (No. 33 Jonathan Bryd’s 502 East Chevrolet) – finished 33rd: “We had anti-roll bar jam on there, so I just couldn’t change the balance. I had to do the best with the adversity that I faced. If I tried any harder, I was going to swap ends, so I was getting plenty of warning signs there. If I was anywhere close to another car, I was getting huge wiggles and snap oversteer. I just really feel for Takuma (Sato) for getting caught up in that. That is not at all the situation that you want to drag someone else in to, but that’s the Indy 500 isn’t it? Feel very proud of this Foyt /Bryd/Hollinger/Belardi team for the adversity we overcame and showing some kind of competitiveness there in the first stint.”

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500