INDYCAR Photo by Walt Kuhn
INDYCAR Photo by Walter Kuhn

After thrilling Indy 500, it’s off to Detroit for doubleheader

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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – Since winning a spectacular 103rdIndianapolis 500, Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske has had a busy week that included Monday night’s Victory Awards Celebration in Indianapolis and a trip to New York on Tuesday for a full day of media appearances.

That schedule may be light compared to what the teams have had to do.

It’s another grueling week for Team Penske and the other teams that compete regularly in the NTT IndyCar Series. After three full weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with practice and qualifications for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 10 and the race on May 11, followed by a full week of practice and qualifications for the 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Race week was last week culminating with Pagenaud’s thrilling battle with Alexander Rossi in the final 13 laps of the 103rdIndy 500 on Sunday, May 26.

All but three of the full-time teams in the NTT IndyCar Series are based in Indianapolis. Carlin is based in Boca Raton, Florida, Dale Coyne Racing is in Plainfield, Illinois and Team Penske is in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Pagenaud’s winning crew on the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet were honored at Monday night’s Victory Awards Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Afterwards, they boarded the team’s charter jet, known as “Air Penske” and flew to Statesville Airport in nearby Statesville, North Carolina, arriving very late Monday night.

From there, it was back to work at the race shop in Mooresville early Tuesday morning to continue preparations on the car that will race on Detroit’s Belle Isle street course in this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

It’s not just one race this weekend, it’s a doubleheader with full races on both Saturday and Sunday.

Following that event, it’s a short week because the teams turn over their street course setup for oval configuration and head to Texas Motor Speedway for a Saturday night race on June 8 at Texas Motor Speedway in the DXC Technology 600.

That means no rest for the weary warriors of IndyCar.

For Team Penske chief mechanic Trevor Lacasse, it’s his second Indy 500 win as a crewmember, but it’s his first in the lead role on the crew of the No. 22 Chevrolet. He was part of the winning crew when Juan Pablo Montoya won the 99thIndianapolis 500 in 2015.

Now, it’s off to Detroit.

“We’re going to try to get Roger Penske some more wins at his race this weekend in Detroit,” Lacasse told NBC Sports.com. “We flew home after the Victory Banquet Monday night, worked all day Tuesday to get the cars ready for Detroit, had a bit of a rest on Wednesday, then we leave for Detroit on Thursday to start setting up for Friday’s practice.”

Because Pagenaud’s No. 22 Dallara/Chevrolet won the 103rdIndianapolis 500, it is now taken out of the rotation. Team owner Roger Penske always puts the winning Indy 500 car aside, where it will be refurbished and become a “museum piece.”

Penske has 18 “museum pieces” for his 18 Indianapolis 500 victory, far and away more than any other team.

“The good news is we get to retire a car, but the bad thing is we have lost a car in the rotation,” Kyle Moyer, Team Penske General Manager, IndyCar, told NBC Sports.com. “We’ll have to move Helio Castroneves’ car into the rotation for Simon to get ready for Texas.”

The car that is being retired was one of Pagenaud’s cars from his 2016 season. It was put into the rotation in 2013 and was number 042.

“It’s been around for a while and has won a lot of races,” Moyer said.

For the rest of the cars in the Indy 500 in the Team Penske stable, the equipment beat the team back to the shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.

“All of Team Penske’s cars besides Simon’s went back to North Carolina on Sunday night after the race,” Lacasse explained. “We got some help from our Sports Car guys and the rest of the crew to get the cars turned around for Detroit.

“That’s the great thing about this team, everybody pitches in and helps each other. On Sunday, we might show up with a different shirt on, but it’s all one team. We have three cars identically built and it’s a team effort.”

The cars and parts left Indianapolis for Mooresville, North Carolina Sunday night. On Monday, the computers and office equipment in the Gasoline Alley garages – Team Penske’s home away from home the past three weeks – were loaded up and carted off.

“We have a group of guys that flew home Monday morning to help get things turned around, while the rest of us got to stay for the banquet,” Lacasse said. “We flew home and were all at work bright and early Tuesday morning.

“We’re in business to win races. As Roger Penske said when we went out to ‘Kiss the Bricks,’ 18 wins in the Indy 500 is pretty good, but he has 20 wins circled in his book.

“Now that, would be pretty cool.”

Moyer is the general manager, IndyCar, at Team Penske. He told NBC Sports.com that the team’s street and road course cars for Detroit were actually prepared last week, to give them a head start on the back-to-back events on the same weekend.

“Having our Sports Car team come in on Memorial Day was a bonus for us because it helps out everybody there,” Moyer said. “Everything has to be loaded and off to Detroit.

“The big turnaround is after Detroit. Then, you have only two days to get ready for that one and you are flipping cars from street course to oval.”

How does an IndyCar team keep the crew fresh during such a demanding part of the schedule?

“The good thing is everybody knows the situation,” Moyer said. “We had Wednesday off and that was really good for the guys. Detroit is two races that go by quickly, then it’s off to Texas.

“Then, we’ll have some time off. After Elkhart Lake, we get a two-week break and I can’t remember the last time we’ve had two weeks off in the season in IndyCar.”

For team owner Roger Penske, it was Indy 500 win No. 18. For Lacasse, it’s Indy 500 win No. 2. For Moyer, it was Indy 500 win No. 8 including one win with Galles Racing in 1992, one with Barry Green in 1995, Indy 500 wins in 2005, 2007 and 2014 with Andretti Autosport and Team Penske Indy 500 wins in 2015, 2018 and 2019.

“I still have two more fingers I can put a ring on,” Moyer said. “We’ll keep working on it.”

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

Arrow McLaren Racing SP Photo
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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