Pierre Gasly excited to return in new Netflix ‘Drive to Survive’ F1 plotline for Season 3

F1 Grand Prix of Sakhir - Qualifying
Peter Fox/Getty Images

Even after starring in a Netflix F1 reality series that showcased some of the most agonizing moments of his professional life, Pierre Gasly still loves the streaming service.

“When I’m in the plane, that’s pretty much what I’m doing,” Gasly, whose Formula One career has him in the air for several thousand miles annually, told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “I usually split the flight time half-Netflix, half-sleeping trying to recover while trying to catch up on all the messages that I have or catch up with my friends. I think it’s great entertainment, and the content they have is really cool, so I enjoy it.”

Gasly soon will be enjoying the third season of “Drive to Survive,” which will be released March 19. The behind-the-scenes look at the Formula One paddock has become a hit by shining a light on the series’ high drama, relentless pressure and internecine rivalries.

In the 2019 season that was the focus of last year’s 10 episodes, some of the most gripping moments came at Gasly’s expense.

SENSE OF URGENCYRyan Hunter-Reay in business as usual mode with one-year deal

JIMMIE’S JOURNEYJimmie Johnson opens up on his move from IndyCar to NASCAR

During the fifth episode (titled “Great Expectations”), his struggle to match the results of Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen is presented in excruciating detail through the F1 rounds at Monte Carlo, Montreal and Austria – which would be Gasly’s final race before being replaced by Alex Albon and shuffled to Red Bull’s midfield team for the final nine races.

In one brutal scene during the Montreal GP weekend, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko says, “Gasly is poor,” and team principal Christian Horner responds, “You or I could do it.”

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
Pierre Gasly celebrates in parc ferme with AlphaTauri team members after winning the F1 Grand Prix of Italy in Monza (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

Though there are uplifting moments with Gasly visiting his family’s home in Rouen, France, the show concludes with his name literally being stripped from a Red Bull Honda RB15.

It’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure to revel in watching the emotionally wrenching disappointment. But yet …

“It’s the best episode, right?” Gasly said with a laugh. “I’m glad you liked it.”

The narrative has changed since for the AlphaTauri driver, whose triumphs now will be featured in Season 3.

With his stunning victory last Sept. 6 at the renowned Monza circuit, Gasly (who turned 25 last month) became the youngest French driver to win in F1 and the first French winner since 1996.

He is looking forward to watching how the series will portray his 2020 season, though “obviously, it’s always kind of weird to see yourself.

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil
Former Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly celebrate a 1-2 finish in the Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on Nov, 17, 2019 (Charles Coates/Getty Images).

“I watch a lot of Netflix, so seeing yourself in a Netflix series is kind of unusual,” said Gasly, who also starred in the Season 2 finale with the redemptive arc of a runner-up finish in Brazil. “but as a whole, I really liked the fact that Netflix focused on the personalities of the drivers, which is something that doesn’t obviously come out when you watch the races on Sunday. Getting out of the car and being interviewed 5 minutes after the race when the emotions are still quite high, and depending on if you had a good race or bad race, you can come across quite differently than the person you are.

“I like the fact they focused on the personality and who we are as persons and humans, rather than just the driver itself. I think it was great. The feedback I got from most of the people who watched the series was really positive. Even people who are not so connected to racing and motorsports in general just enjoyed the series and the characters.”

During a wide-ranging interview with NBC Sports, Gasly addressed what it was like to have a central role in “Drive to Survive”, his insight on IndyCar and NASCAR considering similar reality series for their drivers and his long-term outlook in Formula One (which is in the midst of preseason testing and will begin its 2021 season March 28 with the Bahrain Grand Prix).

Here are his thoughts (lightly edited for clarity):

Q: The episode that ended with your sacking was difficult to watch but also very compelling TV. Was it awkward to know that people were being entertained at your expense?

Gasly: “On my side, obviously I went through a lot in the last two years. The series wasn’t about myself. It was about Formula One. To sum up everything I lived in a year in 45 minutes, it’s pretty difficult. There were a lot more things that I wish would have been explained a bit more in details, but I think what they’ve done was great and gave an idea of what happened.

“It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of ups and downs in that year. And I think what came across was the most important message. At the end of the day, things don’t have to always come out in the media. As a professional, there are things that should not come out and be talked about only in between closed walls with the teams. Especially about the issues we had. So I kind of respect that, and I think the main message that came out was the right one. It was more about the series and about Formula One rather than myself and the situation was pretty much well explained, even though not everything came out. That’s fine.”

F1 Grand Prix of Sakhir - Practice
Pierre Gasly prepares for practice Dec. 4 at the F1 Grand Prix of Sakhir at Bahrain International Circuit (Peter Fox/Getty Images).

Q: Did you have the chance to see the show ahead of time to prepare for how you’d be portrayed, or did you see it with the rest of us?

Gasly: “I saw some short footage before it came out, and I got to see some of the stuff that unfortunately got deleted as well. I had a small idea of what was going up, but I didn’t know about the full last episode with the Brazilian podium, so that was still a surprise when I watched it for the first time. It’s always tricky when people kind of explain something that you live yourself. Obviously I have all the information, and I was a bit worried that the message that comes across would not be the right one, but even though you can’t explain everything in 45 minutes, I think they did a very good job.

“And the whole series was really good. I really enjoyed it, and I’m really happy that it brought a lot more exposure to Formula One, and we kind of managed to get more people excited about our sport, more people engaged with it. And that’s what we need, because at the end, F1, like any other sport, is entertainment. And we need to have a great show, and I think Netflix is promoting that really well. I think a very positive series. Last year was a good one, but I think the coming Season 3 will be even better. I hope everyone will enjoy that one.”

Q: Do you know if there will be a Season 3 episode solely about your victory at Monza?

Gasly: “(Laughs) I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a full one, but obviously, there’ll be (some) great footage from Monza. It should be quite exciting to watch. Last year was a great season for F1 in general. A lot of unexpected things happened, and obviously, there was my win, which was a pretty big highlight for the world championship, because for once it wasn’t Lewis or Red Bull who won the race and kind of made it a bit more interesting than usual.”

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Practice
(Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Q: Are you required by Liberty Media or Formula One to cooperate fully on “Drive to Survive,” and are there restrictions placed on the filming?

Gasly: “We are completely free to say whether we like it or not. There are certain things where these guys are going to be around, but if you tell them, ‘OK, I don’t want to share anything with you. I don’t want you guys to film this or record that or have the mic on’ or whatever, they’re fine with everything. They don’t want to be a heavy. They’re here to create the best content possible and try to show the world how it works in kind of a closed environment. Because F1 is kind of really private, exclusive. Not everyone’s got access to it, especially these days with the COVID, it’s even more difficult. So they kind of share that life and world which is ours, but we are still free to share as much as we want with them.”

Q: If we could have seen the Pierre Gasly Cut of your episode from Season 2, how would it have unfolded?

Gasly: “A lot of things happened in the first six months, and it was pretty tough because from the outside, that’s part of the sport. You’re judged really quickly without people knowing all the information. And sometimes it’s unfair. It should not be like that, even though I accept that everyone has their own opinions. I just wanted to be giving more information about exactly the situation and what’s happened and the issues we had. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t truly important. I think the second part of the year, it was kind of clear, and the message that was sent was the main one. And it wasn’t necessarily about me. So they gave F1 exposure, and I was happy with that.”

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil
Pierre Gasly gets a hug from Red Bull Racing consultant Helmut Marko after finishing second in the Grand Prix of Brazil (Dan Istitene/Getty Images).

Q: It’s good you felt accurately depicted, and I know F1 can be cutthroat, but was it hard to watch Red Bull executives Christian Horner and Helmut Marko be highly critical while so publicly analyzing your driving performance?

Gasly: “At the end of the day, I told them they have their own opinions, but we all know exactly what’s happened. What comes up in the media and what they can say and what I can say is one thing, but deep inside me, I know what the reality is. At the end of the day, there are certain things that come with this, and I respect that. I’m professional. That’s the case in any sport. Not everything comes out, but deep inside me, I know exactly why the reasons it didn’t work, and whatever they say after that, it’s up to them. I have my values. That’s the most important thing.

“I always say I don’t want to start arguing in the media who is right, who is not, and all the things. I just say my answer is going to be on track with my performances. That’s the only way I’m going to answer to all the critics and all the things that didn’t go well in the first half of the year. I think there was no better way to do it than getting that podium in Brazil. And then the year after my first win with AlphaTauri.”

Q: What was it like for your family being involved in “Drive to Survive” and did that help people get to know you?

Gasly: “For sure, it does. Because the guy I am on track and in the paddock when I’m focused on my work, my passion, my dream — the only thing that matters is performance. Everything is going to be sacrificed toward my performance and trying to be the best on that day. But obviously, I have a life next to it. Pierre Gasly as a normal human is different than Pierre Gasly on track who is fighting for a race win or the best result he can with an F1 car.

“I think it came across pretty well. It’s not something I really prepared for, my family just ended up hugely helping me through my career. But it’s not like they expected to be a Netflix character when we started this whole project. But I think they did a pretty good job. It’s one thing that people don’t really see. I think in general, us athletes are really judged on our actions in the sport, and people can translate that to the kind of human and personality or person we are. Where actually I feel when I’m on track and doing my thing, I’m in a different zone. Mentally, I’m a different guy than I am in my normal life. It’s two very different environments with different targets and goals. I think they’re going a very good job with that.”

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Final Practice
Pierre Gasly laughs during final practice Dec. 12 for the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi season finale (Peter Fox/Getty Images).

Q: During the 2020 season, Alex Albon went through an experience that was similar to yours at Red Bull. Are you curious about how that will be treated by Netflix producers this season, and what will it be like watching someone else go through what you did in Season 2?

Gasly: “Obviously I know what happened with myself. Alex, I don’t have information on why things didn’t go well. I saw that the way it has been managed and handled was very different to mine, so I think there were clearly lessons learned from our 2019 year. I think things were pretty well handled, and they tried to give him as much time as possible. I don’t know why it didn’t work. Obviously in the series, I don’t know what’s going to come out (in Season 3). Probably not everything. Because with these things when everything is fine and everything is shining and everybody is winning, it’s easy to show the entire bigger picture. But when it doesn’t go well, it’s always a bit awkward. I guess we’ll find out in the series when it comes out.”

Q: There’s a lot of talk about doing similar documentary series for NASCAR and IndyCar. What would be your advice to NASCAR and IndyCar drivers who might consider it?

Gasly: “I think it’s pretty cool. Also for myself, I’d like to see it. I didn’t get the chance to see NASCAR in real life and being part of the paddock and knowing all the stories and what’s going on. So as a fan of motorsports, I would love to understand that. I’ll be the first one to watch. I think it’s great to give access to people to certain things which are really private or exclusive where people can’t really experience. And to give a better idea of the sport. I think it had a really positive impact on Formula One. I’m sure it would have one on any other sports. So I clearly advise that.

“And yeah, to all the drivers, at the end of the day, just be yourself. That’s the only thing that you are asked. No one is really seeking anything. They just want to show your sport, what you’re doing and the chance that we have as athletes to do something we love. Not everybody can work from his or her passion of following his or her dreams, and we get the chance to do that and live an amazing life and experience amazing things. I think it’s great to share that with the people and connect with them in that way. I’ll be happy to watch a series on these sports, and hopefully they can make it happen.”

Q: What else do you enjoy watching on Netflix?

Gasly: “I watch all sorts of series. I really loved the Michael Jordan series (“The Last Dance”). I was already a pretty big fan, but watching it, I just really enjoyed the personality. The mentality. And how much he was just pushing himself to be the best. It was just quite inspiring as an athlete. And I watch all sorts of stuff not related to sports. ‘Stranger Things’ and all the top series that you see on there.”

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
Pierre Gasly takes a moment on the podium after winning the 2020 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza last Sept. 6 (Jenifer Lorenzini – Pool/Getty Images).

Q: After your victory at Monza, there were some memorable photos of you holding your head in your hands on the podium after the celebration. What were you thinking about?

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
(Jenifer Lorenzini – Pool/Getty Images)

Gasly: “A lot of things. Obviously, my first win in F1 is a moment I dreamt about so many times since I was a kid, and it was really important with so many emotions crossing my mind that I wanted to take a moment just for myself to enjoy because the first one is very unique. It’s a very iconic moment in a career. After Brazil, after my first podium, I remember waking up on Monday morning and thinking, ‘This went so fast.” I was thinking I would have loved to spend more time on the podium and just enjoying all this atmosphere and all this emotions that it gives you.

“We work really hard. We train really hard. There’s a lot of preparation, a lot of sacrifices during all the career to get to these moments. And in Monza, I won, and I said ‘OK, just enjoy every second of it. And take a moment for you.’ Just to go through all my thoughts and emotions at that time.”

Q: Are you curious how countryman Romain Grosjean (whose fiery crash at Bahrain will be prominently featured in Season 3 of “Drive to Survive”) will do in his move to IndyCar?

Gasly: “Yeah, I’m following, obviously. I think it’s going to be super exciting to see how Romain is adapting to IndyCar, how fast he is and what he can achieve there. He is a very talented driver. One of the most successful French drivers. So I think it’s great. He finished his career in a particular way. I think he was a bit gutted to leave the sport in that fashion and would have loved to have driven in Abu Dhabi for the last race. But I still find it pretty amazing that he’s able to jump back in the car and still compete and still go racing.

“I’m really excited to follow the season and have a couple of friends racing in (IndyCar). I think it’s a great show. I love the fact that the performance of the cars are quite similar, so everybody gets a chance to win or fight for podiums or top fives, and there is usually quite a lot of things happening in the races. So I find it pretty cool to watch.”

Q: Which other IndyCar drivers do you know, and does it seem as if there is more interest in IndyCar from Europe and elsewhere?

Gasly: “I know Felix Rosenqvist, I raced against him (in Formula E). I know Pato (O’Ward) as well. I know Conor (Daly). I was close to Tristan Vautier as well. Obviously I follow (Sebastien) Bourdais. And all the guys have been there a very long time. Since I’m a kid, I saw these names fighting up there for championships, and I always find it really exciting that the races are kind of unpredictable. A lot more than F1, even if we are going in that direction. We showed last year F1 is making steps in that direction and giving more chances to everyone to finish on the podiums. But I find IndyCar very exciting and clearly will make sure I’ll watch it even more with Romain joining the field.”

Pierre Gasly Receives Honorary Membership Card By Automobile Club D'Italia
For his Monza victory, Pierre Gasly receives an honorary membership card by Automobile Club dItalia (ACI) last Sept. 15 in Milan, Italy (Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto via Getty Images).

Q: You appear to be in great shape, but you also posted in January that you had become the sixth F1 driver to contract COVID-19. Are you fully recovered?

Gasly: “I’m quite lucky. It was very, very small. Really mild symptoms. I just felt like I had a runny nose for a couple of days and coughed a little for three to four days. My energy level was still good. Obviously, I had to isolate. We had a gym, and I managed to get all the equipment I needed to keep training during that period in my house. I was isolating with my trainer with me. It didn’t have much of an impact on my preparation.

“Quite lucky. I’m fully recovered. I’ve done my physical assessment at the Red Bull Training Center in Austria a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty happy. I’ve improved. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. Fully energized to attack this coming season with 23 races, which is going to be pretty intense, the most intense season I’m going to do in F1.”

Q: You’ve begun preparing for 2021. With the new F1 rules, is the team essentially starting in the same place as last season with the car?

Gasly: “So, that’s how it looks based on the regulations, but the small changes they have made actually impact the performance of the car quite a lot. I guess we could see a bit of unexpected things, maybe in performance. There was quite a lot of things going on over the winter trying to recover the performance we’d lost with the new regulations. Even if it doesn’t look that big, still the drop of downforce was quite important. I think we’re pretty happy with our development, but it obviously depends on how the others have improved, so I guess we’ll get an answer on our performance in Bahrain for the first test of the year.”

Pierre Gasly and new AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda drove the new AT02 at the circuit in Imola, Italy, during a filming day Feb. 25 (Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool).

Q: There are several big-name drivers who are in contract years for 2021. Coming off the Monza victory and the Netflix series helping elevate your profile, could this be a pivotal season for you take that next step in F1?

Gasly: “Exactly, that’s a target. Obviously, at the moment, I’m really focused on the coming season without thinking too much about the future. But there will be a time when we need to look further and look what other opportunities for the future. I think it’s still too early to have any idea on how the market is going to move. There will be opportunities, but that’s what I believe is opportunities come with strong results, strong performances.

“Yeah, it’s true, the last one and a half years have been amazing for me. I know I’m performing better than ever. With a bit more experience, I’m entering my fourth season in Formula One, won my first race in F1 last year. I keep pushing. I want more from F1. I want to win and fight for world championships, and that’s my target. I’ll just keep pushing and trying to show the best skills possible on track, and we’ll see the opportunities and what exciting opportunities we have for the future at the end of the year.”

The third season of “Drive to Survive” will be available March 19 on Netflix; the trailer was released last week.

‘You can feels some tension’: Team Penske’s bid to win another Indy 500 for ‘The Captain’

Team Penske Indy 500
Nate Ryan/NBC Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – In the middle of the Team Penske nerve center in Gasoline Alley sits a battered table that’s been a key to winning the Indy 500 for a half-century.

From 1973 to 2006, the table was in a conference room at the team’s former shop in Reading, Pennsylvania. For the last 15 years at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s sat in the center of a neatly organized bank of humming monitors and tidy engineer workstations. Its yellow top and fading wooden bullnose molding seem out of place in such a high-tech hub.

But the table is where virtually every major move – from strategy plays to driver hiring to car and engine innovations – was consummated for a team that has a record 18 Indy 500 victories.

So when the team left Reading, the table went to the Brickyard. In recent years throughout May, it’s where team owner Roger Penske and Team Penske president Tim Cindric have camped out to oversee the machinations of the most storied team in Indianapolis 500 history.

“I wanted to keep the table because in any meeting with Roger, that’s where you were,” Cindric told NBC Sports. “Any decision relative to Penske Racing happened on that table.

“I decided this table is going to Indy and will be in our conference room for the rest of time.”

During its run in the Reading shop, the table was in a room with another keepsake.

It’s a photo of Roger Penske surrounded by 14 Baby Borgs (the team ran out of room to Photoshop in the latest spoils) in front of a mural of Al Unser’s 1987 Indy 500 winner by famed artist LeRoy Neiman.

When the Reading shop was inundated in 2006 in a flood so massive there were fish inside from the Schuylkill River, the water line stopped at 4 feet — just below the photo.

After being rescued, the photo was relocated when the team moved into the mammoth headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina, that also house Penske’s NASCAR and sports car programs.

The photo now hangs in a conference room titled “Indianapolis,” where “The Captain” now is keeping a figuratively watchful eye on all of the work being done to end a four-year drought in the race that means more to the multibillion-dollar business and racing magnate than anything else in the world

“Our idea with the photo was that Roger always would be at all the meetings at that table,” Cindric said a few weeks ago in the Mooresville shop. “And so now he is here, too.”

Penske’s most recent victory was in 2019 with Simon Pagenaud, and much has changed since. After buying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series, he has put some professional distance between himself and the team he founded more than 57 years ago. Penske no longer is in his team’s pit stall on race day – today, he will deliver the prestigious command to start engines.

But though his presence with the team has declined, his passion for winning the world’s biggest remains singularly unquenchable. And he has been dropping hints he has a victory total in mind.

Team Penske managing director Ron Ruzewski heard it while sitting with the boss at the head table of the 2019 Indy 500 celebration.

“He said, ‘Well, now I want to win 20,’ ”  Ruzewski told NBC Sports. “If we can give him that, that’s everything.”

At 86 years old, the detail-oriented Penske still is feeling hale enough to tour his pristine 550-acre property on a nearly weekly basis.

But he also is cognizant that the clock is ticking on his time for celebrating at the track that he fell in love with as a 14-year-old in 1951.

“We’ve had longer times we haven’t won the race,” Cindric said. “The difference is Roger has less patience these days than what he had before. He’s always been completely competitive, but when we didn’t win the Indy 500 from 2009-15, there wasn’t nearly as much discussion as now because the expectations have been higher.

“From my perspective, I’m more motivated than ever to win it because I want him to be on that (winner’s) stand on the end of the day, and where he started the race saying the command. He’s brought the enthusiasm back to the start of that race because he puts a lot of energy into it. I want to end the day with him. That is as big a motivator as anything anyone can say or do.”

Within the walls of the Mooresville facility, the sense of necessity for a Penske victory is palatable – even for those on the NASCAR side of a sprawling facility of more than 250,000 square feet.

“They’ve been working hard because honestly the last couple of years, they haven’t been very good at Indy,” Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney told NBC Sports while recently sitting in that Indianapolis conference room. “They’ve lacked speed. Everyone knows about it. Roger has said it in meetings. You can sense the urgency to at least be in contention and have the speed to win it. You can feel some tension in the air. It’s good to have it sometimes.”

Though he never has attended the race, Blaney has gotten a strong read on what the Indy 500 means to the team during his decade as a Penske driver. He occasionally checks in on the IndyCar side of the shop and has stood on top of the famous IMS pagoda beside Roger Penske during the IndyCar road course race in the summer.

“He watches all his monitors there and knows everything that’s going on,” Blaney said. “You see how much every race means to Roger, but obviously especially the 500 and especially now owning IndyCar and IMS.

“It’s way more important, even on our (NASCAR) side. To win at Indy is huge for him.”

Will Power, who won the 2018 Indy 500 for Tea Penske and will make his 16th start today, said Roger Penske has asked “a lot of questions from the drivers and everyone” about the team’s recent dip at the Brickyard.

“It’s crazy we went back to back (with wins in) ’18-19 and then just took a big hit and suddenly there’s a big performance deficit,” Power told NBC Sports. “In the ’20 offseason, we did a lot of work and weren’t fast in ’21. Then we did a lot of work and in ’22, we weren’t fast.

“We’ve worked extremely hard. I think we’re going to be closer, no question.”

As with any championship-contending IndyCar team, the preparation for the 107th Indy 500 began several months ago.

Last September, Team Penske crews in Mooresville began “rubbing” on the cars that Scott McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden and Power will race at the Brickyard.

“I always ask whose car was the first and the last one to be done,” Power, who lives nearby and checks weekly on his cars, told NBC Sports with a laugh. “Because generally the last car to be done should be the best from having the experience of all the cars beforehand.”

It’s a meticulous process that doesn’t happen for any other race. Team members smooth out every inch of the cars’ bodies to eliminate any edges or seams in the endless quest for smooth aerodynamic perfection and optimal downforce levels.

And then they do it again. Ruzewski said the cars are in their third iteration when they arrive at the Brickyard in May.

“We put them together once at Christmas and inspect the fit for what needs to be changed and  improved,” he said. “Then we do it again and prime and paint them. We look at them again and then we do them again, rubbing the fit and finish really nice and getting all the decals flat. The attention to making them all the same is a big push. We’ve got three championship-caliber drivers, and we try to make them all the same.”

That task also falls on Team Penske production manager Matt Gimbel, who oversees a staff of 30  in the machine and carbon fiber composite shops.

With Team Penske also competing at the premier level of NASCAR and IMSA, these are the departments that feature the most intersection between the diverse racing series. With the trio of teams each facing marquee events in the next 30 days, Gimbel helps ensure there’s no dropoff in effort.

“I’ve got three customers, and each one is a priority, especially looking at May,” Gimbel told NBC Sports. “The Indy 500, you can’t say enough how important that is to RP. You’ve got the (Coca-Cola) 600 the same month, which is a crown jewel of the NASCAR series. Throw the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and it can get pretty interesting.

“There are no favorites. Anything that can be done for either program is a priority. It’s a balancing act at the end of the day. We try to keep them separate as we try to get everything done. No is not an acceptable answer. We just figure out a way to get it done.”

Until the switch to the Next Gen, the workload in the machine and composite departments generally tilted 70-30 in favor of NASCAR.

But since NASCAR’s adoption of a more standardized vehicle that is similar conceptually to the spec Dallaras used in IndyCar, it’s become a 50-50 split with both series essentially adhering to the same competitive philosophies.

It’s put more of an emphasis on the Cup stock cars of refining parts in a way that’s been commonplace for 11 years in IndyCar.

Travis Geisler, Penske’s NASCAR competition director, said it’s another way that has helped make the Indy 500 an overriding concern in Mooresville – even though the chief priority for a couple hundred employees is trying to win the Coca-Cola 600 later Sunday night.

“Having the IndyCar program in house, we all feel May now as a special month because it is so intense in the building,” Geisler told NBC Sports. “You can tell the energy level. Anyone you interact with that has exposure to IndyCar, whether they be in the machine shop, paint, body, pit departments. There’s just this extra level of energy and attention to detail. In that way, peer pressure is good for us as a company. Because it really just drives everybody to have this we need May to be a perfect month.

“You walk through the shop floor on the IndyCar side, and you can see and feel that. That energy bleeds over. The tone of our whole place is set by the top. And that’s why it’s such a great place to work because Roger has an intensity for racing that’s above anything I’ve ever seen. His intensity for Indy is above anything anybody has ever seen. You add those together, and it runs down from the top. It’s a fun place to be a part of in May, and it’s amazing what we can accomplish in this month if we do it well.”

The crossover between the IndyCar and NASCAR teams is far from lip service.

In scouting the Next Gen transition, Geisler attended some IndyCar events in 2021 to get a handle on the new vehicle that has bridged the gap of open wheel and stock cars.

“It’s much more similar than what it was before,” Geisler said. “When we were building spindles, chassis and everything all over the place, it was very different than how IndyCar teams were doing it. Now it looks much more like how IndyCar is doing it. So especially since last year, we’ve been able to really tap into some of their processes of how do you beat other teams when you all have the same parts.

“They were able to accelerate our learning curve and mental processes on what’s this really going to be like? Because none of us really knew.”

There’s been some degree of payback after the IndyCar team benefited from watching the NASCAR side annually building 100 cars virtually from the ground up while trying to maintain a consistently excellent production line. With measurements to the thousandths of an inch, many of the quality control procedures have been adopted by the IndyCar teams.

“They had a manufacturing company and a race team, and we were always just race teams,” Ruzewski said. “When they were building cars, a lot of that understanding can flow over into how you understand these spec parts better. They were definitely ahead in certain areas. NASCAR led the charge in understanding the components while building cars with 100 cars all the same. They refined processes and some are certainly applicable to help us out that we still are learning from it.”

With the Next Gen switching the Cup Series to single-lugnut pit stops long in place for IndyCar, the pit crews also became interchangeable to an unprecedented level.

“We have NASCAR guys come over to work here, and it is a benefit on many fronts,” Power said. “There is so much crossover from the performance standpoint.”

Even though the cars are totally different, some of the aerodynamic R&D also has become more transferable.

“It’s closer now than ever as far as the spec side and where do you find speed,” Blaney said. “We’ve always had that philosophy of combining different minds and picking the brain of this strategist or crew chief on this side or that side. We’re all bouncing ideas off each other. Maybe it doesn’t always specifically help you, but it’s nice to have different mindsets and outlooks.”

It’s extremely effective in the most burgeoning sector of development in motorsports: The impact of information technology, particularly on setup simulations and race strategies.

“Where is technology going and how you use it in racing, those are the areas that we’re starting to work together on more,” Geisler said. “The world is changing at a pace in that field that it’s hard to keep up.”

It’s also complicated for Team Penske, which runs Chevrolet in IndyCar, Ford in NASCAR and Porsche in IMSA.

Each multinational automaker has their own intellectual property safeguards on sophisticated data and simulation systems that have become instrumental.

“I have to be the gatekeeper from a technology standpoint and respect the boundaries of the OEMs in racing Chevrolet, Ford and Porsche in the same building,” Cindric said. “In the first meeting about running Ford in Cup, Edsel Ford asked, ‘How does that work?’ I said, ‘The best way to answer that is if it doesn’t, you’ll let us know.’

“We’ve evolved all facets of our racing with the exception of technology. We’ve kept engineering separated so we can keep the boundaries up and respect the integrity of the OEMs without cross-pollinating their proprietary information. They have whole teams that move from one manufacturer to another, and that hurts their dissemination of IP much more than us. We don’t move around. We’ve been a Chevy team from the point there was a choice (in 2014) and with Ford since 2013. We have different disciplines, but the continuity we have with manufacturers and people protects the IP much more so than drivers going from team to team.”

Team Penske is the only team in the country racing in the top three national series and having the IMSA, IndyCar and NASCAR teams under the same roof has its challenges.

“Certainly from my perspective, it’s easier to manage one discipline in one building,” Cindric said. “When I was in Reading, Pennsylvania, running just the IndyCar team, I knew everybody and all their families and how many kids they had. I had everyone at my house for a pool party after we won Indy in ’01. I cooked burgers and brought the race cars over and just had a big time. You can’t do that in the same way here. I enjoy having that atmosphere more than this big thing you’re trying to keep connected and moving.”

But with the “recipe for success for racing in general is getting more similar, and the differentiator is the people,” Cindric said there are human resources advantages to the team’s structure. He meets monthly with management leads and discusses potential promotions and crossover of employees across series.

“I call it our ‘90-Day Return Policy,’ where you can take this person, and if it doesn’t work, you can return them, and they’ll do just fine in their previous role,” he said. “But it works 90 percent of the time.”

When it ends or mothballs programs (such as its Xfinity team and its sports cars teams multiple times), Penske also can avoid layoffs by absorbing employees into other areas “to keep good people engaged. You’re not as susceptible to the pluses and minuses of the economy in a place like this.

“There definitely are more opportunities here for people to grow and do different things,” he said. “In racing, the ceilings are all pretty low for where you can go, how you get there and how you justify getting raises. This gives people opportunities they wouldn’t have had elsewhere without moving, changing jobs or losing tenure.”

While the manufacturer allegiances have been compartmentalized, the barriers have come down between IndyCar and NASCAR in the halls of Team Penske, where a long concrete corridor cheekily referred to as “the Mason-Dixon Line” separates the teams’ work areas.

At the outset in the relocation of 60 IndyCar employees from Reading to Mooresville, uniting as one organization under one roof was far from harmonious.

“I hate to say it, but I felt like an outcast,” said Ruzewski, who remains one of a few dozen who remain since making the move in 2007. “You were one of those guys from Penske North. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration on things.”

The vibe shift began to happen around 2011 when the entire organization was rebranded as “Team Penske” (Penske Racing previously had been the moniker with a “South” attached to the NASCAR teams). Ruzewski recalled the 2013 switch to Ford in Cup as another marker, and Cindric pointed to the 2009-14 stretch of Team Penske going winless at the Indy 500 while the NASCAR team won its first two championships (Xfinity in 2010 and Cup in 2012).

“Ever since then, we’ve continued to evolve where we are three different disciplines under the same roof, but everyone benefits when Team Penske wins,” Cindric said. “Everyone monetarily benefits and winning the Indy 500 benefits the most relative to IndyCar.

“The awareness is there, and everyone feels part of that tradition and wants to be part of Roger’s legacy at Indianapolis.”