IN HIS OWN WORDS: ROGER PENSKE
Roger Penske's full-season return to road racing with Porsche went - more or less - as planned. Penske Racing won the American Le Mans Series' LMP2 team and manufacturer championships with the Porsche RS Spyder as well as the drivers title with Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr. Despite winning seven of 10 races (a Series record in LMP2), the Porsche RS Spyder and Penske faced a huge challenge from Intersport Racing.
The task for 2007 appears to be even more daunting with the addition of three Acura-powered P2s, along with revamped efforts from Intersport, van der Steur Racing and B-K Motorsports on the horizon. Here are Penske's thoughts looking back . and looking ahead to 2007 with a new version of the RS Spyder. We had the opportunity recently to sit down with Mr. Penske, who wanted to share some candid thoughts and opinions.
Question: How would you gauge your success this season?
Answer: I always wish we were racing in LMP1, but this keeps us on our toes. Long-distance racing really fits our shoes. We've had success at Indianapolis because you get to use your strategy. And it's about reliability. This year has been a real learning curve for us because you have to run 12 hours at a place like Sebring to be successful.
Q: Have you seen the new Porsche RS Spyder?
A: I've seen all the technical drawings of the car and have seen all the pictures. I haven't been to Weissach to see it. We felt we needed to stay focused on the current RS Spyder. The new car was shown at the Paris Auto Show which we thought was an exciting thing to let people see it for the first time. But we have strong competition coming in next year with teams like Andretti-Green and Fernandez. We're going to have a real fight on our hands.
One thing I wish in the Series - and I've talked to Scott Atherton and Tim Mayer, and I'd like to talk to Don Panoz about it - is that we're in America and people want to see racing. I'm not sure people understand all these classes. Sometimes I don't understand it sometimes. But overall it's been a fantastic Series and from a Penske Racing perspective, it gives us an opportunity to compete in long-distance events and use our strategy.
Q: Why are big-name teams from other motorsports avenues following your lead by entering the American Le Mans Series?
A: What's happening is that you're seeing Honda adding interest as they had an engine they were looking at building for the Indy Car Series, and that engine fits the LMP2 specs. They were able to go to teams that had been related to Honda during the Indy Car Series and as people wanted to expand their programs this was a great opportunity. They'll come with different chassis whereas Porsche is vertically integrated with engine, transmission, driveline and chassis.
This really is a great Series. Road racing has always been at the heart of the United States. Oval racing obviously has taken the lead over the years but I think you're seeing a resurgence in sports car racing. There's a good balance. And the fact that we have multiple manufacturers makes it very interesting for a promoter rather than just one is very important.
The Series has a lot of momentum, and I think the management knows what we need to do. The new tracks next year, we're looking forward to having - including the city of Detroit and Belle Isle. It's going to be a great weekend and gives us an opportunity to bring different fans to the track, and that's what you need today. With all of the competition in sports - and auto racing in my mind is at the top - you need that kind of diversity.
Q: One of the questions we're asked most often regard the team's plans of going to Le Mans? Is that part of the program for the next couple of years?
A: We get the same questions. Le Mans is a completely different kettle of fish. It's a 24-hour race, and it's a huge expense. That's a decision that Porsche has to make. We haven't raced there since the 1970s with the Ferrari 512. I'd love to go back. But again with the cost of racing today and the availability of sponsorships and only being able to run in LMP2, I don't think we'd be ready to go until we could challenge for leadership in LMP1. I'm not indicating whether we're going or not going. It's really not my decision. It's up to Wolfgang Durheimer, the Porsche board and management, and the motorsports department.
Q: Another question we frequently get: Are you aware of any plans to move up to LMP1?
A: Again, next year our plan is to remain in LMP2. So that would have to be a 2008 decision. I don't see it in the cards right now. It's a new car and a new engine. If you're going to start competing with diesel engines and hybrids and other things coming, it really starts to cloud the future because the expense to convert from one engine configuration to another is very large. And I'm not sure you get the value of that from the fans sitting around in the paddock and around the track.
I'd like to see a consistent series where we have a set of rules that would be for five years. The American Le Mans Series is being dictated by a rulebook from the ACO (which drives Le Mans). We are a lot different with four-hour races and one or two 12-hour ones versus a 24-hour race. It's not completely consistent. I'm of the mind that we need to have one pure prototype class and one for coupes like the Corvettes and Porsches and Aston Martins. I think the excitement of the racing if everybody had the same power and had different looking chassis and different looking engine, I think it would take the sport another 100 feet high.