Roger Penske made the long expected announcement today that would place his team as a major competitor in the Indy Racing League next year. The surprise was that instead of just one car/one driver with Marlboro sponsorship, the effort will be two cars and both Penske drivers.
The IRL Marlboro Team Penske will field entries for two-time defending FedEx Championship Auto Racing series champion Gil de Ferran and the 2001 Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
"We plan to compete in all Indy Racing League series races in 2002, in addition to the Indy 500," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "It was a decision made with our principal sponsor based on our collective business interests and objectives for 2002."
Roger Penske was one of the founders of the CART series when he and other dissatisfied owners left USAC (United States Auto Club) to form their own series where they would have the majority of the say in all venues. Since 1979, the series has expanded in both operations and as a business. In 1997, CART went public which has since lead to many disagreements on the future objectives and interests of CART.
Brazilian driver, de Ferran, is a master on street and road courses.
"I don't know what is going to happen, but, naturally, I would miss road racing because that's what I grew up with," de Ferran told Miller. "But my allegiance is to Team Penske. My greatest ally is this team, and I don't take that lightly."
Castroneves finished finished fourth in the CART FedEx Championship Series this season on the strength of three wins (Long Beach, Detroit, Mid-Ohio). He made famous his "Spiderman" celebration of climbing a fence each time he won,
Castroneves has remained very quiet over the past month while rumors were flying one way and then the other.
Both de Ferran and Castroneves have one year (2002 season) remaining on their current contracts.
Penske had to respect the wishes of big-time sponsor Marlboro and Philip Morris, who needed to make the switch due to tobacco advertising regulations that saw its signage on the Penske cars removed at Indianapolis last year according to the Master Settlement Agreement. That omission was exacerbated when Team Penske won the race, denying the company millions of dollars worth of exposure on the highest-rated open-wheel racing event of the year.
During his stay with the CART series, Penske has won 9 championships.
At the Indianapolis 500, Penske has 11 victories including this year. His previous victories were with Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991), Mark Donohue (1972), Bobby Unser (1981), Danny Sullivan (1985), Al Unser (1987), Emerson Fittipaldi (1993), and Al Unser, Jr. (1994).
"We have enjoyed Marlboro Team Penske's tremendous successes in the CART series over the years and we have developed special relationship with the CART community," Ina Broeman, category director Marlboro Racing, Philip Morris U.S.A., "However, since Philip Morris U.S.A. only markets its products within the United States and its territories, we believe that the IRL is more closely aligned with our business interests and objectives for 2002.