Penske Buys A New Car Marlboro Team Penske has a new Lola. By Robin Miller After four races in the 1999 FedEx Championship, Team Penske is again struggling to be competitive with its own chassis. So on Monday, Roger Penske went...
Penske Buys A New Car Marlboro Team Penske has a new Lola. By Robin Miller
After four races in the 1999 FedEx Championship, Team Penske is again struggling to be competitive with its own chassis. So on Monday, Roger Penske went car shopping and purchased a Lola. The winningest car owner in Championship Auto Racing Teams history watched Al Unser Jr. qualify 23rd out of 24 drivers at Penske's Nazareth Speedway last weekend. Then, he saw the two-time CART and Indy 500 champion crash during the race as he tried to keep from being lapped by eventual winner Juan Montoya. Winless since September of 1995, Unser has been the good soldier and refused to badmouth his car. It's obvious that this version of the Penske chassis can't keep up with the competition any better than the last two. "We're going to run our cars (with rookie Tarso Marques joining Unser) at Brazil (May 15) and then start testing the Lola as soon as possible," said Penske publicist Dan Luginbuhl, who confirmed that Penske had bought Tony Bettenhausen's un-used Lola and had it shipped to Reading, Pa. "Roger wants to compare it to our chassis, evaluate it and see what the drivers think. He's had the patience of Job in this deal but we've got to explore our options." Even though Reynard dominates the CART field (16 of last Sunday's 24 starters) as it has the series since 1995 (four consecutive PPG Cups), Penske opted to go with the Lola, currently campaigned by only Carl Hogan and Payton/Coyne Racing. But with second-year driver Helio Castro-Neves pushing the throttle pedal, the Lola has been very impressive -- especially on the three ovals. The 23-year-old Brazilian qualified fourth in the opener at Homestead and led 29 laps before being knocked out by electrical problems. In Japan, the protege of Emerson Fittipaldi qualified 18th but immediately charged to the front and was running fourth by Lap 60. A penalty for stopping under closed pits dropped him back to ninth at the finish. Last weekend, Castro-Neves was fastest in three of the four practice periods and lost the pole position by one-thousandth of a second to Montoya. He led 15 laps in the Bosch 225, including two nice passes of Montoya, but wound up crashing after brake and throttle trouble. Keith Wiggins, general manger of Lola Cars Inc., was understandably happy with the news. "It's very encouraging to have a team of Penske's quality take one of our cars," said Wiggins from his Indianapolis-based shop. "We look forward to working with them and we will support their first test, wherever it is. We've shown we have a good race car and hopefully we can come up with a good result." Wiggins acknowledged that Castro-Neves performances have opened some eyes -- and doors. "Yes, the door has opened quicker. Now we don't have to walk around the CART paddock like we have some sort of social disease. "I'm optimistic we will convert a few more teams for next year."