2004 IndyCar Preview: Marlboro Team Penske Castroneves, Hornish, Form Potent 1-2 Punch INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2004 -- Sam Hornish Jr.'s decision in August 2003 to sign a multi-year contract with Roger Penske's Indy Racing League ...
2004 IndyCar Preview: Marlboro Team Penske
Castroneves, Hornish, Form Potent 1-2 Punch
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2004 -- Sam Hornish Jr.'s decision in August 2003 to sign a multi-year contract with Roger Penske's Indy Racing League IndyCar® Series team was neither hasty nor without foresight.
The 24-year-old two-time IndyCar Series champion is as prudent off the track as he is aggressive on the ovals.
Hornish moved from Panther Racing into the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Instantly, Hornish and Helio Castroneves -- with a combined 16 IndyCar Series victories -- were cast as a formidable team.
"Basically, at the end of 2002, I knew I had another year to run on my contract with Panther Racing and I wanted to explore other options and see what else was out there," said Hornish, who takes the seat of the retired Gil de Ferran. "We had a lot of success out there and sometimes you put yourself in a comfort zone. So you just want to look around.
"From the time I was a kid, I admired Penske race car drivers. I never actually thought that I would be one of them. So it's kind of exciting to be able to do that."
Hornish, who did not lead a single lap and had a high finish of fourth in the first eight races of the 2003 season, went on a tear in the second half. He won at Kentucky, California and Chicago -- plus had two runner-up finishes -- to put himself back in the championship race.
"We had a pretty rough beginning to the season," said Hornish, who finished fifth in the point standings. "To be where we were at the end of the year was great. We really wanted that third championship in a row, so we were going to try everything we could do to get back there. I wish we would have been able to cap it off with another championship, but I was pretty happy where we were at compared to the beginning of the season."
Hornish, who has an IndyCar Series-high 11 victories in 52 starts, joins the team that has won the past three Indianapolis 500s. Castroneves won in 2001 and '02, and was runner-up to de Ferran in 2003. Hornish's best finish in the Indy 500 is 14th in 2001.
"The Indianapolis 500 means so much to me," said Hornish, who became the youngest champion of a major North American open-wheel series in 2001 at age 21. "When you look at the Penske success that they have had over not just the past three years but since 1972, it's just a phenomenal amount of time for how many cars have been put into that race. That's the way I look at it. That's my best chance to win the Indy 500."
Roger Penske, who has recorded 13 Indianapolis 500 victories as a team owner since 1972, will give the teams every resource at his disposal to fulfill his drivers' desires.
"Sam (Hornish Jr.) is an excellent addition to our team and, combined with Helio (Castroneves), we feel like we have the best driver line-up in the IndyCar Series," Penske said.
It's already been a learning experience for Hornish, who has run eight testing sessions with his new team at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
"I am never opposed to learning new things," he said. "I think that that's probably why I think that I have had the success that I have had is because I just like all the tracks that we go to and never wish we would get this weekend over. I go out there and think how do I make myself better and, if we're not quite there, how do we get there."
Castroneves, whose jovial style plays off Hornish's businesslike demeanor will be a conscientious teammate. But seeking to add to his 500-Mile Race victory total and move into the category of all-time greats will be a driving force. Castroneves' results in his first three starts are the best of any driver in Indianapolis 500 history.
A series championship also is an objective for Castroneves, whose best point finish is third in 2003. He was victorious at Gateway and Nazareth, and had nine other top-10 finishes. In testing at the reconfigured 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Feb. 11-12, Castroneves was quickest on the first day and third on the second.
"We have entered the final race in the hunt for the championship each year, but we have yet to bring home the prize," team president Tim Cindric said. "With Sam on our side, we should have a powerful 1-2 punch once again this season."
A CAPSULE LOOK AT MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE:
Car numbers: 3 (Castroneves), 6 (Hornish)
Owner: Penske Racing Inc.
Drivers: Helio Castroneves (No. 3), Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 6)
Chairman: Roger Penske
Team president: Tim Cindric
General manager: Clive Howell
Team manager: Tom Wurtz
Team advisor: Rick Mears
Crew chiefs: Rick Rinaman (No. 3)
Matt Jonsson (No. 6)
Engineers: Grant Newbury (No. 3)
Tom German (No. 6)
Roger Penske: "Marlboro Team Penske looks forward to the battle for the 2004 championship. Most importantly, the majority of the team remains intact for the third season in a row, which gives us continuity in several key positions."
TEAM PRESIDENT VIEWPOINT
Tim Cindric: "Within our organization, everything stayed real stable with the exception of one of our drivers. Our focus is to stay consistent. We want to make sure our transition from Gil to Sam is smooth. Until we get the first race under our belt, it's hard to know where we are overall. I think everyone has adapted really well. As 2004 will be Marlboro Team Penske's third season in the IRL, we are hoping the third time will be the charm."
Helio Castroneves: "With the (technical) changes, the competition will be even tighter. The team is focusing on what we need to do. Hopefully, we'll finish two spots ahead of where we were the year before."
Sam Hornish Jr.: "I'm here with a new team and we're getting to know each other. Of course, we hope everything starts off with a bang and we win races, win the IRL (IndyCar) Series championship."
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season begins with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 29, 2004, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.