IRL: Milwaukee/Michigan: Team Penske Pit Notes

Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes July 24, 2006 HORNISH JR. WIDENS POINTS LEAD IN MILWAUKEE Sam Hornish Jr. put a little distance between him and the competition this weekend in Milwaukee on the strength of his seventh top-five finish of the 2006...

Marlboro Team Penske Pit Notes
July 24, 2006


Sam Hornish Jr. put a little distance between him and the competition this weekend in Milwaukee on the strength of his seventh top-five finish of the 2006 IndyCar® Series season. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner brought his #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda home in second place to collect 40 Championship points, and increase his lead in his quest for a record third IndyCar Series Championship.

Just five points ahead of Scott Dixon heading into the weekend, Hornish Jr. was able to make up significant ground and put 25 points between him and the New Zealander who currently retains second place with 331 points. Teammate Castroneves is clinging to his third place standing after a tough weekend at The Milwaukee Mile (Castroneves was placed fourteenth after an incident with the #20 car of Ed Carpenter forced him to retire early) and is just five points behind Dixon. Dan Wheldon rounds out the top four with 324 points, sitting just two behind Castroneves and seven behind his teammate Dixon. The Championship race intensifies this weekend as the three drivers are within striking distance of Hornish Jr. heading into the Irish Hills in Michigan.


Marlboro Team Penske will head to Michigan International Speedway (MIS) for the Firestone Indy 400 on Sunday. Needless to say, as we get closer and closer to the season finale in Chicago each race becomes more and more important to Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves' run for the Championship. Just 32 points separate the top four spots so success this weekend will be paramount to any Championship hopes for the pair of Marlboro Team Penske drivers. Ironically, one of the final stops in the Championship hunt is at a track at which neither driver has tasted victory. For Hornish Jr., Michigan is one of just three ovals on the IndyCar Series circuit at which he's never seen Victory Lane (the other two are Nashville and Japan). The 27 year-old has found some success at the 2-mile superspeedway earning top-ten finishes in each of his four appearances including three top-fives. Hornish Jr. has also started in the topfive three times and led the most laps once (in 2003 he led 126 laps on his way to a second-place finish).

"It's about time I win in Michigan," said Hornish Jr. "With all the hometown fans we have coming up from Northwest Ohio it'd be great to go to Victory Circle and give them something to cheer about. We'll need to make sure the Marlboro Team Penske car handles well in the draft and that we make it through the 400 miles so we have a chance to win at the end."

Teammate Castroneves has also found success at the superspeedway earning three top-ten finishes in eight appearances and leading the most laps once (he led 85 laps in 2000 on his way to a fifth-place finish). However, the 31 year-old Brazilian will need to be near perfect this weekend as he sets his sights on his first-ever Championship.

"We've been in a stretch of races where the tracks are very unique, and Michigan is no different," said Castroneves. "It's the second largest track that we run on and it's high banked, which makes it a blend of Indianapolis distance with the banking of Kansas. Because of the size and the banking, there are several different lines you can run. It's also typically very hot for our race there, which will add some extra challenges with the car. Overall, patience is the key at Michigan because the race is 400 miles. You can't go out there and try to win the race on the first lap. You just need to be there at the end, so hopefully Marlboro Team Penske can rebound from a tough outing in Milwaukee and post a strong performance."

While neither of the Team's current drivers has found the winner's circle in Michigan, Penske Racing has had significant success at the superspeedway. Penske Racing has earned nine victories with six different drivers over three decades at MIS. Mark Donohue scored their first win in 1971 and Rick Mears was the latest winner in 1991, marking his third victory at the track. Other winning drivers include Tom Sneva (1975); Bobby Unser (twice in 1979); Mario Andretti (1980); and Danny Sullivan (1988). Penske Racing has also earned 16 pole positions at MIS including four wins from the pole (Rick Mears in 1991 and 1981; Mario Andretti in 1980 and Bobby Unser in 1979).


While the casual observer might think that each oval track on the IndyCar Series circuit requires the same set-up for the car, that's hardly the case. Back-to-back races at The Milwaukee Mile and Michigan International Speedway represent as extreme a difference as you can get during the season. While the set-up for the Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Hondas was similar to that of a road course this past weekend in Wisconsin, the Team must take the next few days to switch them over to compete on a superspeedway.

"Most of the components on the racecar will change between Milwaukee and Michigan," explains Ron Ruzewski, Race Engineer for the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda. "The wing and downforce configurations will change, as will the suspension geometries. We'll also work on the shocks and springs. While we adjust all of these things between each and every race, the schedule at this point presents a unique difference as we're going from a short oval to a superspeedway; it's a lot like it was going from Indy to Watkins Glen."

In addition, the two-day race weekend presents a challenge as the Team will have to show up to the track with a game plan in place in order to maximize the limited track time.

"We have to come right out of the gate with our race day prep and qualifying set-up ready to go," explains Ruzewski. "We won't have a lot of time in Michigan to practice, so we'll need a specific plan for what we need to do and how to get it done. We're also coming down to the final few races of the season, and there aren't a lot of points left. So there's not a lot of room for mistakes in the last few races."


This Wednesday, Sam Hornish Jr. will be honored at "Sam Hornish Jr. Day" in his hometown of Defiance, OH. After he won the Indianapolis 500, Bob Armstrong, the Mayor of Defiance, announced that July 26th would be "Sam Hornish Jr. Day" in order to celebrate his accomplishment.

Wednesday's festivities will include a parade featuring antique Indy cars, the IndyCar 2-seater, his winning Indianapolis 500 race car, the Borg Warner trophy, representation from the Napoleon and Archbold, OH communities, as well as local Shiners' entries. Following the parade, there will be a public ceremony where Hornish Jr. will speak to the community as well as sign autographs.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Mark Donohue , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske