In the wake of Josef Newgarden becoming Team Penske’s 15th IndyCar champion, Roger Penske and team president Tim Cindric said that not only was IndyCar improving its business but that the 2018 car is a technical step forward.
At Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, Newgarden won the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, while Simon Pagenaud clinched the team’s 10th victory of the 17-race schedule.
However, even aside from his team’s dominance, Roger Penske said he was excited by the series’ progress and praised Mark Miles [CEO of IndyCar’s parent company, Hulman & Co., and Jay Frye, president of competition and operations.
“The quality of the teams, the sponsors… I know they're tough to get, but there's Fortune 500 names on the sides of a lot of these cars, which is very important,” he said. “And one of the things that I think Mark Miles and the teams have done, and Jay – we're keeping these costs in line, which is important to us, and we're not changing rules and all of a sudden putting a lot of burden on the teams.
“I'm seeing the attendance go up. I know that we have more people calling us wanting to get involved with the sport than we’ve ever had, and I know from my own, I guess, business space and our employees, there's more interest today with social media and the connection and speed has made a big difference.
“We're not NASCAR, we're IndyCar racing, and there's only one race in the world like Indianapolis, and as long as we put our arms around the Indianapolis 500 and have the ability to go each year, we've got a great series, and I think the media is starting to pick that up.
“I think the television commentary has been good. I think [Paul] Tracy and some of the people that are up there today are pros. They've been in it. They've been knocked around a little bit and they've had success, and I think that makes a big difference.”
Penske also addressed the race schedule and the importance of consistently returning to venues.
“One of the things I like about it, we're coming back to the same tracks in most cases – what I call date equity – so you can count on the IndyCars being back here at this time next year,” he remarked. “If we're going to go to Detroit or we're going to go to St. Petersburg or Toronto, that makes a big difference.
“That's how NASCAR built its strength, because they had that fan base. We need to grow that base geographically in areas that will support the track and also the teams.”
Penske also stressed that the stars of IndyCar making direct contact with the fans was unique to topline racing, and indeed, sports.
“The drivers sit out here and sign autographs,” he said. “How many other sports [stars] do that – sit out before a big game and start signing autographs? Those are things that today maybe we take for granted, but that's a big step forward in communication with the fanbase.
“I see [IndyCar] on a very upward motion today, and we’re going to do everything we can to support that from a Team Penske perspective.”
Cindric: 2018 car “going in the right direction”
Cindric, who serves as Newgarden’s strategist, as well as being team president, said he was encouraged by what he had seen of the 2018 car, as Team Penske and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have been testing the universal aerokit-equipped cars with Chevrolet and Honda engines, respectively.
Said Cindric: “Especially on the ovals, [the new aerokit] will help put the car back in the drivers' hands, and I think whenever that happens, the cream rises to the top. We've seen that maybe we're too much on a string at some of these tracks and have a difficult time passing at tracks where we had great races. We've had great races at Phoenix in the past, we've had great races at some of these other venues.
“As you continue to put the racing back in the drivers' hands, as Rick Mears will tell you, if [the drivers] can save it, you've almost got it right. If [the car] steps out and you can't save it, then the racing is probably not going to be very good.
“I think that what we've seen so far, depending on what the final specifications are for the different tracks, is that hopefully these cars will put the driver back to where they can pass each other, especially on the ovals. Any time you can make the braking section longer at the road courses, you have more passing. Anything there I think is more exciting, and yeah, I think they're going in the right direction.
“It’s just a matter of taking the right steps at the right time and having a good balance with what the costs are versus spec. At the end of the day, IndyCar racing is something that you want to be in a place to make a bad decision, because if you don't have to make any decisions before you go to the racetrack, then I would say that the racing is probably not going to be that good. But if you have an opportunity to make a bad decision, then some guys make it bad, some guys make it good, and you end up with passing. So that's what we need to have.”