IndyCar video game proves visionary Penske is ideal series owner

Today’s announcement that Roger Penske and Penske Entertainment have boosted the IndyCar Series’ profile and its audience’s horizons with a new video game comes as no surprise.

On Thursday, Penske announced an exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games (NASDAQ:MSGM) to bring an official IndyCar game to market, which will open up an untapped mass-market of racing gamers who have been crying out for years for a top-notch game featuring the series’ cool open-wheel cars, diverse range of tracks, ace drivers and first-rate teams.

It’s also no surprise to those who have observed and listened to ‘The Captain’ over the decades. He is the forward thinker and ’twas ever thus.

Four-time Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion Rick Mears, with Team Penske for almost 43 years now, says: “Apart from talking about drivers and some of the racing itself – you know, the real details, things I’ve noticed while watching the track – I usually stay quiet and just listen to Roger,” he says. “Any of the bigger stuff about the sport itself – where we’re going and so on – I’ll have opinions, but whatever I think of, he’s already thought of… and usually months or years before it ever crossed my mind!  

“That’s just how far ahead of the curve he always is, and I’m sure it’s the same in his businesses. That’s why he’s successful.” 

Roger Penske congratulates Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Roger Penske congratulates Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Chris Owens

Now tie that farsightedness with ambition. Team president Tim Cindric recalls the 2001 Indy 500, when Helio Castroneves led Gil de Ferran in a Team Penske 1-2, after the CART vs IRL had kept the squad away since 1996. 

“The first time I came here and raced as part of Roger's team, obviously we won the race, finished first and second,” said Cindric, “and I'll never forget in Victory Lane I said to Roger, ‘You know, this might be 11 for you but this is something. My father has worked here all his life and never accomplished that. Pretty big day for me.’ He looked at me, and he just said, ‘I want 20!’ I'm just like, in the moment, trying to comprehend one, and he's already thinking nine ahead!” 

Cindric, of course, is the man who has to steer the team to more Indy 500 wins (currently on 18) and more IndyCar titles (currently 15), as Penske has directed his main focus on the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he took over from the Hulman-George family in January 2020. It was his extreme misfortune to do so in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the sport, and it was impossible to get even a fraction of return on his seven figure investments. 

“This is a big bump in the road, it hits a little more in the pocket book,” he said last fall. “But… it’s helped bring the teams even closer together. I think our investment in the series and the Speedway has given team owners confidence that we’re in it for the long haul. Hopefully it also gives companies outside IndyCar some confidence in our stability, so we can get a third manufacturer and more big sponsors.” 

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, fans

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, fans

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

IndyCar, like the world, has taken steps back to normality – there were apparently 135,000 in attendance for the Indy 500 this year, but it felt like more. Certainly, there were enough fans to create a good atmosphere, and a couple of weeks later Penske admitted he got a touch of stage fright when he gave the command, “Drivers: start your engines!”  

He said: “I thought to myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I was shaking like a leaf, to be honest with you. You don’t know what it’s like until you are in that type of situation.” 

Penske, who provided Helio Castroneves with the car to achieve his first three Indy 500 wins, said that the hullabaloo around the Brazilian’s fourth for Meyer Shank Racing went some way to compensating for only 40 percent-capacity crowd. 

“We checked all the boxes,” he said. “I was really excited with the outcome and to see Helio win it and get his fourth Indy 500 victory. It was pretty special.” He later added that although he would never try and emulate his former driver’s ‘Spiderman’ clamber up the front-straight catchfencing to interact with the wildly cheering crowd, he chuckled, “I climbed the fence virtually!” 

Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Climbs the Fence in front of the crowd, Mike Shank

Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Climbs the Fence in front of the crowd, Mike Shank

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Roger was as sharp as ever as his legendary team was celebrated at Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend, and he took great pride in driving one of its cars – the functionally handsome Porsche RS Spyder – up Lord March’s drive… but don’t mistake celebrating the past for living in it.  

Bud Denker (Penske Corp. president) has long proven himself capable of helping The Captain turn mission statements into successful missions, and they remain crucially aware that racing can’t exist in its own vacuum but has to take account of societal and social changes. Last summer’s announcement of the Race for Equality and Change has seen new prominence given to the NXG Youth Motorsports program to “teach life skills and STEM education to underprivileged youth and mainly minority youngsters through motorsports,” and also enabled Paretta Autosport to find a firm foundation for its “women forward” IndyCar team. And just a couple of months ago, Penske and Denker also announced the target of a zero-carbon footprint at the Speedway. 

Simona De Silvestro, Paretta Autosport Chevrolet

Simona De Silvestro, Paretta Autosport Chevrolet

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

This is not to say there aren’t challenges to overcome. The next TV deal has been a hot topic all year and details have yet to be nailed down, and another frustration for Penske is that there only three ovals on the current schedule – IMS, Texas Motor Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park. “Track diversity is one of our biggest USPs,” he has said, “and we don’t want IndyCar’s schedule to be where it’s like sportscars without fenders – dominated by road courses. 

“But any deal with any track has to make sense for everyone involved, and so that will mean getting a strong sponsor. So we’ll keep looking and if we can facilitate a deal between an [oval] track owner and a good sponsor, we’ll try and help.” 

Deals that “make sense for everyone involved” is what Penske is all about. That’s why his team has a habit of retaining sponsors, and it’s not unreasonable to hope the same applies for the series and its participants. NTT’s recent extension as title sponsor is an encouraging sign. 

Roger Penske

Roger Penske

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

“The thing is, we have trust – more than we did before – that this series will grow,” said one team owner a couple of races into the season. “Roger being in charge, the Penske brand involvement – that gives sponsors faith. You’ll see more than 33 cars at Indy, we’ll be over 25 cars and more at some of the other races.  

“And the next TV deal… I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but if Roger’s involved, whatever the deal is, it will be the best deal that anyone could get.” 

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