Penske eyes Le Mans return, almost contested Rolex 24
Roger Penske says he would love to take his American team back to the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time in over 40 years, if a manufacturer could supply him a car capable of overall victory.
Penske, who raced himself at Le Mans in the ‘60s and ran a Ferrari 512M in 1971, says he is open to a return to the sportscar arena – and came close to running an ORECA LMP2 in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“One area we’d love to go back to is long-distance racing,” said Penske. “We keep knocking on doors about that right now.
“Once these rules with the LMP2 [and US-centric DPi] cars get finalised – quite honestly, we talked to ORECA about running at the Daytona 24 Hours this year. But when we looked at how they were going to handicap the car [compared to the Daytona Prototypes], you were dead before you started.
“There’s always going to be some balances between the cars, but it’s something we decided not to do.”
Penske’s team won the Daytona 24 Hours in 1969, when Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons co-drove a Lola T70 Mk3b-Chevrolet to victory. He ended a long hiatus at the US sportcar classic event in 2008, when Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Kurt Busch and Ryan Briscoe drove a Wayne Taylor Racing-run Pontiac-powered Riley Daytona Prototype.
Penske then entered a fulltime entry in the 2009 Grand-Am Series, and is also no stranger to LMP2 having run the Porsche RS Spyder to multiple titles in the American Le Mans Series.
“The programme we did with Porsche was one of the great ones of the last 10 years or so,” said Penske. “We have the drivers, we can go to Le Mans and these places, we got the guys, the mechanics to work on them, and OK we’d need to hone ourselves in on the strategy, but it’s a matter of having the car.
“The current sportscar racing we have in this country, you can run at Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta and maybe Laguna Seca – I’d love to have a car that we could run for that. I’m really not interested in running in a class.”
Penske forsook its Le Mans invitations with the RS Spyder programme for the reason it didn’t want to contend only for class wins.
Le Mans interest still burns
Penske confirmed that he’d like to see his team return to Le Mans, but that the current rules make it impossible to compete at the front without manufacturer backing.
“You’ve gotta have an Audi or a Porsche right now,” he admitted. “It’s great to see Ford go with their GT car, but with the IndyCar Series and NASCAR, we’ve got such a commitment that… if you go to Le Mans, that has to be a programme all by itself.
“We’d have to go with a manufacturer at this particular time.
“It’s the one race we really haven’t won, we’ve raced in it but it’s ironic that when we were racing in Le Mans in the ‘70s, Ferdinand Piech’s wife called me, saying her husband wanted to meet with me.
“We met in Stuttgart and we put the 917/10 [Can-Am car] together and then the 917/30, and we were there when there we no buildings in Weissach. [Famous Penske driver Mark] Donohue and myself were there when it was just a test track.”
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