When Roger Penske speaks, it’s usually wise to listen.
Moments after capturing his 15th Indy car title as a team owner, Penske wasn’t just celebrating with driver Josef Newgarden at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. He was talking about the growing health of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“There's no question that I think the quality of the teams, the sponsors – I know they're tough to get, but when you look at the cars and the names, there's Fortune 500 names on the sides of a lot of these cars, which is very important,” Penske said.
“And one of the things that I think Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman & Company, which operates INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the teams have done, and Jay (Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations), we're keeping these costs in line, which is important to us, and we're not changing rules and all of a sudden put a lot of burden on the teams. I think that's important.”
Penske knows that the cornerstone of the Verizon IndyCar Series is the Indianapolis 500. He also appreciates the consistency being built in the remaining events.
“There's only one race in the world like Indianapolis,” said Penske, a 16-time winner of the race, “and as long as we put our arms around the Indianapolis 500 and have the ability to go and come back each year, we've got a great series, and I think the media is starting to pick that up.
“TV is good, the social media. The tracks – 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 Indy cars being back here at this time next year. If we're going to go to Detroit (annually) or we're going to go to St. Petersburg or these different tracks, going to Toronto, that makes a big difference. That's how NASCAR built its strength, because they had that fan base, and we need to grow that base geographically in areas that will support the track and also the teams.”
Penske operates teams in both INDYCAR and NASCAR. His company also promotes the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He sees INDYCAR continuing to trend in the right direction.
“I see it on a very upward motion today, and we're going to do everything we can in order to support that from a Team Penske perspective. I think the drivers, they sit out here and sign autographs. How many other sports do that, sit out before a big game and start signing autographs? Those are things that today maybe we take it for granted, but that's a big step forward in communication with the fan base.”
The conclusion of the 2017 season also brought to an end the three-year era of aero kit competition. A new universal kit for all cars is in the final stages of development testing before being distributed to teams. Penske is eager to see the next generation of competition starting in 2018.
“It'll be exciting. There will be no excuses on who's got a better wing or doesn't have it (from the competitive aero kit era). It's going to be the same (for everyone) and I think that's going to be quite positive. Then it's up to team strategy, it's up to the quality of the drivers and certainly the way they conduct themselves on the racetrack.”
Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske, believes the new aero kit will put the fight “back in the drivers’ hands” and increase the quality of an already ultra-competitive series.
“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 in the place to where they can pass each other, especially on the ovals,” said Cindric.
“Anytime 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 the right direction.”