With the start of the 2019 NTT IndyCar season rapidly approaching, Team Penske is hard at work preparing for the March 10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Team Penske had four drivers participate in the February 12-13 INDYCAR “Spring Training” at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The teams’ three full-time IndyCar drivers were joined by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, now a part of Acura Team Penske’s IMSA program.
According to Team Penske President Tim Cindric, the NTT IndyCar Series team will take a test day before the St. Pete race, likely at Sebring Raceway in Florida or at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama.
Cindric was highly impressed with COTA’s track and facilities.
“It’s been a long time (getting there), and we are finally getting to race here,” Cindric told the NTT INDYCAR App. “There was a lot of discussion when it was first built. This is a really good facility and will be a challenge come race time.
“When you look at a permanent road circuit, it’s the most recent one that has been built. It’s built to FIA standards. They have held all kinds of things here, just not an INDYCAR race. I’ve been here for the X Games and WEC and quite a few other races. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
The team is once again loaded with talent including 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 102nd Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, 2017 IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and 2016 IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud. Add Castroneves to the mix, and the team gathered some valuable information from the COTA test.
“Overall, the test results that I reviewed were positive,” team owner Roger Penske told the NTT INDYCAR App. “We learned a lot about the car. The track was a new one for us so there was a lot we needed to do to look at the setup.
“Overall, it was a great test, and we are excited to go there. It’s (been) a Formula One track and it’s great to compete on the same track as the Formula One guys,” Penske said. “We won’t have the speed because of the downforce they have, but it’s a great track. Our guys are all excited and I think it’s going to be a great show.”
Each driver had a different agenda in the test. Castroneves did the long runs and that allowed Power, Newgarden and Pagenaud to work on other aspects of the car during the 11 hours of testing spread out over two days at COTA.
“We were testing a lot of different components and to have someone doing that, that’s part of the plan,” Penske said. “I give credit to the guys for setting that up. We have four drivers so let’s get four different sets of feedback, put it all together and get the best outcome.”
Power finished the combined four sessions with a third fastest time of 1:47.1044 around the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course for a speed of 114.617 miles per hour in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He ran 112 laps. Pagenaud was fifth in speed at 1:47.2116 (114.503 mph) and ran 98 laps. Newgarden was 11th and ran 115 laps, the most of any driver in the test. Castroneves was 12th in speed and ran 95 laps.
Bringing Castroneves to the test proves how Team Penske takes advantage of all opportunities they recognize.
“Because he is going to be able to run the road race at Indianapolis in May, he isn’t running the whole season, this was the opportunity for us to use him,” Penske said. “Helio was fast at Indy last year and got himself in trouble coming off Turn 4. Look, he’s ready. He is racing all season in the sports car. In jumped in the car and was competitive and he will be competitive when we get to Indy.
“He is as good a horse as we have when we get to Indianapolis.
“Helio knows and he is up to speed because of what he does in the sports car. At a track like COTA, he’s a real asset.”