Team Penske’s appearance before the Indy 500 media is an annual tradition, but took added on weight Friday ahead of the 50th anniversary of the team’s first appearance at The Speedway. Asked what he felt were the key ingredients to his team’s ongoing success at the 500 — which to date includes 17 wins among 12 different drivers, including Will Power’s triumph last year — Roger Penske highlighted the continuity and commitment behind its program through the years.
“I think it’s all about the team. (We have) over 700 years of experience in the garage area this year. I think it’s the continuity. We have low turnover with our team. Always have had the best drivers.
“To me, the time and effort we put into Indianapolis is so important because over the years we’ve built our brand around Indy. You think about the notoriety we get for competing here, being successful. It’s amazing.
“I looked at a stat here a couple of weeks ago. We’ve led 2,300-plus laps here, over 11 races. It’s not just the race you win, but it’s the consistency, the team leading laps, which has given us the success.
“But the interesting thing is we have four guys here that want to win the race. There’s only going to be one. I think the effort and time, to see them work together, we have an open and transparent relationship with the drivers. We’re a team — one team, not four teams. I think that’s kind of the way we operated.
“(Mark) Donohue was a student of that also, very open. We built with Gary Bettenhausen in ’72, two good drivers and cars. I came here back in ’51 with my dad. I guess we were gone for a couple years. I take my vacation so I can come here and have fun.”
The “fun” for the drivers will include plenty of challenge in using the tools available to master the ever-changing track conditions at Indy.
“I’ve been struggling with a loose car,” reigning champ Power admitted. “Just depends where you’re running, the wake of the car in front, how many cars in front of you, how your balance is.
“I guess this front wing is pretty sensitive because it’s a small front wing to dirty air. If you’re close, you’re going to get some push. You have to find a way to set your car up to be strong in traffic without losing the front.”
“I would agree with Will,” concurred Josef Newgarden, who joins Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves in Penske’s ‘Gang of Four’ at Indy. “I think everyone is trying to experiment. The tire, it is different. It reacts differently than last year. I think it has some similar characteristics, so I think a lot of what we were dealing with last year we’re still dealing with today. There’s also new variables. Will said he has trouble with the rear of the car, too.
“Trying to balance how you fix multiple problems is really what you fight here all the time. You fix the rear, you hurt the front. It’s a balancing act as always.
“Understanding the changes each day is important. Today could be very different than yesterday. Track has been washed off a bit. Temperature is going to be pretty high. You have to build this book so on race day you know the conditions, what it’s going to be, you can make the best decision possible.”
Pagenaud, who is looking to emulate Power’s 2018 trick of an Indy GP-Indy 500 double this year, agreed that the variety of configurations to try out — and getting them to work in concert with other elements of the setup — are a key part of what makes Indy unique from a driver’s standpoint.
“It’s just very important to try all these configurations, make sure that the car behaves the same with every one of them. That’s really the trick,” he noted. “That’s why it takes so long to set the car up, is to figure out all these little bits and pieces together, what does it do to the balance of the car.
“It’s fascinating. Sometimes the wind tunnel tells us something but reality is a little different. It’s another element we have to take into account.”
First up is the preparation for this weekend’s pole shootout. Asked how much emphasis he and his team put into the run for pole, The Captain indicated that the results from Team Penske’s half-century at Indy speak for themselves.
“Well, if you’re interested in numbers, we have 17 wins, 17 poles and 17 pit stop contests,” noted Penske. “I guess it’s pretty important…”