RACER takes a look at each full-time NTT IndyCar Series team ahead of the new season’s launch this weekend at St. Petersburg, finishing up with Team Penske.
2022 Entrants’ Championship (1-25):
1st, No. 12 Chevrolet with Will Power
2nd, No. 2 Chevrolet with Josef Newgarden
4th, No. 3 Chevrolet with Scott McLaughlin
No. 2 Chevrolet with Josef Newgarden
No. 3 Chevrolet with Scott McLaughlin
No. 12 Chevrolet with Will Power
Team Penske unleashed a season of misery on most of its rivals as the combination of Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden swept the first three races, had Will Power and Newgarden and McLaughlin take three-in-a-row across Detroit and Road America and Mid-Ohio, added an Iowa win with Newgarden, and closed the year with consecutive wins by Newgarden and McLaughlin at WWTR and Portland.
No other team came close to the Penske drivers, and if it weren’t for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon charging to third in the standings, Penske would have locked out the top three spots in the championship.
Owing to the outrageous volume of success the team produced, two thirds of its entries are largely unchanged as Power’s No. 12 and McLaughlin’s No. 3 motor forward with the same key personnel in place.
It’s Newgarden’s No. 2 entry where significant alterations have been made since last September at Laguna Seca starting with veteran chief mechanic Travis Law, who was promoted after the season to a management role with the new Porsche Penske Motorsport IMSA GTP program. Law’s been replaced by Chad Gordon. Race engineer Eric Leichtle, who produced five epic wins as a first-time IndyCar race engineer, is gone from the team, having left to take a position at Space X. Luke Mason is now in charge of making speed with Newgarden.
A few other mechanics and engineers have been added to Penske’s IndyCar ranks, but overall, the team that owned the 2022 season is ready to do the same in 2023.
WHAT THEY NEED
There aren’t a lot of obvious areas to pick apart with the defending series champions who won nine poles and nine out of 17 races last season. Funnily enough, they closed the year feeling somewhat disappointed because the win tally should have been higher. But that’s the hallmark of the all-time greats. Anything less than a 100-percent win rate is seen as room for improvement…
If the trio delivered the same exact results again this year, they’d own the new season, but since the Penske organization isn’t one to rest on its laurels, the team has targeted its one major weakness: competitiveness at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Power was the only member of the team to qualify inside the Fast 12, and once there, his best was only good enough for 11th on the starting grid. Newgarden (14th) and McLaughlin (26th) had longer trips to make on race day, and other than a strong opening stint by Power, the team faded with Newgarden (13th) leading home Power (15th) while McLaughlin crashed.
Penske’s Indy difficulties made things harder in the championship with double points being awarded, but with the return to single points in 2023, the team’s at less of a risk of losing ground to its rivals if its Speedway fortunes do not change.
Nonetheless, a few years spent in the Indy 500 wilderness has given Penske a massive target to hit, and if its drivers are given the extra speed needed to fight at the front, they might be unstoppable.
For Power, he needs to do nothing different, other than reach victory lane more than once. The rest of his championship-winning season was perfect, but he can’t expect Newgarden to suffer through as many setbacks as he endured in 2022.
One caveat to consider for Newgarden – which is the same caveat as last year – is he has a new race engineer to work with, and that means we shouldn’t expect he and Mason to be instantly effective in the same way Power and longtime engineer David Faustino and McLaughlin and his trusty engineer Ben Bretzman can deliver.
Using the rapid rate that Newgarden and Leichtle bonded and terrorized the series — they won in their second and third races together – I’d expect Newgarden and Mason to follow the same expedited trend. But until we see how they fare in St. Petersburg, it’s all speculation as to how quickly they’ll get down to business.
As the old saying goes, ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.’ The 2023 IndyCar championship goes through Team Penske, which seems capable of delivering the 1-2-3 it wanted last year. Until another team steps up and shows us they’re capable of beating the best, Penske’s on pole to claim another title.