Posts Tagged ‘ Penske Racing ’
With all apologies to Led Zeppelin, it’s been a long time since we’ve rocked and rolled at “Splash And Go.” There has been plenty of news since the North American season officially ended with the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale Nov. 21, so it would be a bit tedious to review all of that.
Let’s just pick up with the last week or so, shall we?
The IZOD IndyCar Series season ended two months ago, but it seems that no series in America has more mojo right now than Randy Bernard and Co. The good news keeps coming and coming, putting more than a decade’s worth of acrimony due to “The Split” deeper and deeper into the rear-view mirror.
The Road To Indy ladder system for INDYCAR, consisting of Firestone Indy Lights, Star Mazda and USF2000, received a major boost this week when Mazda announced its title sponsorship of the program. The Mazda Road to Indy will provide scholarships to the champion of all three developmental classes to jump to the next level the next season.
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. There’s no other way to describe this, on so many levels. The scholarships provide a legitimate carrot for aspiring open-wheel racers at all levels, and the addition of another manufacturer bullish on the future of INDYCAR racing is fantastic.
Combine the Mazda Road to Indy with the recently announced program to grant a Firestone Indy Lights oval program to the USAC National Drivers Championship winner, and few — if any — sanctioning bodies in the world have such a clearly defined road to the pinnacle as INDYCAR.
Team Penske continued to add sponsors to its stable, as series sponsor IZOD came on board this week. IZOD will use Penske driver Ryan Briscoe as its new poster boy, and the best series sponsor in INDYCAR history — by about 1,000 miles — already is activating both its series sponsorship and support of Briscoe through new TV commercials filmed in the desert with a live soundtrack provided by rock band Weezer. No more racing to the party, I guess. I shed no tears.
The addition of IZOD continued a hell of a capitalistic run for Penske, which also snared Shell/Pennzoil as an Indianapolis 500 primary sponsor for three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, AAA of Southern California as a primary sponsor for Castroneves at Long Beach and Texas and Midwestern grocery store chain Meijer as an associate sponsor for all three of its cars.
Say what you will about the 2010 Indianapolis 500, but the right man won. Anyone who disagrees with that either had too many pops while watching the race on TV or sat in the Easy-Bake Oven otherwise known as a broiling Race Day at IMS for far too long.
Sure, there were moments you wondered who was going to win the fuel game. Sure, there were times over the last two laps where you thought maybe, just maybe, Dan Wheldon might finally put Panther Racing into Victory Lane at Indy after two straight years of near-misses.
But the right man won. Dario Franchitti drank milk and caressed the Borg-Warner Trophy for the second time. He clearly deserved it.
How could anyone say otherwise? Dario led 155 of the 200 laps. He catapulted to the lead on Lap 1 from the outside of the front row, putting a boot to the throat of the rest of the field.
It was the most dominant winning performance at Indy since that Juan Pablo Montoya kid crushed the field in 2000 to lead 167 laps and win as a rookie, also in a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
Despite Dario’s dominance, there still were plenty of drivers and teams who put on strong performances Sunday at Indy inside and outside of the spotlight.
The first tip of the Lexan visor must go to Andretti Autosport. Like most after Bump Day, I thought this team was out to lunch, gorging on the all-you-can eat special at the Old Country Buffet. When Tony Kanaan stuffs two cars into the wall, problems are much deeper than simple driver error.
AA started none of its five drivers in the first five rows but put three drivers in the top 11 at the finish. That’s not a bounce-back; that’s an atomic super ball dropped on a driveway from your sister’s bedroom on the second floor. Ba-BOING!
Kanaan’s charge from shotgun on the field – 33rd for those keeping score at home – to second, challenging and taunting Franchitti until a late pit stop, was breathtaking. TK passed EIGHT cars on the first lap in one of the most stirring displays of driving skill since Tomas Scheckter sliced through seven cars in Turn 3 alone after a restart in 2004.
Marco Andretti also proved again that he is a victory waiting to happen some year at Indy with his strong third-place finish, and Danica Patrick made amends for throwing her team under the bus on Pole Day by singing deserved hosannas for the GoDaddy crew after great stops and smart strategy vaulted her to sixth at the finish on Race Day.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also was competitive during the race for AA, and he showed serious stones by driving the second half of the race with torn ligaments in his thumb. He also must have taped four-leaf clovers throughout his cockpit or ate a water tower-sized bowl of Lucky Charms for breakfast on Race Morning after escaping without injury when Mike Conway’s destroyed car sailed overhead in the horrific accident on Lap 200.
Conway and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing teammate Justin Wilson also were unsung heroes on Race Day. Sure, Mike and Justin led 15 and 11 laps, respectively, late in the race because they were on a different fuel strategy than Franchitti. But they didn’t look out of place, and three-time winner and 2010 pole sitter Helio Castroneves couldn’t catch Conway or Wilson while running third behind them on a similar fuel strategy.
D&R also was the only team to put four cars into the show on Pole Day. If you had told me that before Opening Day, I would have asked you for your bottle of Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. D&R just might be the “best of the rest” in the IZOD IndyCar Series right now behind Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.
Panther Racing also had a very strong Race Day by finishing second for the third consecutive year, the second time in a row with Wheldon. Danny Boy really does turn it on for Indy. And Ed Carpenter proved again that he’s one of the best oval racers in the series, as he was headed for a strong finish for Panther before an ill-timed late caution forced him to drop to 17th at the finish.
But my MVT (Most Valuable Team) for the month was the FAZZT Race Team. Alex Tagliani was quick all month, qualified fifth after making the Fast Nine and finished 10th. Bruno Junqueira turned about six laps for the month before becoming the fastest qualifier on Bump Day with a speed that would have put him into the Fast Nine a day earlier.
FAZZT has nowhere near the resources of a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti. It punches WAY above its weight, like 147-pound Manny Pacquiao trading shots and standing upright against a prime, 220-pound Mike Tyson.
Still, when it comes to North American motorsports teams, nobody can stand up to the Penske and Ganassi organizations right now. They’re both major league ass kickers.
Chip Ganassi might be smug. He might be irascible. He might be a demanding SOB. But he wins – a lot. And that’s the goal of any race team. With the last two IZOD IndyCar Series titles, two of the last three Indianapolis 500 victories and a Daytona 500 victory in February, Ganassi is the reigning Red Baron of internal combustion right now in America.
Roger Penske also had a month to remember, winning the Indianapolis 500 pole for a record 16th time and seeing his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch double up by winning the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.
Both Ganassi and Penske also have won major North American sports car championships in the last three seasons.
•Formula One: Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished 1-2 in the Grand Prix of Turkey on Sunday, which many people called yet another thrilling F1 race.
I call bull excrement.
This race was “exciting” only because drivers violated one of the cardinal rules of F1 – don’t race your teammate. Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel ran 1-2 when Vettel decided to – GASP! – pass his teammate for the lead. The two cars collided, knocking Vettel out of the race and Webber to third, where he finished.
And then Hamilton and Button had “confusion” about team orders – don’t kid yourself; team orders still occur in F1 despite regulations banning them – and ended up racing each other at the end, with Hamilton prevailing.
Sure, it may have looked good on TV. But the bleating by Steve Matchett of SPEED about Vettel making a critical mistake by not asking his team to tell the slower Webber to pull over illustrates exactly what’s wrong with F1.
Race drivers are paid to pass people. F1 drivers are paid millions of pounds, Euros or whatever to pass people. They NEVER should be forced to request from a team boss to pass someone, even if it’s their teammate.
Yes, this is another rant from me about the sad state of F1. And it’s not because I dislike the series or have a serious case of “Screw them furriners.” Au contraire. I love F1. But what disguises for excitement in the series these days is pathetic. Team orders and complaints about dirty air. Oh, joy.
At least there’s a MotoGP race this Sunday at Mugello to satisfy my proper international racing jones.
•Song of the Week: This week’s top tune is the obscure but cool “Faster” by the late, great George Harrison, who was a Formula One fanatic. There are two reasons why it came to mind immediately after Dario Franchitti’s victory Sunday at Indy. One, the video opens with a still shot of the great Jim Clark of Scotland, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner who is Franchitti’s racing hero. Plus it was an easy choice since Franchitti was just flat-out, ahem, faster than anyone else Sunday at Indy.
Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel … and don’t forget to visit IMS on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IndianapolisMotorSpeedway and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IndyTalk.