Power will drive a Verizon-backed Penske car for the full season. (LAT photo)
We're delighted to have added Penske Racing President Tim Cindric to the fold of RACER columnists. Here, he offers his thoughts on Penske's expansion into a three-car team for 2010. –Ed.
Obviously our big news on the Indy car side in recent days was the confirmation of a full-time third car for Will Power in the IZOD IndyCar Series. The Verizon Wireless sponsorship shouldn't be described as a straight switch from the Grand-Am Rolex Series car. It was more a case of Verizon deciding, after their first year in motorsports, where they felt they needed to be positioned for next year. It wasn't so much sports cars or Indy cars, but it has more to do with what they want across the board in 2010. I won't go into figures, but Verizon's decision is based on what we can offer them in various categories. They'll sponsor Justin Allgaier in the Nationwide car, Brad Keselowski's Cup car – although there are the obvious limitations because of Sprint's sponsorship of the series – primary sponsor on Will's No. 12 Indy car and major associate sponsorship on the Indy cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves.
Although Will's Edmonton win last season wasn't in a Verizon primary car, they could see how well he ran at Indianapolis and Long Beach. After getting to know him as a person, they realized there was good potential to build on, especially when it's combined with the legacy that Roger and the organization has in Indy cars. It's a great opportunity for all of us – and who can turn down a guy with such a great name anyway?
It's been since 1994 that Penske has run three Indy cars for a full season, and personally speaking, that was way before my time here and I've only been part of running a three-car program during the limited schedule that we did in 2009. That's my only reference. I know that there are sometimes question marks over a team's ability to run three cars, but in Penske's case, we are not stretching resources to do this. The way the IZOD IndyCar Series is right now, it allows you to be in a better position to put three cars out there that are closely matched than if there was an open rulebook. The more open the development opportunities are, the more compromises you have to make between the various cars because you might only have one part or two parts made in time for the next race. I think we showed this past season – especially at Indianapolis and Edmonton – that, even with a limited workforce, we can put three equal cars out there. I don't think Will would ever say he had an inferior car last year, nor would Ryan or Helio say that the No. 12 car detracted from their programs.
Last season was a good test for us and I think it's significant that we go into next year knowing what we have – all the components we're putting out there are proven. We have continuity in that we have the same drivers, personnel and equipment we know. Everything is a known factor to us and that gives us more confidence that we can perform at the highest level with all three cars.
There are, of course, areas for improvement. We feel as a team that we need to execute better and we need to eliminate the mechanical failures that aren't typical of our organization. A good example of this was Helio's suspension failure during the Chicago race. But I must say that he's been what I would describe as a great role model for up and coming drivers as he has always said you win as a team, you lose as a team. He's never tried to point a finger at any individual in any situation.
A driver is in a unique position, like a quarterback in football, in that he's a leader without being the boss, and that's a very important role. If a comment comes from Roger or me, it's coming from the boss. If it comes from the guy who's driving the car or throwing the ball, it's on a different level and getting it right keeps the chemistry right. Helio has always been the perfect guy on that front, and certainly what he went through at the start of the year in his personal life gave him a different perspective. It didn't change his competitiveness, though. He's as eager as ever. At the end of the season, sure, he was frustrated he wasn't in the running for the championship. But he also knew that, realistically, missing the first race was going to make it difficult for him to do that anyway.
As for Ryan, he certainly feels there was an opportunity missed there in terms of the championship. But for our part, I don't think we could have asked any more of him. When you look at where he was in 2008, compared to where he was in '09, it was a completely different level. If you would have been able, in '08, to tell him how he'd do in '09, I believe he'd have said, “Yeah, that would be great.'” If you ask him that now, naturally he wants more. Ryan's proven that he's capable, and sure, he beat himself up spinning in Motegi exiting pit lane, but it wasn't all down to that one race and it wasn't all down to him. There were races when, as an organization, we could have done better – that's why this is still a team sport.
We don't look at any one situation as a reason why we didn't win the championship. For example, if there had been just one caution in the season finale at Homestead, Ryan would be champion, despite what happened at Motegi. So, that's just racing. We couldn't have asked more from him at Homestead. He did absolutely everything he could to win – a really great drive.
Our first IndyCar test this winter is going to be with Will. He's been cleared by (series orthopedic specialist) Dr. Terry Trammell to drive again and after having to wear his back brace around for months and listen to people like me call him “Frank,” he wants to make sure he's in proper physical shape before he jumps back in the game. So we're looking at trying to take him to a road course, either in late December or early January. Probably my next column will come right after that, so I should be able to give you some of the details.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays to everyone.