Have you heard the news? Let me sum it up for you in three words: It's all good! There's plenty of buzz surrounding the IZOD IndyCar Series this off-season. Two great automotive companies – Chevrolet and Lotus – have announced plans to join the series in 2012, when new regulations for engines and chassis are introduced. They'll join Honda, giving teams the choice of three engine manufacturers and opening the door to many more firms that wish to supply engines or build aero kits for the new chassis.
Yes, it's a great time for IndyCar racing overall, but for Team Penske and myself, the news is even more exciting. As you've probably heard, Shell/Pennzoil and their V-Power brand will be the sponsor on the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara-Honda for the Indianapolis 500, and I couldn't be more pleased…or proud.
The yellow Shell/Pennzoil colors have a long history in open-wheel racing in general and the Indianapolis 500 in particular. They also have an interesting history with Team Penske, so I'm extremely excited to be involved in the brand's return. Hopefully we can add something to the story.
Pennzoil first joined Team Penske in 1983, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1984 and '88 with Rick Mears and the 1985 CART championship with Al Unser Sr. Pennzoil remained with Team Penske through 1990, when Rick won the first race at Phoenix and went on to finish third in the championship. He's still with Team Penske as a driver consultant, so not only is he a link to the past, but he's also a link to a very special sponsor.
Rick told me something very cool. When we went to Phoenix to meet with some people from Shell/Pennzoil, he mentioned his success with Pennzoil. He said, “Helio, if you have a setup as good as the one I had on the Pennzoil car in 1984, you'll have your fourth Indy 500 win.” For me, that was the clincher! I was stunned. Rick is my racing hero, one of four guys who have won Indy four times. I want to join that group, and I want to join it with Shell/Pennzoil and the V-Power colors on my car. I was honored and humbled to hear that from Rick.
I'm also extremely excited for everything that's going on in the series. It's becoming more diverse, competitive and deep, and everyone in the IZOD IndyCar Series is enthused about the future. We're turning the page to a new chapter in our form of racing, so it's an exciting time. Lotus and Chevrolet are familiar names to fans of our sport. Lotus competed in the Indianapolis 500 several times in the 1960s, winning it with the legendary Jim Clark in 1965. And Chevy has been a major part of the Indianapolis scene since Louis Chevrolet first raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1915.
Everything about Chevy's return has been well planned. My boss, Roger Penske, was instrumental in the return, and also in uniting them with our friends at Ilmor Engineering. I'm always surprised by what Roger is able to accomplish. He's done so much, but he never stops. That's just his nature. He's always ahead of the curve and I'm so honored to be a part of his team.
This is the start of something really big in IndyCar racing, and I'm not alone in my thinking. Everyone I've talked to in the business has the feeling that we're on the verge of a new dawn. It's been on an upward swing for some time now, but the changes coming in 2012 and the addition of two engine manufacturers will only draw in more major players. That means more sponsors, more teams, more cars and more people in the seats.Everything is looking up.
So, while I'm having a fantastic off-season, I also can't wait to get back to the track. I've kept myself busy with lots of different things since the season ended. I raced in the V8 Supercar event in Australia with several other IndyCar Series drivers, including my teammates Will Power and Ryan Briscoe – that was great fun – and I competed in a kart race in Colombia and Felipe Massa's annual kart race in Brazil.
I also returned to Dancing with the Stars in November as a guest judge, which was almost as difficult as being a dancer. It was a great show and fun to see everyone. The show never leaves you. It was great to meet the new people and see them facing the same experience that I did in 2007, but it was different to judge other people's dancing. It's still the same – not only do you have to dance well, you also have to get the votes. It's an intense competition, and I think that's why I enjoyed it so much.
Jennifer Grey did everything right to win the title. She was very good on the dance floor and popular with the fans. I really appreciated her effort. It takes everything you've got to win it, and she did that. Congratulations to her.
Dancing and racing aside, the best part of my off-season has been the time I've been able to spend with family and friends. Mikaella is growing up so fast. She'll be 1 year old on Dec. 28 –hard to believe! I'm enjoying being a daddy. She's at such a wonderful age, starting to interact with Adriana and me. The other day she said something that sounded like “Mama.” It was just baby babble – that's my argument – but Adriana claims it was a real “Mama.” We've been laughing about it ever since. We're both so blessed and Adriana is a wonderful mother…but I'm insisting that Mikaella's first word will be “Dada!”
Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season! Can't wait to see you
back at the racetrack.