INDYCAR’s super team is Detroit’s hometown team at the Grand Prix
It’s a rare accomplishment to have three champions on one race team. In fact, it’s happened only twice before. But that’s where it stands this season for Detroit’s hometown team, Team Penske, whose three full-time drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series – Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power – each has a championship title on his resume.
For all three, representing the team at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Belle Isle, June 1-3, means representing the city. After all, it’s the city where their boss – legendary team owner Roger Penske – calls home.
“This event is so important,” said Newgarden, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “We represent a lot of great folks all over the world who work as part of the Penske Corporation, so this race is really an extension of that. We want to perform really well in the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet and with all of our other cars. It’s a great place to win for Roger, of course, but it’s also basically our hometown race, so we want to represent everyone well.”
For the two Verizon IndyCar Series races June 2-3 on Belle Isle, Team Penske’s trio brings a formidable record of 53 race wins – including three at Detroit – and three championships to the fore.
“To have three champions driving this year in the series is amazing,” said Penske, the founder and chairman of Penske Corporation, which makes its headquarters in Bloomfield Hills. “We’ve invested in these guys over time.”
It’s truly uncommon to have three past champions racing together on the same team. In 1972, Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Joe Leonard – all previous USAC Champ Car Series champions – were teammates at Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing. In 1990, Team Penske had three CART Series champions – Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan and Rick Mears – in its lineup.
The teaming of past champions is positive in terms of competition, drivers say. The better your teammate, the better you will be. Successful drivers press their teammates to compete at a high level and often share their data and other information to strengthen the team.
“The good thing is that we’re pushing each other so hard and so far,” Pagenaud said. “You constantly evolve in this sport. You don’t just stay at the same level. You keep improving and keep learning from the others. You keep learning about yourself. At the end of the day, it’s all about improving yourself.”
Improvement is the key. What could be seen as problematic – three intense competitors racing against each other but still being teammates – instead is beneficial.
“Having two past champions and two other very quick drivers pushes the whole team to a higher level,” Power said. “You’re all sharing information. It’s a good situation for a driver. You’re constantly learning off the other guys. That’s one of the reasons the team is so strong.”
The team will be especially strong during the Chevy Dual in Detroit on Belle Isle in part because the team is the backbone of the event. Roger Penske led the efforts to bring the Grand Prix back to Detroit in 2007, and the event and its partners have helped renovate and restore the island over the last 11 years.
“It’s a big celebration of racing in one weekend,” Pagenaud said. “Roger has put so much effort into the island, into making it more beautiful than before. He’s developed the streets into a very, very nice racetrack. It’s has a little bit of Monaco to it on a beautiful island. It mixes nature and racing together in a very nice way without taking away the nature itself. It’s a great mix.”
Penske, the 81-year-old automotive business leader, based Penske Corporation in Detroit. Working with the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Penske revived the annual street races on Belle Isle as an annual international sporting event in the Motor City, after he served as chairman of the Super Bowl XL host committee in Detroit in 2006.
“You have some success, and this is a great way to give back,” Penske told USA Today Sports. “You could give it to your college, you could give it to your high school, but I think this city is so important, and it’s in our business. This is the auto capital. Why wouldn’t you get involved?
And he is deeply involved with the best team in motorsports. Team Penske reached its 200th victory in INDYCAR history on May 12 when Power won the INDYCAR Grand Prix. The team will go for a record 17th victory in the Indianapolis 500 when the 102nd edition of the race takes place this Sunday.
The compilation of three champions began with the hiring of Power in 2009. The 37-year-old Australian posted his 33rd career victory earlier this month by winning on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. That total ranks ninth all-time, just one victory short of Al Unser Jr., one of many famous names to have driven for Penske.
The forming of the super team continued in 2015, when Penske hired Pagenaud, a 33-year-old Frenchman who won the IndyCar championship in 2016. Newgarden, a 27-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn., was added to the mix in 2017 and promptly won the championship in his first season with the team.
“I think we all really push each other,” Newgarden said. “We’re always competitive with each other, both on and off the track. It’s all in good fun. We’re fortunate that we share data and ideas. It really helps make each of our individual programs stronger, and I believe that’s why we’ve had so much success this season. Simon and Will are great drivers and of course we learn from each other. It’s a really unique dynamic no other team in the series has right now. It’s really awesome to be a part of.”
That camaraderie among champions fits nicely into the future of Team Penske and its connections to Detroit and its Dual races.
“I see the experience, and these guys are hungry,” Penske said. “They do a great job for us both on the track and commercially. The three of them are the best you can have.”
For more information and to purchase tickets to the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, June 1-3 on Belle Isle, visit DetroitGP.com.