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‘Captain’ Penske will set brisk pace at Indy 500

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
Roger Penske stands next to the Indy 500 pace car on Saturday.

Indianapolis – In celebration of Team Penske’s 50 years in motor sports, 79-year old team owner Roger Penske will bring the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 field around to the green flag Sunday afternoon. Do his four drivers have any advice for him on how to pace the field?

“I told them I’m just going to do my best to keep it off the wall,” chuckled “The Captain,” as he’s affectionately known to his crew.

The Birmingham resident and winningest-ever Indy owner held forth at the traditional Saturday press conference for the pace car driver. Penske will be driving a 455-horsepower, 2017 Chevy Camaro SS. The car will wear an Abalone White livery developed exclusively for this weekend featuring “100th Running of the Indianapolis 500” graphics on the doors and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wing-and-wheel logo on its quarter panels. The ’17 Camaro bears aerodynamic upgrades that make it capable of a staggering 184-mph top speed.

“The first thing I had to do was pass the physical,” laughed Penske, himself a former race driver, before he could get into the SS.

Penske said he will pace the field for four laps at gradually increasing lap speeds before cranking it up to 100-105 mph on the last lap.

“On the back straight I’ll take it up to maybe 130 to pull away from the field then come in the pits and turn the lights off,” he said. “To think that the drivers are competing at 100 mph faster than that is amazing. As you come down the straightaway it’s narrow. It’s not a big track like Daytona or Michigan or places like that.”

Drivers covet 100th Indy more than any other

James Hinchcliffe set the pole this year at over 230 mph. After entering the pits, Penske will jump out of the Camaro then up into his pit box and try to help Helio Castroneves to a record fourth win – and extend his own record to 17 wins. A who’s-who of Indy racing talent – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and IndyCar series points leader Simon Pagenaud also will be piloting Penske cars for their captain.

The ageless Penske spent race eve at a typically break-neck pace – attending multiple press conferences, preparing his team, and driving in the annual Indianapolis 500 Parade through downtown.

“Someone will be the winner and I hope it’s us,” said Penske when asked about the significance of the 100th running of one of the world’s most iconic sporting events. “To say you competed here, and you were one of the teams to beat on the 100th goes down in history for our company.”

hpayne@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @HenryEPayne

Indy 500

When: Sunday, noon

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2.5-mile oval

TV: ABC

2015 winner: Juan Pablo Montoya