Foyt, Penske still going strong in IndyCar

Dave Skretta
Associated Press
Roger Penske

Indianapolis — A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske are as much a part of the Indianapolis 500 as the pagoda and Gasoline Alley, icons of such stature that they’re identifiable only by their first names.

“There’s A.J.,” fans say, “and there’s Roger.”

Together, the two men have shaped “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in ways neither could have ever imagined. Foyt has been a presence since the 1950s, winning four times before becoming a team owner, and Penske has been coming since the ‘60s, reaching victory lane 16 times with his venerable team.

Foyt turned 82 in January, though. Detroiter Penske turned 80 a month later. And that begs a question: What will the future hold for two of IndyCar’s iconic teams?

“With any Penske plan,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric said, “it evolves over time.”

Besides, Cindric added, “Roger will be the first to tell you, ‘Don’t get in a line until I’m gone.’”

Foyt is already four years into his succession plan, turning the day-to-day operations over to his son, Larry. He acknowledged earlier this year he would have had to shutter the team if that had not occurred, advancing age and declining health having wreaked havoc on his once-able body.

This year, Larry Foyt put arguably his biggest stamp yet on the team. Chevrolet replaced Honda as its manufacturer, and Conor Daly, Zach Veach and Carlos Munoz have replaced Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato in the drivers’ seats for Sunday’s race. The team even has a new technical director, Will Phillips, after Don Halliday retired at the end of last season.

A.J. still loves being around the track. He still loves the cars and the people and the energy that come with May in Indianapolis. But he no longer has such a hands-on role with the team.

“He loves this place,” Larry said. “I love seeing big A.J. with the grandkids. With them living up in Indy and A.J. in Texas a lot of times, this is a great time for them to see grandpa and hang out.”

Penske, on the other hand, is still involved in every aspect of Team Penske, whether it is the five-car effort for this year’s Indy 500 or his successful two-car NASCAR team.

The Captain is even the race strategist for three-time winner Helio Castroneves.

“I don’t think Roger’s happy if he’s not winning. That’s the whole mentality of Team Penske,” said Simon Pagenaud, one of his drivers.

“We’re not here to be second, third or fourth. The goal is win races. That’s why Roger brought five cars this month. It’s because his love of Indy is huge.”

The love for Indy is nearly as big for Penske’s children, too.

Much like the Foyt family, racing has always been a family affair.

His son Jay has been involved in the IndyCar team for years, while his three other sons and his daughter, Blair, have always supported the racing side of the Penske empire. Greg Penske even had a hand in speedway construction.

Yet trying to discern the exact succession plan is about as fruitless as trying to guess when Penske will retire. Those close to him acknowledge a plan is probably in place — Penske is a meticulous planner, after all — but only his inner-most circle knows any details.

“As far as a legacy plan,” Cindric said, “I’m confident that will arrive at the right time.”

Whenever the two Indy 500 kingmakers step aside, other owners are ready to step into the void.

“One of our goals is to get new owners and new young teams into the series,” said Jay Frye, the president of operations for the series.

Carb Day

Three-time champion Helio Castroneves turned the fastest lap on Carb Day during the final practice for the Indy 500, while more engine trouble for Honda left teams leery of what could happen on race day.

Castroneves posted a lap of 227.377 mph, giving the Chevrolet-powered teams that struggled mightily during qualifying last weekend reason for hope. He was followed on the speed chart by six Honda-powered cars, including two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

That was the good news for Honda. The bad news came late in the hour-long session, when James Hinchcliffe’s engine let go entering Turn 3. Oil and water sprayed out the side of his car as it came to a stop on the apron, and Hinchcliffe was left wondering exactly what went wrong.

It was the seventh Honda engine to fail during the lead-up to the Indy 500.

... Team Penske won the pit stop challenge with Will Power behind the wheel.

Power’s crew edged Hinchcliffe in the best-of-three final.

It was Penske’s third consecutive victory in the pit stop challenge.

... Matheus Leist led every lap after starting on the pole to win the Indy Lights race.

Indianapolis 500

When: 11 a.m. Sunday

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

TV/radio: ABC/105.1

Pole: Scott Dixon

Defending champion: Alexander Rossi