Bloomfield Hills-based businessman Roger Penske already had an impressive 2019, and it got even better the past few weeks.
Penske, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – from President Trump last month, on Monday announced that he would purchase the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series from Hulman & Co.
Penske, 82, has enjoyed tremendous success at Indy and in the open wheel series as a team owner, including this season when Penske driver Simon Pagenaud won the Indianapolis 500 in Penske’s 50th year in the prestigious race. Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden also won the series championship.
The purchase of the series by a team owner brought immediate questions about potential conflicts of interest. But all IndyCar teams function under tightly controlled equipment and racing rules.
The IndyCar Series showcase open-cockpit Dallara DW12 chassis cars that feature a 2.2-liter, twin turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engines optimized to run at 12,000 RPM, with estimated 500-700 horsepower depending on the turbocharger boost setting. Engines are supplied by Chevrolet and Honda. Drivers can reach speeds up to 235 mph at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Competitive differences typically emerge due to skill and expertise of team personnel, including drivers, engineers, crew members and people in the shop.
“I don’t ever view Roger as just a team owner,” driver Graham Rahal, who finished 10th in the series this year, told The Detroit News. “I think his passion for IndyCar racing and in particular the Indianapolis Motor Speedway goes so far beyond being a team owner.”
Rahal said the suggestion that Penske would use his power as series owner for a competitive advantage is “kind of an unfair way to look at him.”
Rahal added: "We know Roger’s reputation. We know the way that Roger operates, and this will take IndyCar racing, this will take the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a facility, as a fan experience, to a whole new level.
"Nothing Roger does, does he do poorly, it’s that simple, and so I think everybody in our sport is over the moon on what just happened.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway has many cherished memories for Penske as his drivers have won more Indianapolis 500s (18) and Indy 500 poles (18) than any other team. Team Penske has claimed three Indy 500s in the last five years with Juan Pablo Montoya reaching Victory Lane in 2015, Will Power in 2018 and Pagenaud this past Memorial Day weekend.
“Roger was the one that told me, ‘Put your hat backward or the visor is going to hit the ground before you kiss the bricks,’” said Pagenaud of the advice given by Penske for the post-race Indy 500 traditional kiss of the bricks. “I guess it’s good advice from someone that had won it 18 times now.”
Team Penske has been the team to beat in recent years with Power winning the series title in 2014, Pagenaud in 2016, and Newgarden in 2017 and 2019.
“This is great news for the industry,” said Chip Ganassi who owns more IndyCar series titles (eight) than Penske (five) since 2000, with driver Scott Dixon owning five of them, including with Chevrolet power in 2015 and Honda power in 2008, 2013 and 2018. “The news will provide a shot in the arm to both the sport of auto racing and specifically to the IndyCar series.
“Roger is a good friend and a class act, and all of his businesses are run well and with integrity. I couldn’t be happier for all of us that are involved with the sport.”
Bobby Rahal agrees with Ganassi.
“Roger Penske’s commitment to the sport we love is over six decades long and I am confident that his stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series will ensure a great future for the sport,” Rahal said. “His many successful business ventures underline the fact that he is the perfect custodian of one of the most historic venues in the world and is the perfect architect to build the foundation for the next 100-plus years of the sport.”
Rahal won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986, and his son, Graham Rahal, competes for his team, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan.
“I can’t help but think that our series and IMS are in great hands,” said Graham Rahal, who swept both ends of the Detroit Chevrolet Grand Prix doubleheader on Belle Isle in 2017, on Twitter. “If you know anything about Mr. Penske, it’s that he holds his work to the highest of standards. I have no doubts that we will see IndyCar and the Indy 500 rise to new heights.”
McLaren Racing will make its return to the IndyCar series in 2020 through a partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chevrolet, with 20-year-old Patricio O’Ward and IndyLights champion Oliver Askew, 23, as drivers. McLaren last competed full-time in IndyCar in 1979.
Gil de Ferran, director for McLaren Racing, won the Indianapolis 500 while driving for Penske in 2003.
Penske was primarily responsible for bringing Super Bowl XL to Ford Field in Detroit in 2006 and for also bringing the IndyCar Series to Belle Isle, now showcasing the series’ lone doubleheader every season on the island.
The 2020 IndyCar schedule includes 17 races, eight on NBC, with Richmond replacing Long Pond, Pa., the site of multiple horrific accidents in past years, including the death of Justin Wilson as a result of injuries suffered there in 2015 and Robert Wickens suffering severe spinal injuries in 2018.
The season is set to open at St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 15 with the Indianapolis 500 on May 24 and the Belle Isle doubleheader set for May 30-31.