Penske pleased with direction of IRL
There's a lot for Roger Penske to like about the Indy Racing League these days.
And that just doesn't mean the driver standings, either.
The legendary team owner thinks IndyCar is on as solid a footing as it has been on in some time, a stance brought on in part by fresh ideas from newly hired CEO Randy Bernard, a sense that the league could continue to get stronger in the coming years, and perhaps most importantly, from Penske's perspective, the start of a long-term series title sponsorship deal with Izod.
All good things, Penske said.
``From a business perspective, they just bought Tommy Hilfiger so they've got capital and they think this is a different model for them,'' Penske said. ``We haven't had a sponsor that was really into it since FedEx, and FedEx had a lot of other things. This is a real opportunity to have someone from the top down, here, motivated for the series.''
In other words, sort of like himself.
Penske Racing is off to a flying start in 2010, with driver Will Power - whom the team wasn't sure it could keep full time after bringing him in a year ago - already having won the first two races of the new IRL season. Ryan Briscoe was third and Helio Castroneves fourth for Penske at the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg on Monday, a rain-delayed race the owner couldn't be trackside for because of schedule issues.
No matter. He was on the phone and radio all day.
``I'm sure he'll be calling me straight up to say, 'You know, you should have won by a lot more,''' Power said Monday afternoon after winning the race in St. Pete.
Penske speaks with nothing but reverence for Power, whose 2009 season ended in a crash that left the driver with four broken bones in his back and, to put it mildly, an uncertain future.
Penske quickly assured Power that he'd have a ride for 2010, and his car has been flying ever since. Team sponsorship money from telecommunications giant Verizon was shifted away from the NASCAR program to Penske's IndyCar garage, affording the chance to add Power as a third full-time driver, and it's worked out beyond expectations for both sides so far.
``He came back so strong, physically,'' Penske said. ``He took the risk with us. It could have been nothing or it could have turned out.''
There's a fair amount of risk involved with IndyCar these days.
It didn't deter Bernard, whom Penske seems thrilled to be working with.
Bernard came to IndyCar after spending 15 years running Professional Bull Riders Inc. Penske got to know him a bit before he took the job, and one of his first reactions to the new IRL hire was that Bernard wasn't going to be affected by all the various allegiances and cliques that exist across the series.
And for many, like Penske, that seems to be a relief.
Bernard's top priority these days is developing the future IRL chassis and engine platform, which could be decided upon by June and in place across the series by the 2012 season.
``You have a very passionate, passionate fan base and team ownership,'' Bernard said. ``I think the politics are probably the same in any sport you go to. But what I like is how there's a lot of money up in this sport. I mean, it's not cheap to run a car - and I would say there's probably a little bit less politics here than in my past job.''
Knowing that Bernard is taking money into serious account when it comes to the new IRL car is something that Penske wanted to hear.
It's not an easy thing, both finding the right way to move forward toward a new car, plus trying to find a way to make a slew of owners happy and satisfied. Penske has been through this before, of course, including when NASCAR introduced its ``Car of Tomorrow.'' That change didn't come easily, nor will the IRL's.
``I don't think it changed NASCAR when we went from the old car to the CoT, so we just have to look at it,'' Penske said. ``For our team, probably got to have seven or eight cars, so you're talking $2 million, $3 million, plus all your parts, so I think they've got to consider that.''
And they are.
Which, to Penske, is a great sign.
And while spending some time in his mobile office before leaving St. Petersburg last weekend, Penske made no efforts to hide his satisfaction with the way things seem to be headed for IRL.
``There's nothing wrong with the sport right now,'' Penske said.