May 02, 2012 | By Bruce Martin
Penske Racing Continues Winning Stride Entering Indianapolis
There are no more “road trips” or “city traffic jams” for the IZOD IndyCar Series in the “Race to the Indianapolis 500.” The destination is clear: All roads lead to 16th and Georgetown.
The next stop is the Indianapolis 500.
And the leader into the Month of May is Team Penske, which achieved history in the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on April 29 by opening the season with a fourth straight victory. Will Power, IndyCar’s “King of the Road,” is on a three-race winning streak with victories April 1 at Barber Motorsports Park, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 and the IZOD IndyCar Series’ annual trip to Brazil. The only other driver to win a race this season is Power’s Penske teammate three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.
At team owner Roger Penske’s operation, it’s all about the team. That has been obvious with Power to open the 2012 season.
“I don't think there is any secret to racing, but being mistake-free, having the right strategy and having a good car and getting all the little details right when it comes to qualifying and laying down good laps,” Power said. “I think that it is no secret. We have data that we can overlay amongst the teammates and understand where it can go quicker and where we're struggling. If we can put all that together, ultimately you're the quickest.
“But racing, you need a bit of luck, good strategy, no mistakes, and that's how you win races.”
Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay was bumped out of the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup on Bump Day, leading to one of the darkest days of his time at Andretti Autosport. But team sponsor DHL and team owner Michael Andretti reached a deal with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt to put Hunter-Reay in a Foyt car that had been qualified by Bruno Junqueira.
Such an arrangement probably won’t be necessary this year as Hunter-Reay is one of the top drivers in the series through the first four races in 2012.
“Last year at this time, we were 20th in points going into Indianapolis,” Hunter-Reay said. “This year, we are fourth. So it's the way we wanted to start the season, and if we just keep consistently finishing on the podium, finishing in the top five like we have been, then I think everything will be very good with three or four races left to go. So we take it one lap at a time, one race at a time. So we're not looking further into the future. Now we have our sights set on Indianapolis.”
And then there is Takuma Sato of Japan, who has been outstanding so far this season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was a contender for the victory at Long Beach before he was involved in a last-lap skirmish with Hunter-Reay. And despite getting involved in one of the track-clogging incidents at Sao Paulo, Sato was able to forge ahead with a third-place finish for the first podium of his IZOD IndyCar Series career.
That has been a huge confidence boost as Sato attempts to become the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
“To be honest, the team didn't have as much of the experience in the last races on street and the road course, but we showed good speed and we showed some potential,” Sato said. “The ‘500’ is different, maybe, in taking part a long time and the great history with winning, too. So I'm sure our engineer and the preparation for the car will be much stronger than the last four races, and certainly I'll try my best to go for the achievement we want in the Indy 500.”
Team Penske has taken Chevrolet on quite a ride during its four-race winning streak to open the season as the American automotive manufacturer’s return to the series for the first time since 2005 has been nothing short of stunning.
But a fifth straight win would put Chevrolet back in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since Castroneves won in 2001.
"Will Power and Team Penske are showing the qualities that win championships,” said Chris Berube, Chevrolet Racing IZOD IndyCar Series program manager. “We are so proud of the efforts of all the Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar teams. With Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves bringing home top-five finishes (at Brazil), as well, it is a testimony to the determination, dedication and depth of talent of our teams and technical partners in the IZOD IndyCar Series. What a tremendous first four races of the season.
“Now we shift our focus to the Indianapolis 500.”
While all of the drivers in the series are anxiously awaiting this year’s Indianapolis 500, Hunter-Reay remembered fallen comrade Dan Wheldon, the two-time Indy 500 winner who suffered fatal injuries last year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“First of all, every race we've had, we've missed Dan Wheldon,” Hunter-Reay said. “He was a great champion of our sport. We miss him every day, every hour. He's the defending Indianapolis 500 champion, so to not have him at Indy will be the hardest since Vegas. But he's been with us every step, inspiring us to go on.
“This car, I think it will be good on an oval. It will be good, from what I've heard, a lot of drafting.”
Wheldon’s legacy is all the testing he did on the new Dallara chassis, which has been rebranded as the DW12 in his honor. And while that car has performed flawlessly in the first four races on street and road courses this season, it gets to stretch its legs on the massive 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
So far, the “Race to the Indy 500” has been quite a ride. The ultimate destination is now within sight.