Roger Penske turns 80 this month, and the team he has run for 50 years remains at the top of North American motor racing. Simon Pagenaud’s 2016 IndyCar title was Team Penske’s 14th at that level with 16 wins in the Indianapolis 500, Grand Prix success and championship success in NASCAR, Trans-Am and sports cars emphasising ‘The Captain’s’ stature as a team owner.
A graduate of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Penske was a successful racing driver who started the United States GP on two occasions before retiring from the sport aged 28. Already a successful car dealer, he formed Penske Racing a year later and his Chevrolet Corvette won its class on the team’s debut in the 1966 Daytona 24 Hours.
Penske soon formed a formidable partnership with driver Mark Donohue, who gave the team its first win at Indy as well as title success in both USRRC sports cars and Trans-Am. Donohue was at the wheel when Penske entered F1 at the end of 1974, but he was killed during practice for the following year’s Austrian GP. John Watson won that race for the team 12 months later, but Penske withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of 1976.
Penske then concentrated on the domestic scene, with his cars dominating in the USAC IndyCar and subsequent Champ Car World Series. Central to that success was Rick Mears, who eventually won three national titles and four Indy 500s.