Penske joins downforce debate
In April Roger Penske told me he hopes IndyCar can follow NASCAR’s lead not only in the way it runs and promotes its races, but also in moving to reduce downforce. Penske believes NASCAR is doing well, despite recent declines in TV ratings and crowds at many races.
“I think NASCAR is in great shape,” Penske said. “The average NASCAR race draws close to 100,000 people. I ran the Super Bowl in 2006 in Detroit and we were glad when we had 75,000, so I think to have a Super Bowl every weekend in NASCAR is pretty good. All sports are suffering a little bit from the TV perspective, but you’ve got to add the social media aspect. There are a lot of new things out there and a lot of streaming, and I think when you look at the whole picture and combine everything NASCAR is in great shape.”
Penske pointed to the way NASCAR has worked with its teams in determining this year’s low-downforce rules package, which everyone – drivers, teams and fans – prefers to what went before. “I think it puts the driver back in the car and there’s also a lot more strategy,” he said. “The tyres wear because the car is sliding around a little bit more and there’s more passing. If you have a better car at a particular time during the race, you can pass. You’re not just sitting there with a bubble between you and the car ahead.
“I think NASCAR has done a good job and now there’s a competition and technical committee helping make the decisions and the timing of when any changes are going to be made, so it doesn’t come overnight without any room for planning and implementation. There’s a thinking process and an opportunity to judge what’s happening. They’re looking at it from a cost perspective, from a timing perspective and a performance perspective.”
Penske says he would like to see IndyCar follow NASCAR’s lead. “I think they’ve got to take the downforce off in IndyCar too, especially on the ovals,” he said. “You just can’t run around a place like Phoenix in 18sec. I think the cars are too fast at short ovals. There’s no chance to pass and if there is an accident it can result in a pretty rough outcome.
“To go fast at Indianapolis, you take the downforce off and that really puts the driver in the car. And I think that’s what everyone wants to see. To me, Rick Mears has said it all about cutting downforce. I would let Rick be the spokesman. I support him completely.”
Four-time Indy 500 winner Mears has long been a proponent of substantially reducing Indycar downforce and increasing horsepower. “Today, aerodynamics controls the sport,” Mears said. “It dictates everything about the car. They’ve been going down a path with more and more downforce and they’re just boxing themselves into a corner. Sometimes you have to say, let’s stop and go back to where we were and start again. Let’s try another direction.
“We’ve made the cars stronger and safer, we’ve built safer walls and better catch fences. The sport has done a tremendous job, but you can’t keep going down this path. If you reduce the downforce and reduce the lateral load on the cars you make all these things better. In effect, you make everything – the cars, the walls, the catchfences – safer than they are now.
“To me, I want to drive the car. That’s what I love doing and that’s what I get paid for. There’s driving and there’s guiding, and they’re two different things. I like to drive it, not guide it. The more driver aids we have, the less input. To me, the fun part was: give me more power than I can use and let me figure out how to use it better than the next guy.”