Gordon Kirby

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As everyone knows, Roger Penske’s team is the most successful IndyCar operation in history. Five years have passed, however since Sam Hornish won Penske’s 12th and most recent championship. Will Power came close last year but was beaten to the title by Dario Franchiffi and Chip Ganassi’s team. Can Team Penske bounce back and win a record 13th open-wheel championship this year?
If sponsorship has anything to do with it, Roger’s three-car squad comprising Power Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe will be the one to beat. At a time when most IndyCar teams are struggling to land sponsors Penske has struck the mother lode with Shell/Pennzoil backing Castroneves’s car (above, with Penske’s NASCAR ace Kurt Busch), Verizon supporting Power, and series sponsor IZOD moving from Andreffi Autosports to Briscoe’s car.
Meijer, a big Midwestern grocery and superstore chain in the US, is also switching to Penske this year from Michael Andreffi’s team as an associate sponsor of all three cars. And Castroneves’s car will be backed in two races Long Beach and Texas by the Automobile Club of California, a division of the AAA which is another new associate sponsor. Furthermore, Shell/Pennzoil and the Auto Club will back Busch’s Penske NASCAR entry.
Penske is motor racing’s most successful global entrepreneur with more than 36,000 employees and annual revenues exceeding US$16 billion. Team Penske president Tim Cindric says Roger himself and the Penske Corporation were key components in affracting and selling new sponsors.
“Without doubt it’s played a huge part We’ve had to look at things from an overall perspective rather than just a racing perspective, because I think the days of having a billboard running around a race track are over. We’ve approached things from a leverage point of view, not only in terms of our competitiveness and what we have to offer at the track.”
Building successful business operations among Penske’s sponsors is essential to the equation. “We’ve looked at how we service our partnerships for business-to-business relationships,” says Cindric. “We’ve made sure we can show results and numbers. We have to deliver return on investment and it becomes more difficult to look at sponsorships of any kind and say, how does that actually affect my brand?
“With the Penske world we’re able to return numbers that show sales and new business and added value in addition to what the racing programmes bring to the overall package. Some people use it to sell their product. Others use it for internal motivation and awareness. We zero in on what the end game is and try to figure out how to deliver that.
“Roger has built his businesses based on his reputation in racing. When you look at them they’re all related to the transportation industry and we try to hone the art of puffing sponsors together with each other to do business. That’s a big part of it.”
Cindric has no doubt that Penske is the best salesman in racing. “Roger has always been a visionary and he’s the guy you want to bring in for the ninth inning. He’s a great closer, he thinks outside the box and has a different idea for how to get there. He’s certainly the guy who knows all the pieces that go into the puzzle.
“But he also realises that no partnership lasts very long without it being win-win. Look at our associations over the years with Philip Morris, ExxonMobil and Hugo Boss. There’s always an end to these programmes, but the average length of our sponsorships is 15 years and that’s unheard of in motor sport Roger is obviously respected in the racing industry but also in the real world.”
On race day Penske is completely hands-on, leading his team’s pre-race meetings and calling the pitstop strategy for Power’s car. But it’s his exceptional business acumen and wide corporate reach that make Penske the man to beat.