Gordon Kirby

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A golden year for Penske

In its 50th season Roger Penske’s team looks likely to win its 14th IndyCar championship. With four races to go Team Penske ran one-two-three in the championship with Simon Pagenaud leading from Will Power and Helio Castroneves.

Between them, Pagenaud, Power and Juan Pablo Montoya won eight of the year’s first 12 races. As I write in early August, Pagenaud had won four races and taken six poles while Power had three wins and two poles to his name. Pagenaud led Power by 58 points, with Castroneves a further 53 points behind. Josef Newgarden and defending champion Scott Dixon were next up, but too far back to figure in the championship reckoning.

Pagenaud and Power have been the men to beat this year. Castroneves has been quick in many races but has yet to win while Montoya won the season opener in St Petersburg but has had a miserable season since then, with no additional podium finishes. With four races to go he was a distant 12th in the points table.

Nevertheless, this is shaping up to be Penske’s most dominant year since 1994 when the team won 12 races, Indy 500 included, and finished one-two-three in the standings. Penske’s drivers must win all four remaining races this year to equal that record. 

Pagenaud scored his fourth win of the year at Mid-Ohio after a fierce duel with Power. The Frenchman led the race’s opening stages, but Power was able to pass by running two laps longer on a load of fuel. Pagenaud later attacked Power and made a superb pass as the pair banged wheels, but team owner Penske was delighted with the result. 

“These guys both want to win,” Penske said. “That’s why they drive for us. Fortunately, it didn’t cause a wreck and that’s all we ask. Race hard, but don’t wreck your team-mate.”

Pagenaud joined Penske last year after three years with Sam Schmidt’s team. He came to America in 2006, won the Formula Atlantic championship at his first attempt and moved up to Champ Cars in ’07. He raced LMP1 in the American Le Mans Series from 2008-2011, winning the championship title with David Brabham in 2010. 

With Penske last year the Frenchman led plenty of laps but wasn’t able to win a race. This year, however, he’s been the fastest man in the field and has led the championship since April. Aged 32, he is an intelligent fellow and a smooth, precise driver who’s demonstrated he can be as aggressive as anyone. He’s a clear favourite to win this year’s championship.

Power, 35, has been racing Indycars for 12 years. This is his ninth year with Roger Penske’s team. He finished second in the championship in 2010, ’11 and ’12 before finally winning his first title in 2014. Last year he finished third in the championship after he and Montoya collided in the finale and handed the title to Dixon. Power missed this year’s season-opener because of inner ear problems, but came on strong through mid-season and appeared to be the only man capable of challenging Pagenaud for the title.

And of course, unlike F1 – where only one or two teams have realistic hopes of victory – many teams are capable of winning in IndyCar. Power and Pagenaud will have to fight not only with Castroneves and Montoya, but also the likes of Dixon and Tony Kanaan with Ganassi, Newgarden with Ed Carpenter’s team, plus occasional potential winners such as Ryan Hunter-Reay with Andretti, Graham Rahal with his father’s team and Sébastien Bourdais with KVH Racing. There will be plenty of opposition as Pagenaud, Power and Penske chase the team’s unprecedented 14th IndyCar title.