Penske IndyCar team’s ‘cheating’ and racing’s other biggest scandals

Indycar Racing News

IndyCar institution Penske and its drivers have become mired in controversy after illegally using an engine boost system to vault itself to victory – here are some of racing's other biggest cheat scandals

2 Josef Newgarden St Petersburg IndyCar race Penske 2024

Penske, Newgarden and his team-mates have been punished for a serious rules infraction


The world of IndyCar racing has been rocked by the news that the Penske team – whose boss, Roger Penske, also owns the series and its crown jewel Indianapolis circuit – appears to have been caught openly breaking its sporting and technical rules.

During the opening round of the 2024 season at St Petersburg, both its race-winner Josef Newgarden and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin used the the ‘Push to pass’ button – IndyCar’s equivalent of DRS, which provides 150-200sec boost of 50bhp – during a period banned by the regulations: on the first lap of the race, and the opening tour following any safety car period.

IndyCar found that Penske was in possession of software which allowed it to bypass the championship’s own race control system’s ability to turn the system on and off – meaning the team could use it whenever it pleased.

This advantage appeared to help Newgarden recover from fourth to the lead after a slow pitstop, while McLaughlin jumped from sixth to ninth on the first lap – but it’s unclear at this point whether the latter used the ‘P2P’ at this point. The New Zealander later put out a statement claiming that he pushed the button “out of habit” and did not gain an advantage from it.

3 Josef Newgarden St Petersburg IndyCar race Penske 2024

Newgarden has been stripped of his win


As a result however, both Newgarden and McLaughlin have been disqualified from the event, handing McLaren’s Pato O’Ward his first race win in almost 18 months.

Third driver Will Power was handed a ten-point penalty due to the fact he was in possession of the system, but didn’t use during the forbidden periods.

In light of the disqualification, Penske issued a statement saying that the software allowing anytime use of P2P was in place due to its utilisation during the testing of IndyCar’s upcoming hybrid engine – whoever this did not address why the drivers had used it during periods they were not supposed to.

In both 2022 and 2023 rival teams raised concerns that Penske was doing something similar, but this is the first time definitive proof has been presented and acted upon.

Motor sport is no stranger examples of apparent cheating and bending of the rules, with the myriad of technical regulations and sometimes opaque sporting stipulations meaning grey areas can be exploited.

Below, we look back at some of racing’s biggest controversies.


2008 Singapore GP – Fernando Alonso’s 2008 ‘secret’ safety car win

Fernando Alonso Renault Singapore 2008

Alonso celebrates victory in the 2008 Singapore grand prix

Getty Images

The shockwaves of the Singapore F1 scandal were so big that the effects can still be felt today – Felipe Massa is attempting to sue the FIA by claiming the fallout prevented him from winning the 2008 world title.

Responding the pressure from Renault’s threats to pull the plug on its F1 team if results didn’t improve, team boss Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds hatched a plan create a scenario in which they could almost guarantee themselves victory at Marina Bay in ’08.

The team pitted their driver Fernando Alonso early, in anticipation of a safety car period forcing everyone else to pit (with that taking less time than a race stop), which would thus shuffle him to the front on a street circuit which isn’t easy to pass on.

Related article

The wished-for safety car period then duly arrived – in on the plan, Nelson Piquet Jr was ordered to crash his Renault at Turn 17 on lap 15, bringing out Bernd Maylander and his Mercedes.

As everyone else dived in, Alonso found himself in the lead and duly delivered the victory – apparently saving the Renault F1 team. He would win again in Fuji later that year.

Piquet was told his job was on the line if he didn’t comply with the scheme, but was fired anyway partway through 2009. The Brazilian responded by reporting Briatore and Symonds to the FIA, who were both banned from F1 for a period. Alonso was cleared of any involvement or knowledge.

Renault ironically pulled out of the series anyway in the midst of the scandal (as a constructor, but not an engine supplier), calling time on its involvement following 2010.

In the Singapore chaos which had ensued behind a freshly-pitted Alonso, Massa, who had come in from the lead, drove off with his fuel hose still attached, forcing him to stop at the end of the pitlane.

The botched stop meant the Ferrari driver would finish 13th while Lewis Hamilton would win both the race and eventually the championship in Brazil. Massa now claims this directly lead to him missing out on the title – he has filed papers calling for himself to be recognised as the rightful champion and claiming £64m in damages, with the case still ongoing.


2007: McLaren and Ferrari’s ‘Spygate’ controversy

Felipe Massa Ferrari Lewis Hamilton McLaren F1 2007

McLaren was penalised after coming into possession of Ferrari documents due to a Scuderia employee

Paul-Henri Cahier / Getty Images

A year before SIngapore, a leading team had been involved in a scandal just as controversial – and involved it being thrown out of entire championship.

Nigel Stepney, who had risen from being chief mechanic at Ferrari to its race and test technical manager, was reportedly unhappy at the restructuring the Scuderia had gone through following the departure of Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher, its dominant ‘dream team’ being broken up – the former told Autosport he was “unhappy” with the new situation.

From the archive

Stepney was then dismissed by Ferrari halfway through 2007, before it announced it was also taking action against a senior McLaren engineer, who would later be identified as Mike Coughlan.

Coughlan was found to be in possession of a 780-page document relating to Ferrari’s F1 technology (apparently passed on by Stepney), which was discovered after his wife photocopied it at a shop in Woking, with staff tipping off the Scuderia.

An FIA investigation was held, but McLaren was found not have benefitted from possessing the documents.

However following the team’s fallout with its driver Alonso, the Spaniard threatened team boss Ron Dennis that he would send the FIA an email exchange between himself, Pedro de le Rosa and Coughlan – apparently in connection to the Ferrari information and how it would benefit the British team.

These emails eventually found their way to F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, with McLaren ultimately fined $100m as well as being thrown out of the 2008 constructors’ championship.


2005: BAR’s underweight F1 car 

Jenson Button BAR 2006 San Marino GP Imola

Button, Sato and the BAR team were disqualified from Imola ’05 and banned for another two races

Grand Prix Photo

In 2004 BAR had been the main challenger to the Schumacher/Ferrari juggernaut, finishing second in the title race.

The next year got off to a bad start however, with no points scored in the first three races.

Things began to look up at Round 4 in Imola though, with Jenson Button taking a third place finish for the team.

The positive atmosphere was soon wiped out when the team was found to have been running the car under the 605kg minimum.

It emerged that BAR had been using fuel as ballast, allowing it to race under the weight limit when it had less than 6kg of petrol in its 007.

The Brackley squad disputed a charge of cheating by saying the car couldn’t function with less than 6kg of fuel in it, but the FIA dismissed this.

Both Button and his team-mate Takuma Sato were disqualified from the San Marino race and the squad was banned for the next two races.


1995: Toyota’s secret WRC turbo trick

Toyota WRC Rally Catalunya 1995

Toyotas in the services park during the Rallye de Catalunya – the trick turbo restrictor would be discovered following this event


The Toyota 185 Celicia is one of rallying’s greatest and most dominant machines.

From 1992 through to to 1994, the team took three drivers’ titles with Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol, as well as two constructors’ crowns, with 16 event wins.

Its the low, sleek chassis and 2-litre engine 300bhp engine was 4wd masterpiece. Added to its speed, the Celicia had almost bulletproof reliability, making it so tough to beat.

Related article

In 1995 though, the Japanese manufacturer took its thirst for innovation a little too far with its follow-up, the ST205.

In a bid to lower speeds on safety grounds, the FIA instructed that teams would have to fit a turbo restrictor to their respective cars, limiting airflow and with it horsepower.

Not wanting to lose performance, Toyota found an ingenious way round the new rule. Its restrictor appeared to comply regulations under inspection, but when the car was used in anger, the restrictor would extend by 5mm, allowing 25% more airflow by passing around it, giving an increase of 50% more horsepower.

The wheeze was discovered by scrutineers at the season’s penultimate rally in Spain, with the team and and its drivers disqualified from that year’s championship.

Then-FIA president Max Moseley described it as “the most sophisticated device I’ve ever seen in 30 years of motor sports.”


1984: Tyrrell disqualified for its lightweight F1 car

Toyota WRC Rally Catalunya 1995

Tyrrell was harshly punished for its 1984 infringement

Paul-Henri Cahier

Ironically similar to its BAR predecessor over 20 years later, in 1984 Tyrrell was also found to be running its cars underweight – but achieved it in a different fashion.

In 1982 both Brabham and Williams had managed to get themselves up to the weight limit using ‘water-cooled’ brakes, which then dumped the liquid on the formation lap and allowed them to then race underweight.

From the archive

Tyrrell went for a similar trick in 1984, but instead employed it with a ‘water-injection system’ for its Cosworth DFY engine.

It emerged that during its final pitstops during the races, Tyrrell was topping up the system with water filled with lead balls, meaning it would make the then-540kg weight limit come the end of each grand prix.

Some of the lead was noticed to be shooting out of the system during the top-up, and the team was investigated after Round 8, the Detroit GP, in which Martin Brundle had finished second.

Jean-Marie Balestre and co threw the book at Ken Tyrrell’s team, disqualifying it from its previous results that year and not allowing it to score any points for the rest of the season – though strangely still allowing it to compete.