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Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Never Stop Driving #101: Penske, again

By Vaseline May31,2024

Last year in my Indy 500 recap, I talked about how much I enjoyed watching 86-year-old Roger Penske jump for joy when his team’s driver, Josef Newgarden, took the checkered flag. This year was much the same, with Penske celebrating as Newgarden triumphed again in a nail-biting race. Only the man known as “The Captain” is now 87. Talk about thriving in your golden years!

The truth is that everyone who saw the race felt excited because it contained what every spectator wants to see: dramatic passes. Today’s IndyCars are so heavily regulated that there is little speed difference between them. The cars drive in tight groups and the drivers use the draft of the car in front of them to weave past each other. That means a lot of passing. So when Newgarden led on the penultimate lap, I thought he was an idiot because the second-place driver was able to pass just before the checkered flag. And indeed Arrow passed McLaren driver Pato O’Ward Newgarden on the final lap. Only he did that right at the beginning, which seemed too early to me. However, O’Ward is the pro (I’m not) and on the long straight leading to the final two corners his move seemed to be the right one. He drove to the inside of the track leading into turn three, blocking Newgarden’s most obvious path back to the lead.

At this point I should note that there is a wall running along the track and that both Newgarden and O’Ward were traveling at around 220mph. I should also mention that the outside of a corner is deceptively slippery than the desired inside line, because rubber thrown off the tires over the course of the race builds up into little rubber balls called ‘marbles’. Imagine driving over a set of mini ball bearings. That’s why you rarely see drivers passing on the right. Except Newgarden did just that, making an incredibly brave (and dangerous) pass on the outside of turn three. Announcer Leigh Diffey exclaimed, “This is amazing!”

After the finish, O’Ward was in tears; He was no doubt grieving his loss, but I imagine he also felt completely devastated by the way it happened. He never thought Newgarden would try that kamikaze move and succeed. None of us did that. The Indy 500 certainly delivered drama and heroics this year. Watch that last pass here.

It was a face-saving victory for a Penske team embroiled in a cheating scandal. On April 24, IndyCar announced that Penske drivers had illegally used a push-to-pass system (a short burst of increased power) during the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida, which Newgarden won. The violation was considered so serious that IndyCar took the unusual step of disqualifying Newgarden and retroactively declaring the second-place driver, O’Ward, the deserving winner. In response, Penske conducted an internal review, admitted guilt and on May 7 suspended four senior team members for two races, including the Indy 500. One of those suspended was team president Tim Cindric. They won Indy anyway.

Meanwhile, in Monaco, Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc won a Formula 1 race that was expected to be a dull affair… and it was, with the top 10 drivers finishing in the same order in which they started. Today’s wide F1 cars and narrow streets of Monaco leave almost no opportunity to pass. When a rare opportunity to make a move presents itself, drivers take enormous risks with often catastrophic consequences. That happened twice in the first laps. Haas driver Kevin Magnussen saw a small lane next to Sergio Perez, went for the pass and caused a collision. Perez’s Red Bull was destroyed. Alpine driver Esteban Ocon infuriated his team when he tried an optimistic move on his teammate Pierre Gasly, taking them both out of the race. The total damage cost several million dollars.

But can you really blame those drivers for trying? They are athletes, born with a hunger to go for it and an unwavering confidence that they will succeed. That has brought them to the pinnacle of motorsport. Sometimes it works, like with Newgarden. Sometimes not.

Just for fun: The Autopian published an article in Monaco with the headline: The most exciting part of the Monaco Grand Prix could be this out-of-control boat hitting a yacht on ‘Billionaire’s Row’

This weekend IndyCar takes to the streets of Detroit, and that’s, um, not Monaco. Hagerty will of course be there and capture all the action. Make sure you follow us on social media if you don’t already. And if last weekend’s racing smorgasbord has you completely full of motorsport, don’t worry: we’ve been busy off the track too. Below is a short list of the latest news from Hagerty Media. I hope you’ll take a look at these pieces and also consider supporting us by becoming a member of the Hagerty Drivers Club.

Nice weekend!

Larry

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