Nearly a decade after Penske Racing decided to move its open-wheel operation to Mooresville from Pennsylvania, the internationally renowned team not only claimed its 13th championship but this year emerged with three of the top four positions in the title run.
Australian-born Troutman resident Will Power claimed his first IndyCar Series championship late last month at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Helio Castroneves finished second and first-year Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya placed fourth in the standings.
It also was the first open-wheel championship for Penske since its move to Mooresville at the end of 2006.
“Working inside this facility among the NASCAR groups makes it a bit different than the ones we’ve had in the past,” said Penske Racing President Tim Cindric. “Obviously, it’s something we’ve been very close to over the past five or six seasons. To finally put it together and know that we can do it with this group here is certainly very important.
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“But more important to me is to see how hard Will Power has worked at achieving this in his career and to know that he finally will be known as a champion. The most satisfying thing for me is when you see somebody reach their goal through our organization.”
Roger Penske’s move to consolidate his racing operations began in June 2004. That’s when he acquired two buildings in the Mooresville Business Park that formerly housed the Matsushita Compressor Corp. of America.
The two buildings totaled 424,697 square feet. Penske’s NASCAR teams were located in Mooresville and Cindric said it only made sense to move the Porsche sports car team and open-wheel operation there as well.
By March 2005, Penske’s NASCAR teams had moved from Mooresville’s Lakeside Business Park to their new home. Before the year ended, the sports car team had arrived from Pennsylvania.
The open-wheel team had been headquartered in Reading, Pa., since the early 1970s and moved at the conclusion of the 2006 season. Today, the first IndyCar team to call North Carolina home occupies 55,843 square feet in the complex, and Penske has found it beneficial to house his race teams under one roof.
“We said that when we moved everybody together under one roof we could cross-pollinize the engineering,” Penske said. “We have moved a lot of people from NASCAR into Indy and vice versa from a technical standpoint, even to over-the-wall guys. To me, that has been a real opportunity to be one team. It has made a big difference.”
For most of the 2014 IndyCar season it was the 33-year-old Power and Castroneves competing for the title. Castroneves said facing off against a teammate for a championship can be more difficult “in the aspect that whatever you get he will get as well.”
“But in the terms of the strategy, you will actually know what he is doing, of course he will know what you are doing as well,” said the 39-year-old Castroneves, who was the standings’ runner-up for the second straight year. “It’s a tricky scenario.”
Power joined Penske as a temporary driver in 2009 when Castroneves was facing tax issues in U.S. federal court. After Castroneves was acquitted, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner returned to Team Penske full-time.
Penske was so impressed with Power that he gave him a part-time opportunity. He won in Edmonton in 2009, but then was involved in an accident at Sonoma that left him with a potentially career-ending broken back.
“Coming back from that, it was just great to be challenging that next season,” said Power, who became a full-time driver for Penske in 2010.
A native of Toowoomba, Australia, Power began his racing career in Queensland driving a Datsun 1200 at Morgan Park Raceway, Warwick, and at Carnell Raceway, Stanthorpe.
After honing his skills in Australia and in some of Europe’s toughest open-wheel series, he moved to the United States in 2006 and became a winner in the Champ Car World Series.
In IndyCar, Power finished second in the standings 2010-2012 and fourth in 2013. This year he had three victories, four poles, seven podiums, eight top-five and 15 top-10 finishes and led 11 races. Power has 24 career victories and 36 poles in the U.S. open-wheel series.
“To win the championship, it’s been 15 years of hard work for me,” Power said. “It’s such a great relief. What made this really satisfying is I finished second three times and two of those times I had the point lead at the last race.”
Cindric began overseeing Power’s team on race day 3 1/2 years ago and said it was his driver’s consistency that made the difference this year.
“We finished all of the laps in all of the races with the exception of one,” Cindric said. “He has minimized his weaknesses in a lot of ways. Our consistency, our reliability and just our ability to get to the end and maximize our points were better than it had been in years past.”
Prior to moving to Power’s team, Cindric oversaw Castroneves’ operation on race day from 2000 to mid-2011.
“The positive thing for me (this year) was either outcome was going to be seeing one of those guys with a championship,” Cindric said. “Even though when the flag falls my job is trying to maximize Will’s points, if it went the other way, I would have been equally as satisfied to see Helio win his championship after all these years. It was just down to ensuring that one of those two guys would be a champion. Beyond that, it was either way and that’s a good position to be in.”
Castroneves admitted that, as a competitor, it’s frustrating to once again finish second. However, he feels that all three Penske drivers contributed to this year’s IndyCar title.
“We work together, we fight together, but at the end of the day we know what we need to do to make it better, which is the goal for the team and we think as a team,” Castroneves said.
Action Express moves into new facility
Denver-based Action Express Racing, which leads the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and Coyote Chassis have moved into a larger facility.
The new race shop is located a tenth of a mile from the old one. Elton Sawyer, the director of team operations, said the facility would allow them to be more efficient and to expand. The shop also will display the team’s winning history, showing off its trophies and cars that were victorious in the 2009-10 and 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Sessoms narrowly loses title
Stanley’s Jay Sessoms narrowly lost Carolina Speedway’s Late Model title to Timbo Mangum, finishing just five points behind the Lancaster, S.C., resident.
Robbie Bailey and Bandon O’Neil, both of Mooresville, finished third and fourth, respectively, in the standings. Gary Puckett, of Charlotte, placed fifth in the standings.
Mangum captured his first track championship at Carolina Speedway by defeating Sessoms for his fourth Carolina Speedway victory this season. Sessoms, who leads the Late Model standings at East Lincoln Speedway, finished second in the Carolina Speedway season finale.