2017 Team Penske INDYCAR Season Review

December 6, 2017

As the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Championship season dawned back in March, the attention of Team Penske’s mechanics, engineers, strategists and drivers turned to a familiar set of goals – winning the Indianapolis 500 and earning a 15th series championship for team owner Roger Penske. While the goals entering the season might have seemed the same as years prior, achieving them would be met with some new faces and uncharted territory for the organization.

In the off-season, Team Penske welcomed new driver Josef Newgarden, who had taken the Verizon IndyCar Series by storm in 2016. Newgarden displayed great toughness by recovering from a spectacular accident at Texas that season to produce a dominant victory at Iowa Speedway just a few weeks later. The young American driver was paired with Team Penske president Tim Cindric as his race strategist and the team hoped that would help Newgarden with the transition to the new team.

Though he was no longer competing full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Montoya returned to the team in 2017. Montoya was a key component to another “first” for Team Penske, marking the first time in history that the team would enter a fifth car in the Indianapolis 500.

With Simon Pagenaud returning as the defending series champion – along with 2014 titlewinner Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the series’ most popular drivers, Helio Castroneves, the stage was set for a season of memorable moments.

Team Penske didn’t experience immediate success in 2017 as the talented foursome of drivers and teams managed just two podium results among the first two races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

Despite winning the pole for two of the first three races, Power particularly found the beginning of the 2017 campaign to be challenging as his quest for a second Astor Cup trophy commenced. Power experienced engine issues in the season opener at St. Pete and a cut tire while leading the closing stages of the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Although the speedy Australian was forced to pit from the lead at Barber, there to take the reigns and capture his first checkered flag for his new team was Newgarden, driving the No. 2 Fitgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet.

The Tennessee native claimed the first victory of the season for Team Penske, loudly announcing his presence as a championship contender. Pagenaud, the reigning titleholder, delivered a message to those in the series chasing his crown the following week at Phoenix Raceway as he led 116 laps in the Menards Chevy to produce his first victory of the season. The four Team Penske drivers combined to lead every lap of the race, as they finished in first, second, fourth and ninth place, respectively.

Riding a wave of two consecutive victories, Team Penske entered the most important month of the INDYCAR calendar with momentum on its side, but a monumental task faced them in the shadows of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) Pagoda. For the first time in the 51-year history of Team Penske, five drivers would compete for Roger Penske’s team at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

With Montoya back on board for the Indy Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, the stage was set for the team to extend its record number of Indy 500 victories to 17. Will Power won his second race on the IMS road course for Team Penske’s third consecutive victory on the season and in the Indy Grand Prix itself. The win was the 30th career victory for Power and thrust him back into the championship conversation. When the teams switched from the 14-turn infield road course to the iconic oval, they found the challenge a little steeper, however.

There was no questioning the strength of Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevy pit crew. Consistently one of the fastest units on pit lane during series races, the team led by chief mechanic Matt Jonsson won the prestigious Indianapolis Pit Stop Competition, representing the 17th overall win for Team Penske and third consecutive in the popular Carburetion Day event.

A Team Penske victory in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 was not meant to be, although Castroneves came painfully close to winning his fourth Baby Borg Warner trophy. The veteran Brazilian driver used his drafting expertise in the Shell Fuel Rewards Chevy to duel with eventual race winner Takuma Sato, creating one of the most thrilling finishes in the history of the century old event. Though the team was not able to produce wins in two of the most important events on the calendar – the Indy 500 and Chevy Dual in Detroit doubleheader on Belle Isle, the four Team Penske teams strengthened from the experienced and prepared for a championship assault through the summer months. 

Power recorded his second victory of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 180 of 248 laps in the Verizon Chevrolet a crash-filled race that also saw Pagenaud earn a spot on the podium. At Road America, the team swept the top four starting spots with Castroneves leading the charge and winning his 50th career pole position. While Team Penske went 1-2-3-4 in qualifying, it finished the race in the second- through fifth-place positions.

At Iowa Speedway, Castroneves made history by winning his 30th Indy car race for Team Penske, eclipsing Rick Mears as the winningest open-wheel driver in the team’s 51-year history. Castroneves’ win in the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet was the first of five straight for the team, as Newgarden added three more victories to his season total (Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Gateway), with Power winning again at Pocono. Newgarden’s victory at Gateway carried added significance as the young driver made a daring pass on Pagenaud – his teammate and the defending series champ – for the win, which put him in the driver’s seat for the 2017 title and it came in INDYCAR’s return to the St. Louis-area track for the first time in 14 years.

Entering the final race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season, Newgarden, Pagenaud and Castroneves squared off against rival Scott Dixon in a heavyweight title fight at Sonoma Raceway for the history books. True to form, Team Penske split the race strategies among its cars to ensure it had all bases covered in the quest to bring home the 15th IndyCar championship in team history. When the checkered flag flew, Pagenaud drove the DXC Technology Chevy to victory lane for the second consecutive season at Sonoma, but Newgarden captured the championship after finishing in second positon in the Hum by Verizon Chevrolet. Newgarden joined Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr. and Gil de Ferran as the only drivers to win the championship in their first season competing for Roger Penske’s race team.

As a new IndyCar superstar was crowned champion, Team Penske’s longest-tenured driver exited the podium as Castroneves wrote the final script on his full-time competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series. But as quickly as one door closed for Castroneves, a new one burst open to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. As he prepared to transition to Team Penske’s new sports car program in 2018, while still competing in the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the Indy 500 next year, Castroneves won the pole position for Team Penske’s triumphant return at the 2017 Petit Le Mans event in early October.

In total, the remarkable 2017 INDYCAR season consisted of 10 wins, 11 pole positions, 41 top-five and 56 top-10 finishes – statistics that would become part of one of Team Penske’s most successful seasons in its storied history.