Q and A: Hornish Invited Back To Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 5 2010

Tim Cindric, left, says Sam Hornish Jr. is welcome to rejoin Roger Penske's IndyCar team for this year's Indy 500. He won that race in 2006. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

All Sam Hornish Jr. needs to return to the Indianapolis 500 next May is “raise his hand,” according to a top Team Penske official.

Tim Cindric, president of Penske Performance, confimed during a national teleconference that a one-off ride for Hornish in the landmark 100th edition of the Indy 500 remains an option for the winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2006.

“I’d love to see Sam run Indy next year if he wants to,” Cindric said. “We always told him if he wants to run Indy again, he needs to raise his hand and we’ll figure it out. I don’t think that’s any different than years past. I think the speculation is coming from the fact that he’s one of those in (NASCAR) stock-car land, and we haven’t been able to put a program together for him next year. I know that’s what he wants to continue to accomplish.

“That said, I know that the Indy 500 is near-and-dear to his heart. I think we don’t have any plans for that yet. That’s exactly right. If he wants to run the Indy 500, we’ll figure out a way to run the Indy 500 with Sam Hornish. He’s that good. But we’re certainly not ever going to force him into doing that or do something that would change his career from the path that he wants it to take.”

Pole-sitter Hornish shot past rookie Marco Andretti down the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s frontstretch to win in ‘06 by 0.0635-seconds _ the second-closest finish in event history. Hornish won the 2001-02 IZOD IndyCar Series championships for Pennzoil Panther Racing and the 2006 title for Marlboro Team Penske. Hornish, 31, exited IndyCar with 19 wins in 116 starts.

The first three-time IndyCar Series champion, Hornish moved to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series with Penske Racing fulltime in 2008. The loss of primary corporate sponsor Mobil 1 on the

Sam Hornish Jr. has invitation to drive in the 500 – the Indianapolis 500. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

No. 77 Dodge Charger has put Hornish’s status for the 2011 Cup season in limbo. Hornish is winless in 108 Cup starts for team-owner Roger Penske.

Cindric touched on a variety of topics during a teleconference held one day after Shell Oil Company and Penske Corporation unveiled their 2011 NASCAR and IndyCar line-ups and paint schemes. Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, will drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge throughout the 2011 season while three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves will wheel the No. 3 Shell V-Power-Pennzoil Ultra Dallara/Honda at IMS in May. Shell also will serve as associate sponsor to Penske IndyCar drivers Will Power and Ryan Briscoe.

Cars owned and prepared by Penske Racing have produced 332 major race wins, 396 pole positions and 23 national championships. The team also has earned a record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories and won the 2008 Daytona 500. Four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears’ victories in 1984 and 1988 were scored in Pennzoil-sponsored open-wheel cars.

Here are key excerpts from Cindric’s teleconference:

Q: Given Pennzoil’s great history with Penske Racing, and especially at Indy, is Helio’s sponsorship a homecoming of sorts?

TC: “Absolutely. We’re excited to have that association and relationship. Obviously, it’s far-reaching in terms of not only the IndyCar program, but the NASCAR program is a huge part of that relationship. Not only the Pennzoil association they used to have with Rick Mears and the nostalgia that that brings, (but also) the Shell V-Power brand is a very strong brand and one that we’re very proud to carry the colors for, especially at the centennial of Indy and Helio chasing his fourth 500. It will be special.

“I know they’ll continue to put more and more, I guess, awareness about IndyCar racing behind it, as has the IZODs and Verizons of the world that have recently come onboard to continue moving forward the sport.”

Q. Last year was a great season for Will, Helio had success and Ryan some. It wasn’t probably the final result you wanted. What’s in the plans for the coming season and where do you need to improve to win that championship?

TC: “Yeah, if we look back in our history, I think last year is one of the most successful years we ever had when you look at the number of poles and races we won as an organization. But we fell short of winning the Indy 500 and winning the championship. Those are the two marquee things within the (IndyCar) Series, the two things we strive for. The rest of it is building blocks for that.

“So going forward, the thing that we were most focused on for 2011 is ensuring we could bring the three drivers we have back into the fold for next year. It seems as though that’s going to continue.

“To last year add a third car (for Power) and have that car compete for the championship, we’re proud of that. Because for anybody that’s been in the business, it’s difficult to put a third car in and continue to keep a level of success. When that third car becomes a frontrunner for the championship, it’s something that’s important, for sure.

“That said, we probably were a little weaker than what we needed to be in the pits. I think we took two A-Teams and we made three B-Teams out of two A-Teams. I think we need to approach this year with three A-Teams in the pit lane. When we ran the Indy 500 last year, I felt like qualifying first, second and fourth is a pretty good feat there. We were very strong in the race, we just didn’t execute. We need to continue to execute when it’s our day.”

Q. Can you confirm that all three IndyCar drivers are signed and what are the primary sponsors going to be for all three?

TC: “I think, obviously, this (Shell-Pennzoil) is the primary sponsorship for what we’re going to have at Indianapolis. I think with regard to the other races for Helio, stay tuned. We’ll continue to announce those as they’re available, as we will with Ryan. I’m confident that all three guys will be on the track all year next year is the best I can tell you today.”

Q. So just to make sure I got this right, Helio’s sponsorship is for Indy only?

TC: “It’s Indy only. I’m sure you’ll see that livery in more than just one race this season. We wanted to announce the Indy 500 program and Helio now. We’ll continue to build on that. But I’m sure there will be more to come.”

Q. Helio thought perhaps he could win that fourth Indy 500 (last May), step into that upper echelon. Where does everyone have to improve for him to have a shot? Is it realistic this year?

TC: “Certainly I think his team won the Pit Stop Contest, sat on the pole, was at the top of the charts most of the month. Then in the race we stalled in the pits. Tough to fight your way back from that point in time. It comes down to execution. No reason to think we can’t be right there in the mix. I don’t see anything that’s going to change from keeping him from having a great shot.”

Q. Going back to the relationship you have with Pennzoil. It’s more than a sponsorship announcement. You have a technical partnership with them as well?

TC: “Both on the lubrication side and the fuels and that type of thing. Technology is very important to them. Some things are restricted from a cost perspective. They’re not only involved with us to have their name on a race car, they’re involved with us in an overall partnership in racing, that involves technology and that involves our businesses. We ship millions of gallons to all our different businesses. It’s an important piece of business that we’re in.”

Q. The offseason has seen the announcement that Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus are all going to join the series in 2012 as engine manufacturers. How will that help as far as getting rid of the “spec series” tag?

TC: “That adds competition amongst the manufacturers. You increase the awareness. I think it’s going to move the needle in terms of awareness and continue the momentum that IndyCar racing has now.

“It allows the manufacturers to continue to develop their technology. When you’re looking at direct injection engines, you know, regardless of maybe some of the constrictions they have, they can continue to develop that technology and things that work in that environment. That’s something that’s very important to the manufacturers. Competition is typically good. I think that the IndyCar Series has seen the pluses and minuses and how it will continue to benefit the series.”

Q. With Chevrolet coming into the mix, is it important for there to be a race back in Detroit on Belle Isle? Do you think it’s a possibility in 2012? Should there be an event in the Motor City?

TC: “Obviously, my boss (Roger Penske) has a lot of passion for that. The question is whether or not the Motor City and those related to that race are in an economic position. Roger got the ball rolling there and stood behind it all the way to the point where the economy fell down. I think the economy and how folks in that area were positioned, call it the mid-year point next year, if they can make the commitments that it takes to support that race, absolutely I think it should be there, as does Roger. It’s just really a matter of whether or not it can support itself.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 5 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    I’d love to see Hornish back at Indy, because it would only be fair for the ticket draw to actually have an Ex-USAC Driver on the Full Time Rolls and plus, he’s never raced Long Beach.