Jay Penske To Break Some Ground Of His Own
The Penske surname is synonymous with “firsts” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a testament to the record-setting open-wheel organization founded by Roger Penske.
Cars owned and entered by “The Captain” have scored a record 15 victories at IMS since 1969, when Mark Donohue’s seventh-place finish earned him Rookie of the Year honors. Donohue gave Penske his first Indy 500 win three years later, with Team Penske’s most recent visit to IMS’ Victory Lane in 2009 with three-time champion Helio Castroneves.
But the elder Penske has been one-upped in the area of diversity by son Jay, a key player in the team aiming to field Ho-Pin Tung – first driver from the People’s Republic of China – in the 100th edition of the Indy 500 on May 29.
In addition, Dragon Racing announced it has signed former Formula One and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Scott Speed to drive in the Indy 500 and the IZOD IndyCar Series’ season-ending event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16. Speed will attempt to become the first American and third driver to compete in the track’s marquee events – the Indy 500, Brickyard 400 and U.S. Grand Prix.
Speed also becomes the first driver to confirm that he will compete for the $5 million “bounty” offered by Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s CEO, to any non-regular who can win at LVMS.
Jay Penske’s fledgling Dragon Racing is partnering with Sam Schmidt Motorsports to enter Tung at
IMS, where he is hoping to join Janet Guthrie, Willy T. Ribbs and Hiro Matsushita as barrier-breakers in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Ribbs was the first African-American to race at Indy in 1991. That same Month of May saw Matsushita become the first native of Japan to compete at IMS.
Tung will drive the No. 8 Dallara/Honda for Schmidt Dragon Racing when the Rookie Orientation Program opens Thursday on the 2.5-mile oval. First practice is scheduled for Saturday, May 14. Tung tested an IndyCar Series car last fall in Sebring, Fla., with the former FAZZT Race Team, now Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM). The test was funded by Bowers & Wilkins, sponsor of SSM’s No. 77 team.
Though entered by Schmidt Dragon Racing, Tung’s car will be prepared and staffed by Dragon Racing, which made its debut with Canadian Paul Tracy at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17. Tracy, the 2003 Champ Car World Series champion, started 25th and finished 16th in the first of a five-race schedule with Dragon Racing. Tracy will compete at Indy for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, a deal struck before Penske resurrected the team that began life as Luzco Dragon Racing in 2007 and morphed into de Ferran Dragon Racing last year after a merger with 2003 Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran.
“I certainly think we have tried to rip the rear-view mirror off and just try to look forward,” said Penske, referring to a deal with 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan that fell apart on Feb. 28 due to a lack of sponsorship. “It was a very difficult offseason. We had a lot of…I think we were very close in establishing a full-time ride with Tony and when that fell apart instantly we were looking to put together for either a limited run or build something again for the entire season.
“We were very close with Paul trying to get this whole thing wrapped up for a full season this year. But we got these five races and we are going to try to do our absolute best to add races as we go throughout the rest of the year.”
For now, Tracy will run for Dragon Racing on the Texas Motor Speedway oval in Fort Worth; on the
streets of Toronto and Edmonton in Canada and Infineon Raceway’s natural-terrain road course in Sonoma, Calif. That left one open-seat at Indy for Tung, currently in his second year as an F1 test driver/developer for the Lotus Renault GP team and its 2011 R31 car.
“I am very excited to take part in the Indy 500 with Schmidt Dragon Racing,” Tung said. “The support for me in China has always been tremendous, and it’s a great honor to be the first Chinese driver ever to take part in this special race, especially being the 100th edition. I realize it will be tough since it will be my IndyCar debut. But Sam Schmidt Motorsports has shown great results in the last few races at the Indy 500. And Jay Penske and the Dragon Racing team have proven they can deliver a highly competitive race car, so I am confident to have a good chance to qualify for the race.”
Tung started in karts at 14 and moved up through the open-wheel ranks, doing most of his racing in Europe. In addition to winning the Asian Formula BMW championship in 2003, Tung won the German Formula 3 championship in 2006. He has more than 20 wins in various rear-engine formulas.
“We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to compete at Indy with Ho-Pin,” Schmidt said. “He did a fantastic job at the Sebring test and I’m confident we’ll be able to get him up to speed. To be the first team involved with a Chinese driver is huge. Our future success lies in our ability to generate commercial interest in our program, and what better way than to have a direct connection to the world’s largest population? Also, the ability to partner with Jay Penske and Dragon Racing ensures a quality effort both on and off the track. Hopefully, the No. 8 will bring us tremendous good fortune.”
Sam Schmidt Motorsports was established in 2001 and is owned by Schmidt, who was paralyzed (quad) in 2000 after a crash during testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. The team’s best result to date is a sixth-place finish with Richie Hearn in 2002. Schmidt is no stranger to success at Indianapolis, having taken young drivers Thiago Medeiros, Wade Cunningham, Alex
Lloyd and Jaime Camara to Victory Lane at IMS as part of his Firestone Indy Lights team’s record 39 victories. In addition, SSM has qualified 10 cars for the Indianapolis 500 since 2001.
Jay Penske started his IndyCar Series team under the Luczo Dragon Racing banner with partner Steve Luczo, chairman/CEO of SeaGate Technologies. The team debuted at Indy in 2007 with Ryan Briscoe and finished fifth. In 2009, the team won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year with Raphael Matos.
“Once again, I’m thrilled to be part of the Indianapolis 500, especially for the 100th anniversary,” Penske said. “I have always had deep respect for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and couldn’t be happier in partnering with Sam. We look forward to an electrifying month as we work to get Ho-Pin qualified.”
Beyond Indy, Penske is enthused about working with Tracy, who scored the first of his 31 open-wheel wins driving with Roger Penske in 1993 at Long Beach. “Paul is an outstanding driver and we are confident this partnership will become the building blocks for something longer-term,” said Penske, who is operating with substantially the same 2010 lineup managed by 21-year-veteran John Cummiskey.
“We have got over 150 years of open-wheel experience in terms of the crew,” Penske said. “Even though we had a tough offseason, we were able to retain almost 70 percent of our core team, our chief mechanic, our team manager; the core group stayed in place. It’s great that Paul has been able to work with Eric Zeto, our race engineer. We are bringing the best people that we can bring.”
That certainly follows the Penske business model. Roger S. Penske is founder and chairman of Penske Corp., a diversified transportation services company managing businesses in excess of $16 billion in more than 1,800 locations and employing over 36,000 worldwide.
Jay Penske has been creating and running companies since graduating from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He is founder, chairman and CEO of Mail.com Media Corp., a leading interactive media and technology company supporting over 200 affinity brands and clients. He also is a co-founder of OnCars.com. Racing-wise, Jay is determined to put an imprint on Dragon Racing apart from his famous father.
“Listen, there’s a lot of different ways to go about these things,” said Penske, the youngest of Roger’s five children. “You see a lot of families and the legacies and traditions in racing whether it be Andrettis or Rahals and Foyts and people working together over time.
“I started my own business when I was at the Wharton School and continued to venture out, and in the automotive business, per se, or trucking business like my father is. Built my own successful business on the publishing and media side. The race team with Steve Luczo is something that I started trying to create a championship team; these things don’t happen overnight. It’s finding the right people and investing in the right kind of drivers, and this is something we are building for the long term.”
Penske reiterated that Luczo, who owns a minority interest in the Boston Celtics, remains affiliated with Dragon Racing. “Although Steve Luczo’s name is not on the car in terms of being with Dragon Racing any longer, I think he and I will remain partners for many years to come,” Penske said. “He’s one of my closest friends in the world, and I’m the godfather to his kid and anything I do in racing will likely involve Steve Luczo in some way.
“I think Gil and I still remain very close friends, and he’s out pursuing other opportunities. The idea here is Dragon Racing _ this is a kind of new beginning for us. And we are hoping that Paul ends his career with us; that we can put together a full-time program and continue to build for the future.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment