Penske: 2017 driver choice based on “longterm” prospects

Roger Penske has hinted that his team could change its driver lineup for 2017, stating that the philosophy will be, “What’s the best longterm decision we can make?”

Penske: 2017 driver choice based on “longterm” prospects
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet

With both Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya turning 41 this year, and with Josef Newgarden out of contract with Ed Carpenter Racing at season’s end, rumors have been rife that Penske would swoop in for the 25-year-old American.

Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Castroneves currently hold the top three places in the points standings, with Montoya 12th.

However, Montoya has won a race this year and finished runner-up on a tiebreak in last year’s title race and scored the team’s 16th Indy 500 win. Castroneves, by contrast, has not won a race for two years, but has been a consistent finisher all season and has three Indy 500 victories to his name.

Power’s contract is also up at the end of this season, although he is thought unlikely to leave. Meanwhile, Penske is thought certain to take up the option on the contract of this year’s championship favorite Pagenaud.

Penske told Motorsport.com: “There are lots of rumors about drivers but we never announce who they’re going to be until the end of the season.

“We have contracts that are up with our drivers at the end of this season and we’re having conversations with them, and we’re going to make a decision at the end of the season. But I can’t make a comment today about Newgarden or anybody else.

“I can say we’ve had a number of people contact us – not only myself directly but also Tim [Cindric, team president] – about wanting to drive for us next year. You might be surprised if you knew some of those names…”

Asked facetiously if one of those was Chip Ganassi Racing cornerstone and four-time champion Scott Dixon, Penske laughed and replied: “He’d be at the top of our list if he called.”

Commenting on the fact that Castroneves turned 41 in May and Montoya will turn 41 in September, Penske said: “From where I’m at, they’re young! You could say I’m a little too old to be in the garage area.

He went on: “All four of our drivers have performed. Look at Helio – he hasn’t won a race this year but he’s been competitive. At Detroit, he was well on his way to winning but we got caught by a yellow at the wrong time.

“What I can say is that we have to look at where we’re going to go longterm. What’s the best longterm decision we can make? But for now we’re having discussions with our current drivers.”  

Prospects for 2017

Newgarden, who has won three races, was praised by Penske, who said: “I don’t think there’s anybody in the garage area who wouldn’t tell you he’s done a good job – a great job. And we’re all impressed with what he did at Iowa; he led almost every lap.

“He’s experienced now, and has a lot of good qualities, and there’s no doubt he’s going to be a hot prospect long term.”

2012 champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Hunter-Reay is not available until the end of 2017, but Penske described him as “a potential – and we’ve talked to him in the past [notably when the team was looking for a sub for Castroneves, during the Brazilian’s tax trial over the winter of 2008/’09].

“Graham Rahal is another fast young guy, and there are others out there who could fill shoes here.”

Asked if he could at least confirm that Team Penske will continue to run four cars, for the third straight year, Penske said: “At this point we want to run four cars in 2017 and I’m very confident we will do.”

As recently as March, Penske said he would be prepared to run Castroneves in one-off Indy 500 entries, once the Brazilian retires from full-time IndyCar racing. Five months on, asked about the prospects of one of Penske’s current drivers losing their full-time ride but being entered in a fifth Team Penske car for next year’s Indy 500, Penske laughed and said: “Well, yes… We could run six cars at Indy if we wanted to.

“I mean, we’ve had Brad Keselowski testing an IndyCar this year. So yes, we could always run a fifth car if there’s the right guy available.

“But like I say, we won’t be making any decision until after the season.”

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