Team Penske INDYCAR Season Review

October 9, 2015

It didn’t turn out the way Team Penske expected -- or even the way it should have, given the overall speed shown -- but the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season offered hope to the team for the 2016 season.

    Three of Team Penske’s four drivers finished among the top five in the final standings, while claiming a record 16th Indianapolis 500 victory with driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The team consistently showed great speed by scoring 13 Verizon P1 Pole Awards in 16 races. But a championship that slipped away in the final race was, by the team’s high standards, a disappointment.

“Our cars had speed all year; we just didn’t get the results we expected,” Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. “The results weren’t in step with where you would expect based on the speed of the cars and the performance of the team overall. When you have three cars in the top five, usually it’s not a bad year. But we aim a little higher.”

The highlight of the season, of course, was Montoya’s second Indianapolis 500 victory, which expanded Team Penske’s legacy as the most successful team in the history of the famous race. Montoya, who won at Indy as a rookie in 2000, embarked on a career path that took him to Formula One and NASCAR before returning to the race with Team Penske in 2014. He finished fifth in his return, then won it again in May to sport an impressive .666 winning percentage. 

Throughout the month of May, Montoya was impressed by his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and the preparation of his crew. So impressed, in fact, that he felt even a disappointing finish would still offer a good result.

“Coming in here, I thought, ‘If we blow this, we’re still going to be fifth,’” Montoya said the day after winning the race. “That’s what I told all the guys. I told them this was the best car I’ve ever had.”

From the perspective of Montoya’s victory at Indianapolis, then, the 2015 season could be considered a success. The team’s primary goal each season is to win the race, a goal they accomplished for the first time since 2009 when Helio Castroneves won it for the third time in his career.

“We always say that if you have one goal for the season, it’s to win the Indianapolis 500,” Cindric said. “That for us has always been the biggest thing. We hadn’t been able to accomplish that in the past couple of years. From a Team Penske perspective, you could say there was a bit of a drought there. To be able to bring that race home and run 1-2 at Indianapolis was, without a doubt, the highlight. We accomplished our No. 1 goal for the year.” 

There were other strong numbers and solid performances throughout the 2015 season. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Team Penske easily won the most pole positions for the year. Aside from Montoya’s triumph at Indy were his win in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., and Will Power’s victory in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. But there were opportunities for more wins. Many of the disappointments were beyond the team’s control. Crashes, untimely caution periods and bad weather -- things Cindric categorizes as “circumstantial” -- kept the team from further success. A few less bad circumstances, and the results would’ve been different. That alone offers hope for the 2016 season.

“I don’t feel like there are any large gaps that we need to fill,” Cindric said. “In the first part of the season, there were a lot of things that typically don’t happen, whether it was the weather or debris cautions or things that aren’t typical. I feel like from a team perspective -- the drivers and the entire group -- we just need to refine where we are and not change things in a big way. I think we’ll continue to show speed and hopefully start showing results at the end of the day. They don’t have to be a lot better. They just have to be a little bit better than the competition.”

Here’s a closer look at the individual performances by Team Penske’s four drivers in 2015:

Juan Pablo Montoya – No. 2 Verizon/Hawk Performance Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet

    His season-opening triumph at St. Petersburg gave him a points lead he held all season until contact in the final race at Sonoma when contact with teammate, Will Power, put him in the position of trying to regain the lead. He ended the race tied in points with Scott Dixon, who won the championship based on the tiebreaker of most victories (three to two) during the season.

Still, Montoya’s year was remarkable in its consistency. Following the opening win at St. Pete, he scored a top-five at NOLA Motorsports Park, finished third at both Long Beach and the Indianapolis Grand Prix, won the 500, recorded topfives on three ovals -- Texas, Fontana and Milwaukee -- and finished third at Pocono Raceway.

“We knew going into Sonoma that anything could happen,” Montoya said after the race. “It sucks to finish second after leading the points for the whole year, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we had a great season. I really think that this No. 2 Verizon Chevy team will hit its stride in 2016.”

Will Power - No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet

He was the team’s qualifying ace, as usual, winning six Verizon P1 Pole Awards to bring his career total to 43. Power, the 2014 series champ, also surged late in the season to finish third in the final standings, 59 points off the pace.

The highlight of the season was his effort in both races at Indianapolis -- his win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and his battle with Montoya over the late laps during the Indy 500. There, Power and Montoya exchanged the lead four times during the final 12 laps, with Montoya eventually prevailing.

“I really fought hard to make sure I was leading all the time,” Power said after the Indy 500. “If the car wasn't in balance, I would have had no shot at him. Still, Team Penske finishing 1-2 is pretty good and I’m confident that that this Verizon Chevy team will get a 500 win soon.”

Helio Castroneves - No. 3 Hitachi/Shell-Pennzoil/AAA Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet

Like Power, Castroneves was strong in qualifying, winning pole positions at Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway. While he didn’t win a race, he stayed in the championship battle throughout the season with consistent performances.

Among the highlights were runner-up finishes at NOLA, Long Beach and Milwaukee, as well as podium finishes at Texas and Toronto. In all, Castroneves had six top-five finishes and nine top10s. He finished fifth in the final standings, the 11th time in his 15-year career that Castroneves has finished among the top five in the final standings.

Now, at the age of 40, Castroneves is preparing for another run at a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 and the championship that is his ultimate goal.

“I'm a competitive guy,” said Castroneves. “When I go out there, I want to beat everybody else. When these young guys show me different routes, hey, it's up to you to keep your mind open. I do believe this is one of the strengths that I have. Sometimes I am stubborn, but I try to make myself improve. … That’s what keeps me going. It's not about age for me. Age is just a number. I’m having fun with my No. 3 Chevy team and we are still competitive.”

Simon Pagenaud - No. 22 Avaya/HP/PPG/Penske Truck Rental Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet

Prior to the start of the 2015 season the goals were lofty for Simon Pagenaud and his newly-formed team. However, if the 2015 season could be defined by circumstances, Pagenaud would be the one most affected. He showed speed throughout the season, but suffered several times from incidents beyond his control. The result was an 11th-place finish in the final standings.

Pagenaud finished on the podium twice -- at Mid-Ohio and in the first race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans at Belle Isle Park -- and led 132 laps. In addition he completed 98.6 percent of the 2,232 laps during the 2015 season, but circumstances derailed strong performances at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono. He led substantial portions of each race, but encountered issues that kept him from victory.

“There are things I can’t control,” Pagenaud said. “What I can control is my own performance with my own race car. I can drive better, communicate better and do everything I can to improve. We have everything here at Team Penske we need to do well.”