MOORESVILLE, North Carolina - Team Penske expects a seamless transition from three to four cars in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the addition of talented Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin.
It’s the first time since 2015-17 that Roger Penske’s fabled team has fielded four full-time entries in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. For most of its recent history, Team Penske has been a two- or a three-car operation.
McLaughlin joins a team that also includes two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden, 2016 INDYCAR champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and 2014 INDYCAR champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power.
What will make the expansion to four cars relatively easier is the talent being integrated back into the INDYCAR program from the team’s recent Acura Team Penske effort in IMSA. The sports car program concluded with drivers Ricky Taylor and three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Helio Castroneves winning the DPi title in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship last week in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
Although Taylor will move to a different IMSA team in 2021 and Castroneves returns to INDYCAR with a six-race effort for Meyer Shank Racing, the crew members from the Acura program will be spread over the team’s four INDYCAR efforts.
“United, we’ll be stronger,” said Team Penske managing director Ron Ruzewski.
Ruzewski, Team Penske president Tim Cindric and Team Penske INDYCAR director Kyle Moyer are analyzing the tremendous depth of its team personnel to create the crew lineups for next season.
“There are quite a few, but we don’t have a determination of what that roster is going to be yet, other than Jonathan Diuguid is going to be Scott’s engineer,” Cindric said. “Jon Bouslog will be on one of the teams, but we haven’t figured out who is working for who, yet.”
The fourth team for McLaughlin already has competed in an INDYCAR race this season. He drove in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month, starting 21st and finishing 22nd.
“We had a dry run doing that at St. Pete,” Cindric said. “We put that group together and saw what an additional fourth car would look like. We’ll fine-tune that a bit.
“It’s good to have that type of depth.”
The team is at work at the race shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, transitioning out of the IMSA program and getting ready for McLaughlin’s rookie season in INDYCAR. McLaughlin and his wife Karly have already moved to nearby Huntersville, North Carolina. McLaughlin is from Christchurch, New Zealand, and his wife is from Queens, New York.
“He’s from New Zealand but acts like an Aussie at times,” Ruzewski said. “He already has the attention of the paddock from his resume. I was working with Alexander Rossi at Sebring, and he said, ‘Man, he’s going to be fast.’ The competition acknowledges the guy is talented and he gets it.
“We would like to see him win races, but you have to realistic. I want to see him progress every week and minimize mistakes. I would like to see him on the podium. Ultimately, you want to see him in the top eight in the championship. That would be a success. You hope for more, but you have to be realistic in expectations. If we can get him to progress every week, get on the podium at times and make the fast six (in qualifying), good things will happen. But he is also going to make mistakes.
“To expect him to be a championship contender the first year is a bit much to ask. I want to see him improve.”
The increase from three cars to four gives the NTT INDYCAR SERIES another solid entry on the starting grid coming from one of the most storied teams in motorsports history.
“We’ve done it before, so it’s not something that is unknown for us; it’s opening the doors back up in those areas,” Cindric said. “There isn’t a lot there aside from assignments and how to keep the other team strong and add a fourth car. There is the trap of diluting the other three to have a fourth, but that is not what we want to do. It’s always been our goal to have four cars capable of winning.
“The biggest thing with Scott is keeping in perspective what our expectations are of him. Typically, we’ve had guys in the series that want to drive for us. With Scott, he is so competitive, but from our standpoint if he can run in the top 10, that will be a big accomplishment for him in the first year.”
As Team Penske managing director, Ruzewski has charted the road map for a fourth Indy car entry. The cornerstone for McLaughlin’s team will be Duguid, who previously enjoyed success working with Castroneves in his INDYCAR career.
“As far as the transition, there is enough people, and we are finalizing our rosters in the next couple weeks of who is where and what pairings of mechanics and what makes the most sense,” Ruzewski said. “Then, we are looking through the entire building to see what makes the most sense for the entire business and place everybody where we can.
“Jonathan Duguid will run that car for Scott. Right now, I don’t see us bringing in any outside people because we have enough talent inside of the building. We are 80 percent there who is going to be where, but we aren’t ready to announce it all yet. We want to talk it through with some people.”
The team has a fleet of Dallara chassis and an impressive parts inventory to make the expansion. Ruzewski said the team many buy one or two more Dallara chassis for 2021 for all four drivers.