until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


This is IndyCar's worst-case scenario (with a silver lining)

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

What is it with hands and Team Penske this year? First, a fish-webbed aerodynamic qualifying glove in NASCAR - and now a button-pushing IndyCar scandal that rocks the series to its very core.

In terms of teams to get embroiled in a controversy in IndyCar, this was an absolute worse-case scenario for the series.

If you missed what has happened so far, Penske drivers Josef Newgarden (winner) and Scott McLaughlin (third) have been disqualified from the IndyCar opener at St Petersburg in March for using IndyCar's overtaking aid 'push-to-pass' on restarts, which is not allowed.

Josef Newgarden Penske

Penske blamed the availability of the push-to-pass on software that had been used for a recent hybrid test not being uninstalled. Its other driver Will Power didn't use the push-to-pass but had it available so his penalty is instead a 10-point deduction - along with all three cars getting fines adding up to $75,000.

For a long time, Roger Penske’s ownership of the IndyCar Series while also competing in it as a team owner was a non-story because neither team nor company had given any reason to question or criticise its intentions, in the sporting aspect at least.

But a scandal involving the team, not discovered for a month despite a high level of data being available, is only going to fuel the fire of those with an agenda against the current state of things.

Now other questions inevitably surface.

2023 Indianapolis 500

Was IndyCar’s officiating of the 2023 Indianapolis 500 - where it called a red flag with two laps to go instead of letting it finish under yellow like in recent years - really an effort to give the fans what they want and finish under green, and was it just coincidence it gave Penske driver Newgarden a shot at turning what would've otherwise been defeat into victory?

I think that decision was all about the spectacle and fans, but the fact it will now be talked about again shows that inevitably this St Petersburg scandal opens a can of worms - where everything Team Penske has done or has had done to it is inevitably linked back to Penske the organisation. Indy 2023 is just one example people will inevitably use.

Every onboard video is being scoured through from the last few years now as people wonder if this push-to-pass situation has been going on longer than we have initially been told.

At the core of fans’ questions now is: to what level was this mishap premeditated?

St Petersburg IndyCar 2024

Racer.com is reporting that the situation is more complicated than just the wrong software being installed, and that the Penske cars may have somehow bypassed the push-to-pass system, and that only a glitch in race control in the warm-up practice session led to IndyCar discovering the problem.

Now journalists like this one are scrabbling to try to confirm what Racer's Marshall Pruett, so often ahead of the curve in these situations, has suggested.

I do still have so many questions about this. If there had been some sort of ingenious bypassing of the control of push-to-pass, why was Power not using it?

Why did McLaughlin only use it for 1.9 seconds, according to his own statement?

And if McLaughlin and Power really didn't know about the software error, why would Penske go through the effort of bypassing the policing of push-to-pass and then not tell its drivers to try to make use of it?

After all, if you were a team gaming the push-to-pass system, it can only be activated by the driver and therefore not telling the driver it is available would mean there would be no benefit and you'd done all of this work for nothing!

There's also the question of whether Chevrolet could have been somehow aware - or at least potentially aware - because of the amount of data available. Its motorsport vice president Jim Campbell has issued a statement calling out Penske, distancing General Motors from the situation.

We’re unsure of how long Newgarden used push-to-pass for, but how little apparently McLaughlin used it and the fact that Power didn’t at all tells me this wasn’t a situation where everyone at Team Penske was in on a premeditated bending of the rules, and that there is a far more nuanced and complicated situation here unfolding here.

As my podcast co-host JR Hildebrand wrote on X, why would you do something so “trackable”?

Data is shared between the teams and Chevrolet and IndyCar in this case. Are you telling me that no Chevrolet team or the manufacturer itself combed through the data long enough to see an excessive boost of RPM, which would be triggered by push-to-pass?

A punching of the button for a second or two would be tough to spot. Hiding sustained push-to-pass use on the start and three restarts from other teams, fierce competitors that would all happily see Penske crushed into the midfield if it was possible, sounds impossible.

There’s a fierce rivalry between Penske and McLaren, for example, to be the top Chevrolet team, and there’s no way it would notice something like this in data and just keep it to itself. It just ended a 22-race win streak thanks to this disqualification, with Pato O'Ward the beneficiary.

So as you can see, too many questions and not enough answers have been raised.

Another one would be: is the penalty harsh enough? If this was an accidental software breach, then it seems fair or even on the harsh side. If it was more premeditated than that, is treating this as a one-race incident fair, and should there be a bigger penalty?

One thing we do know is that Roger Penske is clearly not happy. After saying “I didn’t like that at all” to the aforementioned webbed glove his NASCAR driver Joey Logano wore as an aerodynamic aid, he told The Associated Press of the St Pete disqualification: "Very disappointing, I am embarrassed."

In the same article Chip Ganassi is quoted as saying: "I’ve emulated Roger Penske for many years on and off the track, so today’s news is quite a disappointment for me."

It had been an almost perfect start to the year for Penske, winning the prestigious Daytona 24 Hours with Porsche (pictured above), winning the St Pete IndyCar opener and leading the World Endurance Championship. But that St Pete win is now struck off, and this almost-perfect start has been blemished.

On one hand, this is a crisis that won’t be forgotten in the short term as fans inevitably struggle to separate church and state; Team Penske and Penske Entertainment.

On another note, what it has done is provide the most enormous publicity adrenaline shot - albeit negative - for a series that has a lot of problems right now.

It’s forcing in a hybrid system in mid-season amid a general parts-shortage issue for teams, it's struggling to get teams to agree on a franchise system amid large grids it is fighting to contain - with two engine manufacturers spending too much money and struggling to supply the number of cars on the grid in a cost effective way.

And you have a mix of opinions on how to solve all that, ranging anywhere from ‘keep doing what the series is doing, just slightly different’ to ‘change absolutely everything in as radical a way as possible’.

Now the narrative has changed overnight, heading into the month of the year where IndyCar is almost unavoidable thanks to the Indy 500.

Josef Newgarden Penske St Petersburg IndyCar 2024

While it’s an awful situation for Penske in terms of the team and its ownership of the series, it’s certainly got a lot more eyeballs on the championship.

And while us journalists toil away to get more information and try to uncover more to this story, we await Barber this weekend where at least the drivers will be expected to talk - even if Newgarden is the only Penske driver not scheduled to take part in the pre-event media bullpen - and bring more light to this absolutely incredible chain of events.

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