Penske Discusses Belle Isle And Helio, IndyCar Drivers Racing The Rolex 24 And Sam McQuagg

Mike Brudenell of the Detroit Free Press had an interesting interview (via e-mail) with motorsports mogul, Roger Penske. The enlightening article discussed the cancellation of this year’s 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and Helio Castroneves’ future with the team. The interview noted how Penske came to his decision to cancel the Belle Isle event this year due to the dismal state of Michigan’s economy. Fans maybe disappointed but Penske is standing by his decision, based on economic common sense.

Regarding the cancellation, Penske responded to Mr. Brudenell, “Postponing the 2009 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was certainly disappointing. The decision that Bud Denker (Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix Event Chairman) and I made on the postponement was disappointing also to the fans, our volunteers, the racing series, to our city and state, and for our sponsors. However, in the light of the economic environment in our region, it was the right decision at this time. Penske added, “The primary reason for postponing the 2009 Grand Prix was driven by the economic difficulties facing many of our local, regional and national sponsors. Over 50 companies supported the Grand Prix in 2008, and their support made the experience a world-class event. For the 2009 period, it is not the appropriate time to ask our sponsors to give to the Grand Prix when businesses and budgets are being tested like in no previous time. We felt that it would be difficult to provide the first-class event and experience that is expected from the fans, race series, teams and drivers.

However, the event is not dead, as the American LeMans Series had stated in a release last month looking to return possibly in 2010. Penske adds, “It is difficult to gauge the region and national economic recovery in 2009 as most people view it as a challenging year ahead of us. Our region, our businesses and our citizens are resilient, and while I am optimistic and hopeful that the economy will return to positive territory, we must be realistic and evaluate 2010 as this year develops. We should always remember that the Downtown Detroit Partnership continues on with its many important initiatives this year, including “Clean Detroit,” “2-1-1 on the Go” and the ongoing promotion of downtown Detroit. These programs have made a big impact on our city the past few years.”

When asked about making a decision on Helio Castroneves’ future at Penske Racing, Penske remarked, “We await Helio’s court date (failure to pay income taxes), which is set for the first week of March. Hopefully everything will work itself out so Helio is able to compete at the first race in St. Petersburg (FL.) on April 5. Penske added, “Helio is a great competitor who has provided Penske Racing with much success, and he is a terrific person. We stand behind Helio as he waits the upcoming date and we hope for a positive outcome.” The entire article can be found here,

Knowing Mr. Penske, many insiders believe that he has back-up plan and Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson lead the list. In regards to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Team Penske it’s driver line-up for the race. Ryan Briscoe was added to the car to be driven by Timo Bernard and Romain Dumas.

The Rolex 24 will have an IndyCar Series presence as the past two IndyCar Series champions and the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion will co-drive one of the two Target-Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the twice around the clock event later this month. ICS Champions Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will join Indy Lights Champion, Alex Lloyd in the #02 Target/TELMEX Daytona Prototype. The Ganassi team is the first to win three consecutive overall Rolex 24 titles.

Other IndyCar Series drivers entered in the Rolex 24 Prototype class include: Danica Patrick with Childress-Howard Motorsports (Casey Mears, Andy Wallace and Rob Finlay teammates). Ryan Briscoe with Penske Racing (Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas teammates). Buddy Rice with Brumos Racing (Darren Law, David Donohue and Antonio Garcia teammates). Ryan Hunter-Reay with Michael Shank Racing (Colin Braun, Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson teammates). Darren Manning with Orbit Racing (Kyle Petty, Marc Goossens and Leo Hindery Jr. teammates). Jimmy Vasser will co-drive the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Daytona Prototype with Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. Tomas Enge, who will compete with Alegra Motorsports, and former Firestone Indy Lights competitor Brad Jaeger, who will compete with Doran Racing.

Congratulations on Roush-Fenway driver, Erik Darnell on his recently announced engagement to Amber Moody. Darnell finished fourth the Craftsman Truck Series in ’08 and will be running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Roush-Fenway. Also, Team Penske IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe is engaged to ESPN NASCAR Now host Nicole Manske. Briscoe, who won three IndyCar races including at the Milwaukee Mile and the Petite LeMans at Road Atlanta, popped the question during a vacation with Manske in his native Australia over the holidays. The engagement was announced Wednesday by Team Penske. The couple is planning a wedding next December in Hawaii, a location chosen because it is halfway between their families’ homes in Sydney, Australia and Roscoe, Ill.

Sad news, Sam McQuagg, the 1965 NASCAR Grand National rookie of the year (now Sprint Cup), died January 3 at the age of 73. McQuagg competed in 62 NASCAR GN races, winning the 1966 Firecracker 400 at Daytona in a Dodge owned by Ray Nichels. After racing, McQuagg worked as a commercial pilot. He was a member of the Jacksonville Speedway and the Georgia Automobile Racing halls of fame.

IndyCar Series Media contributed to this article

Share Button