INDIANAPOLIS (May 28, 2016) — Roger Penske has no shortage of help in preparing to pace the 100th Indianapolis 500.
There’s former winner Johnny Rutherford, the official pace car driver, who will take over once Penske drives the Camaro SS for the warmup laps leading to the green flag on Sunday.
Then there are the four drivers he has in this year’s race, including defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, who is aiming for his record-tying fourth victory.
“I got a lot of advice from those guys,” Penske said Saturday, “as you would expect.”
There is more to driving the pace car than you might expect.
Drive too fast and the cars can’t properly warm up. Ditto for driving too slow. So, Penske had to learn the right speeds — about 45 mph to start, then cranking it up to about 110 by the final lap, before hitting 130 on the back straightaway to pull away from the field before the start.
“We’ll be behind the parade cars for the first lap,” he said, “then we’ll start picking up speed.”
Learning the nuances of driving the pace car wasn’t the only requirement. The Captain also had to pass a physical, which the 79-year-old billionaire joked was no sure thing.
“I was worried. Am I going to pass this physical when I get there?” he said. “But flying colors. Even the doctor — I could read the letters easier than he could, so I knew I was in pretty good shape.”
Penske has had a busy May. Simon Pagenaud won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis for him a few weeks ago, then came the challenge of Indy 500 qualifying. Along with the on-track events, Penske has been feted for his 50 years in motorsports, and during the public driver’s meeting Saturday he received his “Baby” Borg-Warner Trophy for winning last year’s race and a special trophy for driving the pace car.
Penske won’t have much time to revel in the honorary pace laps, though. Once he turns the keys to his Camaro over to Rutherford, he will head to Castroneves’s pit stall for the rest of the race.
“Track position is going to be so important all day,” Penske said. “You just can’t be in the back and expect to win. So we’re going to run hard. Each of our four cars has a great strategist. So I think once the green flag drops, you know, we’re running individual cars to try to win the race.”