Q&A: Penske and Cindric on V8 Supercars effort

Roger Penske and Tim Cindric

Roger Penske and Tim Cindric

Across the last 14 years, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric have spearheaded Team Penske’s assault on the American NASCAR and IndyCar circuits.

In that time, five Indianapolis 500s, four IndyCar Series titles, a Daytona 500, a NASCAR Sprint Cup and a NASCAR Nationwide championship have added to Penske’s storied history.

Penske will enter the V8 Supercars Championship next season via a new joint-venture with Dick Johnson Racing, creating DJR Team Penske, owned 51 percent by Penske and 49 by DJR.

Penske and Cindric this week told the media how and why the DJR Team Penske deal has come together.

QUESTION: Roger, Team Penske has obviously had tremendous success over the years across its racing platforms. Why does it make sense for the organisation to team up with Dick Johnson Racing for this program and move forward with Marcos to begin competing in the V8 Supercars Championship starting in 2015?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, when I stepped back away from this opportunity, I really look at our business that we’ve now been developing in Australia.

We had the opportunity to race in the Gold Coast for a number of years with IndyCars. I had the opportunity to watch the V8 Supercars series. I know a number of the drivers, and obviously have followed the series for a number of years.

When I looked at our business – and racing has been a common thread through our businesses for many years – and I saw that the V8 Supercars would connect with our customer base throughout Australia and there was no question that with our interests in racing as we know our NASCAR heritage here, IndyCar, a chance to go to Australia and take some of our people an opportunity there would be something that we wouldn’t want to turn down.

Obviously when we look at the landscape coming down there by ourselves and trying to develop a team, we really said that wasn’t an option, and so we took the last four to five months really to look and see what we might be able to do, partner or do something with another organisation, and I found out very quickly that Dick Johnson Racing had such a great reputation.

I had the opportunity to go to the shop, meet Dick and meet the key people there, and it was obvious that we could have a good fit. We need a partner. We’ve partnered in many businesses here in the United States and internationally, and the chance to partner with someone who had assets, who had the RECs (Racing Entitlements Contracts) and had the ability for us to be able to join together and go in 2015 was the first step.

Obviously with all the drivers in most cases under contracts, that made it difficult for us to make a decision on just where we might go from a driver standpoint, and having known Marcos and from time to time talked to him about Australia, he said to us – “At some time I’m thinking about going back to Australia with my family.  If you ever want to run down there, let me know.”

So I took the opportunity to call him up on the phone and Tim met with him, and he said, look, there’s an opportunity, I’d like to be part of it.

This has taken time over the last several months to get to this point, and quite honestly we didn’t really want to go forward until we finished the IndyCar season and looked at the next nine races in NASCAR.

It’s a business reason, we love racing, we love Australia, and I think the combination of Johnson and certainly Marcos Ambrose to set the stage and the foundation for us will be a real opportunity.

QUESTION: Tim, you made some trips to Australia to explore opportunities for the team in the V8 Supercars Championship.

Can you talk a little bit about the competition in the series and the opportunities for Team Penske on the racing side and also how the organisational structure will work within DJR and Team Penske as it gears up for the 2015 season?

TIM CINDRIC: Sure. I guess at the start, my first exposure to V8 Supercars was really when we raced in Surfers Paradise with the IndyCars back in the CART Series in the early 90s.

I think 1991 was the first year that I came across it, which was the first year of the Surfers event, and there was all this talk about V8 Supercars, and the IndyCars were a bit secondary to what was going on with V8 Supercars.

I guess we understand at least from my perspective what was V8 Supercars, and obviously that was a long time ago, but when Roger mentioned to me that he was seriously considering some kind of involvement within the V8 Supercars Series in Australia, I didn’t know to take him serious or not, but then he told me about fellow by the name of Dick Johnson that was actually going to come across to have a look at our workshop in North Carolina.

I thought, okay, it’s a typical, I guess, tour of our facility, but never did I really realise how serious Roger was about getting involved. As he asked me more questions, it was obvious that I needed to get on an airplane and go find out really what the landscape looked like, which was why I went across to Homebush, and as I was in Homebush, there was quite a bit of speculation about kind of why we were there and what our end objective was.

A couple of the media had actually mentioned to me would we consider Marcos as a driver, and that stirred up things a little bit, and Marcos a little bit later had asked, hey, I might be interested in something like that if this is something that you’re seriously considering, and from then it just continued to grow.

We felt like we were serious enough to try and understand a bit more about the DJR organisation when I came across in June, and what I saw there and what I felt there was a very positive energy within that organisation, and I spent the better part of a week there just getting to know the people and getting to understand the infrastructure.

And what had occurred to me when I had first taken my position with Roger, within the Penske organisation at the end of 1999, it was a team that hadn’t won a race in two and a half years, and it was something that I felt very confident that we could turn around quite quickly because I knew that the people there had been through the hard times. They’d been through the times in which they’d had some successes together and they had obviously had talent, but they hadn’t had recent success.

So a lot of the employees that were there just for the success and weren’t willing to be there for the hard times had already been gone by I guess the time that I arrived, and I felt that same atmosphere existed within DJR when I was there, that the people that were there were the core of the group, and the core group was still very strong, it just needed enhancement, and it needed further resources, whether it’s monetarily, or more importantly, through management or through other people.

Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose

QUESTION: Roger, what is it you like most about Marcos Ambrose as a driver and someone representing your company?

ROGER PENSKE: From a Penske perspective, I think Marcos has the talent, I think he’s the ultimate road racer. He’s shown his capability racing against the best in this type of vehicle in the United States as a winner many, many times.

He’s a local boy in Australia, which makes a big difference, as we wanted a team with Dick Johnson, and the chance to have Marcos as our driver made a great combination, and he’ll be able to connect with our customers, connect with our employees, and more important, he’ll be able to help build the Penske brand in Australia because it’s about performance and it’s about integrity and it’s about winning.

To me when you put it all together, we couldn’t have a better combination with DJR and Marcos, and we’re going to try to provide input and bring our experience to the table, too.

Again, this is the first year for us. We don’t have high expectations. We want to be professional. We want to bring our expertise to the series. I’ve made a huge commitment there from a business perspective in the Western Star, MAN Truck distribution we just announced the purchase of Detroit Diesel and MTU Engine distribution. We’ll continue to invest in that part of the world, which we think is exciting.

QUESTION: Roger, while you’re known to be a great delegator, you’re also known to be a hands on person. How much time if any will you be spending in Australia with the team?

PENSKE: Well, I think from my perspective, I’ve had my schedule arranged where I’ll spend probably a week every quarter in Australia, and what I’ll try to do is time those when we have races and we can utilise that for connecting with the team.

But obviously I have a huge schedule over here which I’m committed to, but I think it’s our people, and again, that’s where Dick Johnson comes in, because he’s got to carry the partnership in Australia.

QUESTION: We’ve been hearing in pit lane (at V8 Supercars events) for some time that there were potential conversations going on with other V8 Supercar teams.

Did any of those discussions happen, and were they serious? And what role, if any, did Ford Motorsport play in the formation of the team and introductions and so forth?

PENSKE: Well, really we have an alliance with Ford and NASCAR here in the States, and when I made one of my earlier trips last year to Australia, it was arranged for me to go and meet the Ford Racing team in Australia and also meet Dick Johnson. I had that opportunity.

I hadn’t talked to any other team. Tim made the trip out there and had some discussions, but at this particular time, with our relationship with Ford and their ability over here, they’ve supported us, we felt that Dick’s relationship with Ford, the tools that he had, it would be the smart thing for us to do this first year would be to run Ford vehicles. That’s pretty much how we came to that decision.

And again, as Tim said, Dick had an organisation which had a core group, and we felt was the support he needed, and with the little technical expertise that we could bring to the able that we could have a great partnership.

So we’ve been transparent on the ownership, and I think that his people have too from what we’ve seen, and we’ve worked closely with them as we’ve been outlining this.

This didn’t happen overnight – there’s been some starts and stops. We thought earlier on that we were going to be able to just get a car and take a look at it. The league told us we could have that and then quickly was told after that that we couldn’t have a car and bring it to the States, which was disappointing.  In fact, at one point we decided not to compete.

But in the end I think with Marcos coming on board, we decided to push the green button and keep going, but this has kind of evolved here over the last several weeks here. This isn’t something that we had for sure six months ago.

QUESTION: You discussed the U.S. team manager (Jeff Swartwout) will be installed and new technical director (Nick Hughes) will be installed. When will that technical structure and management structure come into place?

CINDRIC: Well, obviously our organisation isn’t going to exist until the first of the year, but I would say that those pieces have already begun to start to formulate, so as far as when they’ll be actually on the ground within the organisation.

Nick Hughes from a technical direction, he’s been, as Marcos has, really a student of the series here in the past few months just trying to understand the integration, and from our perspective.

As far as the team manager aspect of it, I would say that, again, in the next month or two, Jeff would spend some time understanding he’s got to relocate his family from the States to Australia, and I would say that he won’t have an active role until we form our company at the end of the year.

Penske has enjoyed strong success in NASCAR

Penske has enjoyed strong success in NASCAR

QUESTION: Roger, we’ve talked about experience and expertise, but the big thing that DJR has been lacking is cash. Are you going in there with an open chequebook to turn this around to try to win races?

PENSKE: Well, I think if you look at our team over the years, the key thing we do is try to get the commercial relationships with sponsors.

The good news is we have a number of them that we do business with here in the States who are active in Australia, so we are having conversation with them at this point as we go forward.

We’re taking on the responsibility with the majority ownership to fund the team. I think that hopefully, and professionally with the team, that we’ll be able to fund a team that has the capability and the assets, not only the human capital assets but the cash assets in order to compete at the highest level.

Now, I don’t think you can buy wins. I think it’s all about the team effort and how it comes together. We’ve seen a lot of people come into the sport, I’ve been in it a long time, and typically it’s the team that pulls the human capital together, the assets, the human assets, that win.

Capital and funding is key, but I think starting out with Dick and with Ryan (Story, managing director) and the people that are associated with DJR, Marcos is highly motivated to compete in Australia, I think we’re starting out really in a good position.

As far as the second driver is concerned, I think it’s not fair at this point for us to assess Scott Pye or (David) Wall at this time because we really have just come to the point where we know the new organisation will have Marcos, and we’re going to take our time now and see how things wrap up here as we look at a second driver. I think that seat is certainly wide open.

QUESTION: Commercial backing, at the moment do we expect that the Penske owned brands, Western Star Trucks, etcetera, will take primary backing on one car, any car or both cars?

PENSKE: Well, I would expect that. What a great billboard for our commercial companies, V8 Supercars. I’m sure you’ll see the brands that we represent in some way, shape or form on the vehicle.

You might see multiple sponsors on our car or cars as we go forward because of the relationships we have here.

But also the good news is there’s relationships that Dick has with current sponsors, and we would hope that once this has been announced that we could have fruitful discussions with them and see if there isn’t any ability to maintain those relationships going forward.

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