INDIANAPOLIS — While INDYCAR enjoyed several intriguing stories during this year’s NTT IndyCar Series season, the blockbuster came after the season when Roger Penske announced that Penske Corporation would be acquiring Indianapolis Motor Speedway, INDYCAR and additional Hulman & Company holdings.
The November announcement was no doubt the most captivating story of 2019 for INDYCAR, but it also ranked among the top stories in all of motorsports with its worldwide interest.
Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in dilapidated condition in November 1945 and turned it into one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. Over the past 75 years, Hulman and his family have reshaped the facility and hosted Indy cars, NASCAR, Formula One, MotoGP, major golf tournaments and concerts, among other events.
The official sale is scheduled for early January and most expect the impact Penske will have on the sport and the famed track in the future could be even greater than his record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.
With the Penske acquisition news leading the way, here’s a look at INDYCAR’s top stories of the year:
- Penske acquires IMS, INDYCAR: Tony George, Hulman & Company’s Chairman of the Board, said he first approached Roger Penske about buying the company’s assets on the final day of the NTT IndyCar Series season, which was Sept. 22 in Monterey, Calif., at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Private, highly confidential meetings were held over the next six weeks, with only a handful of executives included in the negotiations. Penske seemed genuinely pleased that one of the biggest secrets in motorsports history held until the deal was formally announced Monday, Nov. 4, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- INDYCAR introduces Aeroscreen, hybrid technology: INDYCAR announced a partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies during the Indy 500 race weekend for the development and implementation of an Aeroscreen for enhanced driver cockpit protection. The safety innovation, which will make its competition debut at the outset of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, consists of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework that encompasses the cockpit. The Aeroscreen had its first on-track test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power, who both considered the initial outing a success. Other tests followed at Barber Motorsports Park, Richmond Raceway and Sebring International Raceway. The Aeroscreen has been described by INDYCAR President Jay Frye as “a game-changer.” For 2022, INDYCAR, in partnership with Chevrolet and Honda, will implement a single-source hybrid system in its race cars. In keeping with INDYCAR’s history of integrating innovation into the sport, the hybrid powertrain will mark the first time that vehicles will depart from the traditional, manual hand-held electric starters to a hybrid component that can be activated by the driver from the cockpit. Additionally, engines are targeted to exceed 900 horsepower.
- NBC airs its first Indianapolis 500, becomes exclusive home of the NTT IndyCar Series: The 500 had been on ABC since 1965, so that alone made the switch to NBC newsworthy. But NBC also significantly increased exposure for the NTT IndyCar Series through its first of a multiyear deal. Eight races were shown live on network television, three more than in 2018, and fans enjoyed action of all on-track activity via NBC Sports Gold, a leading direct-to-consumer product. Another positive was the inclusion of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in NBC’s “Championship Season” marketing campaign.
- NTT joins as the series’ title sponsor: The signing of a multiyear agreement with the global information technology and communications leader was executed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The agreement affords INDYCAR the opportunity to benefit from NTT’s digital innovations, including the evolution of the INDYCAR Mobile App and integration of NTT’s proprietary Smart Platform.
- Newgarden wins four races, captures second series championship: Josef Newgarden won a season-high four races en route to his second series crown in three years with Team Penske. He also joined Sam Hornish Jr. as the only Americans to win multiple series crowns since Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Newgarden jumped to the top spot in the standings by winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and relinquished the position only once – after Simon Pagenaud won the 500 – to effectively go wire-to-wire against a strong field.
- Pagenaud has a history-making Month of May in Indianapolis: For the first time, the same driver won all three major Indianapolis Motor Speedway events in May: the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole and the 500 itself. In the 500, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud led 116 of the 200 laps and outdueled Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport in the final laps to become the first Frenchman to win the race since Rene Thomas in 1914. Pagenaud also became the first pole winner to win the 500 since Helio Castroneves in 2009.
- Juncos/Kaiser bump McLaren/Alonso from Indianapolis 500 field: Who imagined Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Champion who ran so well in the 500 in 2017, failing to earn a spot in his return? Or revered McLaren, which came to Indy with its own program for the first time in this era of the sport, also going home early with Alonso? But the orange No. 66 Chevrolet was in a precarious position in the final minutes of qualifying, and Kyle Kaiser, driving for the small, part-time Juncos Racing team, ran four laps fast enough to make the show in a thrilling David-vs.-Goliath matchup.
- History-setting Herta leads stout rookie class: Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing made the first emphatic statement by winning the season’s second race, the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, to become the youngest race winner in INDYCAR history at 18 years, 11 months, 25 days. Herta added another victory in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing won the season’s Rookie-of-the-Year Award on the strength of two top-three and six top-five finishes while the Indianapolis 500’s top-finishing rookie, Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing, produced three fourth-place finishes in addition to a seventh at Indy. Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports finished second in the second Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix race while Carlin’s Pato O’Ward put on a show at COTA in finishing eighth. Ben Hanley of DragonSpeed, a part-time team making only its third INDYCAR start, delivered a strong effort at the 500, qualifying 27th.
- McLaren, SPM merge, hire O’Ward and Askew: McLaren, with its Formula One pedigree and rich history, announced in August its full-time return to Indy car competition in a partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The team was rebranded Arrow McLaren Racing SP and also announced a partnership with Chevrolet. More change followed with the 2019 driving tandem of James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson being replaced by Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, the two most recent series champions of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. At 23 and 20 years, respectively, Askew, the 2019 champion, and O’Ward, the ’18 champ, form the youngest pairing in the series.
- Rossi re-signs with Andretti Autosport: The 28-year-old Alexander Rossi could have become a highly sought-after free agent with a number of enticing options, but he decided to re-sign with Andretti Autosport in July. In addition to announcing a multi-year deal with Rossi, Andretti Autosport also announced a renewal with Honda. The Rossi-Honda tandem was strong in 2019, with the Californian finishing third in the NTT IndyCar Series championship, which was the top finish for the engine manufacturer. He also delivered dominating wins at Long Beach and Road America, leading an impressive 134 of the combined 140 laps, and a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.