Penske Bathurst wildcard ruled out

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 14/03/2016
  • By Bruce Newton

There are no plans for IndyCar stars to be imported from the USA to mount a DJR Team Penske wildcard challenge on this year’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric confirmed the news during his visit to Australia to watch DJRTP contest the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars Championship opener.

Ever since Penske was first linked with a V8 Supercars program, there has been speculation about Penske drivers mounting an attack on Australia’s Great Race.

The primary focus has been on Australian Will Power, the 2015 IndyCar champion, who raced with Mark Larkham at the mountain back in 2002 as a 21-year-old and on the Gold Coast with Ford Performance Racing in 2010 and 2012.

His Colombian team-mate, two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, has also expressed a desire to race at Mount Panorama.

The IndyCar season dates do not clash with Bathurst, so the opportunity theoretically exists. But Cindric said a Penske wildcard was off the table.

“As much as we would like to do that we don’t really see that as a benefit for us,” he told v8supercars.com.au.

“It would be great for the sport, but also the drivers have to be able to come here and compete rather than just participants.

“Right now it is better for the series, but it doesn’t really do much for our organisation.”

Cindric said the decision could change in the future if the likes of Power and Montoya could “prepare themselves” for the challenge of racing the cars competitively at the mountain.

He used Marcos Ambrose’s failed comeback with DJRTP in 2015 as an example of how hard it is to make an impact in V8 Supercars racing.

And he made the point that making it easier for overseas drivers to acclimatise would encourage other internationals to have a crack at the race and not just Penske drivers.

“If the series wants international drivers and big name drivers at the events there has to be a way in which they can come and compete,” Cindric said.

“But when you see someone of Ambrose’s level who is that far behind then it is discouraging for them. And when you ask Juan Montoya to come to Bathurst he doesn’t want to be just a sideshow, he wants to compete.

“I think it is fun for people to see them there but I don’t think its fun for them just to participate. That’s not their mentality.”

At the moment the Harvey Norman ‘Supergirls’ team of local Renee Gracie and Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro are the only confirmed wildcards for next October’s 1000km race.

Meanwhile, Cindric was clearly encouraged by the performance of Scott Pye and new DJRTP recruit Fabian Coulthard, who claimed a pole apiece in their Shell Helix Ford Falcon FG Xs on the Adelaide parklands circuit.

But he was clear that he wasn’t reading too much into the result as yet.

“I am pleasantly surprised that our pace has been that good in qualifying,” he said.

“I think it is too early to tell in the bigger picture, but I think one thing that is obvious is that the two drivers are feeding off of each other, so it is working in that direction.

“It is positive that way.”

He acknowledged the pit stop error that cruelled Pye’s shot at a podium in the opening race of the Clipsal weekend, but was able to take the positive from it.

“I feel like last year at this point we would have been elated with a 10th place finish and when you are disappointed with a 10th place finish then you are going in the right direction.

“Obviously we made a mistake in the pits, but we can’t shoot each other, we need to just continue to get better and when we realise where our weaknesses are work on them week in and week out.”

Cindric said the goal for the team was be to be looked as a top five contender by the end of the season.

“We haven’t done it, I think having pace and being able to execute in the races we still have a pretty good gap to the Triple Eight guys still and even the Prodrive guys.

“The Triple Eight guys are the gauge; they have three guys who contend for the championship. So when you look at those, to be top five in that group is saying something.

“So if by the end of the year we can consistently expect to be somewhere near the top five we will get some results here and there.”

Cindric said he was likely to return to Australia for the Perth SuperSprint in early May. Team owner Roger Penske is likely to attend his first V8 Supercar event of the season at that time.

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