Penske - Indycars, F1 and the Company

Notes on a talk by Nick Goozee, Managing Director of Penske Cars, on the 8th November at the University of the West of England. The talk initially explained the scope of the company, and ended with a question and answer session. This contained explanations about link-ups and future participation with McLaren and F1.


The Penske Corporation is the 27th largest company in the USA. It is made up of the following subsidiaries:-

- Detroit Diesel. 2nd largest diesel engine manufacturer in the world, having 36% of the market. It is now amalgamated with Mercedes.

- Penske Leasing. 2nd largest truck and commercial vehicle leasing company in the world. It was purchased as a loss maker from Hertz in 1984. It has 74,000 vehicles across the US.

- Penske Autosales. Mainly based in California. It contains dealerships for Lexus, Toyota, Honda, as well as two other US manufacturers, and is the largest dealership in the world. It owns 27 acres of floor space in California, and sold 43,000 Toyota's alone in 1993.

- Motorsports International. Company started in 1992 to sell clothing with the Penske Logo on it. In 1993, it sold $200,000 of goods. This year it is selling $2,000,000 worth of goods a month.

- Penske Cars. Based in Poole, Dorset, UK. Employs 82 people to make the Indycars.

- Penske Racing. Based in Reading, Pennsylvania. The engineering arm, which maintains the racing cars during the season.

The corporation also owns the Michigan 2.5mile Superspeedway and the 1 mile oval at Nazareth, Pennsylvania. A new superspeedway is being constructed in California.

The Cars:

An Indycar develops the following amounts of downforce:

Superspeedway at 250mph: 3500 pounds, 1589 kilograms.
1 mile oval at 190mph:   4200 pounds, 1907 kilograms.
Road course at 180mph:   4850 pounds, 2202 kilograms.
This is due to the different amounts of wing used, although most of the downforce is generated by the ground-effects chassis.

It takes five months to design and build a new Indycar. 18 weeks a year is spent developing the aerodynamics in a windtunnel at the University of Southampton - by contrast, Tyrrell only uses the same facility for seven weeks a year. To design and build a new car costs 8.2 million. Nine people work on the design, the chief designer being Nigel Bennett.

Penske needs a very quick turn-around from its suppliers, a good example of this occuring during the development of the push-rod engine for Indianapolis. The decision to build it was taken in July 1993, and by comparison, a new commercial engine takes three years to design and build. The design was started in September, and the engine first ran in February 1994. One major problem was that the pistons kept breaking due to the horsepower loading from the extra turbo-boost - this happened fourteen times. Each time this happened, they rang up Ilmor in Northampton, UK, who redesigned, re-cast and sent out the new sets by Concorde so that they were available at the test-track within 24 hours of being contacted. The first time the engine lasted for 500 miles was the weekend before first qualifying at Indianapolis, and it gave out 1100bhp. The engine did so well that it was banned. Any new development such as this usually only gives you a two race advantage before someone realises what you are doing and copies it.

The cars have six speed sequential open-throttle gearboxes, and they are totally mechanical. The car runs at 1.2mpg, and due to the amount of fuel being used and the pressure from the turbocharger, every time the car changes gear you can hear a small explosion (this did not occur before sequential 'boxes). The first time this type of gearbox was tried, the small explosions kept blowing pieces of the bodywork and the heatshielding off the car. Some very shaky drivers emerged from this test....

Penske has an advanced telemetry system fitted to 64 points on the car, the ride height being measured by lasers. However, only 16 points are used during the race, these being for engine management, tyre pressures (these are mounted inside the tyres, and can detect a deflation of one pound - this save Penske from at least four major accidents this year), brake temperatures, wheel bearing temperatures, gearbox temperatures and engine cooling. These are all linked to alarm systems on the dashboard and to the pits. The drivers rarely use the dashboard these days, and gets nearly all his info from the pits to car radio.

While racing, the driver can alter the shock-absorbers, anti-roll bars and the "weight jacker" (this shifts load sideways across the car to even the load on the tyres). This enables the driver to compensate lap-by-lap for a decreasing fuel load

Questions:

Why are Penske based in the UK?

As it is the centre of world motorsport and all other Indy manufacturers are here (incidentally, a new chassis costs 650,000 and engines cost 110,000 each, of which you will need between 11 and 15 a year). England is extremely small, and is actually closer to Reading, Pennsylvania than some suppliers in California. Everything, including the specialist components, can be obtained within a day in the UK. US industry is inefficient when it comes to making things in low volumes, and has difficulty responding quickly enough.

Do other teams use Electronic Warfare on rival telemetry systems?

It happens more in F1 than Indy - it has been known for specialist jamming equipment to be used before now. All Penske telemetry transmissions are scrambled, although pits-to-car radio isn't, due to a request from the governing body, so that people in the crowd with scanners can listen in.

Are the cars completely built in the UK?

Yes - although only ever the first car of a production run is fired up and tested. Initial development, such as the new micro-telemetry system we will use, are done by outside companies. The rest of the development is done in-house. 90% of the car is made by Penske itself.

What measures did Penske have to take earlier in the year when rumours were circulating about a traction control system? How did it happen?

The authorities were allowed full access to the car to search for it. The rumours were started by Nigel Mansell, who was trying to explain the Penske performance advantage. He said that Newman-Haas knew exactly what Penske were doing, and that they would do it better. In pre-season testing it looked as though they had. Until the races. Penske 13 - Mansell 0.

Traction control is a very simple technology - you have sensors on each wheel to detect spin, and you cut the engine output a bit when it happens. It also costs very little. McLaren and Benetton were still using a form of traction control earlier this year via fuel management - they regulated the flow of fuel to the engine to regulate power.

How much of one years' car will be used on the next years car?

Hardly any, although F1 teams often use one chassis for two seasons. As the new chassis has new aerodynamics and you need to package everything under the new skin, most components are completely redesigned and made as small as possible. Only small things such as pedals might stay the same.

With Roger Penske's involvement with Philip Morris Tobacco (Marlboro) and Mercedes, and Mercedes' involvement with McLaren, will there be any link-up between the two design teams?

Yes there will, and discussions with Ron Dennis have already taken place - further talks will occur when he gets back from Australia. Usually, racing teams are shy about link-ups and technological transfer, but we already have links with F1 teams as we supply many of them with shock absorbers. We are not going fully into F1, but Roger Penske hopes to get more links and more information for Mercedes. McLaren can probably give Penske a lot more than Penske can give McLaren.

What do you use the pit-to-car radio for during a race?

We inform the driver of yellows, pace-cars or accidents. If the car doesn't work properly, a huge amount of abuse comes over the radio. Often the first sign you will see of something wrong is when the pit-crew all move their headsets so that they don't have to listen to it. Emerson Fittipaldi is very verbose at bad moments. Al Unser Jnr hardly says anything - "yup" and "nope" are usually it. Not a lot of information is transferred, due to other teams listening in, and accidentally distracting a driver by chatter when he could be in a battle. We do have a "pager" system on the car's dashboard. When we want to send him a message, the alarm on the dashboard lights up, and the driver presses a button to say he has understood it.

Why do you run steel brakes, not carbon?

Carbon disks cost 1500 each, and you will need to change them at least four times over the course of a grand prix, so they are very expensive. Steel is much cheaper, but it is much heavier - this creates a noticible moment of inertia when braking, which is why carbon brakes are used on superspeedways (this is also because steel has a tendency to expand and crack under such conditions).

Do you set the suspension as hard as in F1?

No. F1 only has about 15mm of travel, and there is a fine limit between bottoming out and running close to the ground, which is how Benetton got caught out during the Belgian GP. We use more travel, although on a superspeedway we set the car so that the driver can feel it running on the ground and then raise it until he just can't. We generally run the cars with 30mm of travel at road circuits to try and avoid grounding when going over kerbs, which unfortunately happens frequently, even though the drivers are told not to.

How did you used to do aerodynamic research in your earlier years?

When at Brabham, I was lucky enough to work with Graham Hill for two years. One time while testing, we took out a car with a load of pitot tubes attached to it - these tubes containing liquid. As the car drove around the circuit, the pressure would push the water back down the tube. When the car arrived back in the pits (usually after one lap), measurements were taken quickly as the tubes quickly leaked. This was repeated ten times, and an average taken.

Did the aerodynamic fin sported this year make a lot of difference?

No. But it was psychological and looked nice to the chief engineer! A car spends a lot of its time in yaw, and during windtunnel tests the fin made a very small difference - indeed, you hardly get a major improvement with one single item today anyway. The first race it was used, Penske ran 1-2-3, so everyone assumed it gave a huge advantage and ran fins. However, many teams could not detect an appreciable difference, and they started to disappear. And they also give more advertising space.

Is refuelling any more dangerous in Indycar than F1?

No. We have 250 gallons of methanol (which is less easily ignited, although it burns with an invisible flame and can be extinguished easily with water) in a tank six feet off the ground, and it is connected to the car by a pipe which relies on gravity feed. F1 apparatus is pressurised.

Penske Racing has a Nascar team. Do you have any input here in the UK?

A little, although we call it Haystack Racing. There isn't much you can do - there is a template of a car which everything has to fit under. Most of the time they race in amongst each other, so any aerodynamic devices have dirty air to work on and aren't very efficient. Most ideas we have come up with have been ignored - they rely on horsepower.

With the safety problems of F1, why do you race with only concrete walls as safety barriers?

It's because of American macho-ness; they think that it's great to drive at hundreds of miles an hour inches from walls and potential injury. The americans won't change the tracks to suit the cars, they would rather do the reverse. They would probably fill the infield with Crocodiles and shark infested ponds if they could! Fortunately, modern indycars are extremely strong, and major injury rarely happens.