MAY 17, 1999
What is Penske up to?
IT may be unrelated to Formula 1 but the recent moves by American racing magnate Roger Penske have led to rumors that he is up to something in Grand Prix racing.╩The 62-year-old has had a remarkable career which began as a driver in 1958. He was US road racing champion and took part in two United States Grands Prix before retiring in 1964 to concentrate on business. His empire in now worth around $6bn and employs 11,000 people. It includes Hertz Truck Leasing, Detroit Diesel and the largest Toyota, Cadillac and Honda dealerships in the US. In addition to Penske Racing - which has been a major force in USAC and CART racing since the late 1960s he runs a NASCAR team and is a shareholder in Ilmor Engineering. Penske is on the board of Philip Morris, American Express and Mercedes-Benz.
In 1974 Penske entered Grand Prix racing with driver Mark Donohue. He died after an accident in Austria the following year and in 1976 Penske ran John Watson, the Ulsterman winning the team's only F1 victory in Austria. At the end of the year, Penske pulled out of F1 but it has always remained unfinished business for him and he is regularly rumored to be planning a new team and has close links with McLaren.
In recent weeks Penske has begun making some curious moves in the US. He has sold almost all of his shares in CART racing and last week announced that he is merging his race tracks with the Bill France's International Speedway Corporation. This means that ISC will take over the running of Michigan International, Nazareth, Rockingham and the recently-built California╩Speedway.
We have heard a variety of different rumors including buying McLaren in partnership with Mercedes-Benz, but the rumor doing the rounds in the Monaco paddock was a convoluted scheme linking Penske with the purchase of Minardi in league with Toyota. The rumors caused sufficient ructions to result in a denial from Minardi.
Penske is famously secretive and so it seems that we must wait to discover what he is up to, but there is no doubt at all that he is up to something...
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