The only Supercars squad that Triple Eight supremo Roland Dane fears is DJR Team Penske. And with good reason. Dane is a big fish in a small pond. Roger Penske is the biggest fish in an ocean.
Dane is smarter, richer, better organised, more driven and has greater influence than any of the other Australia-based team owners. He also eats UK-based Ryan Walkinshaw for breakfast – at least on the track. But even Dane is out-gunned by Penske on all levels, except perhaps competitive spirit and hands-on involvement. Penske is a multi-billionaire American industrialist who owns the USA’s most successful racing operation.
Team Penske is a powerhouse in IndyCar and NASCAR. Add Trans-Am, Can-Am, sports cars and, briefly, F1, and in 50 years the organisation has won more than 400 races. Outside of F1, they don’t come any bigger or better presented.
Team Penske’s standards of preparation and organisation are legendary. They reflect Roger Penske’s personal attention to detail in everything he does – and his commitment to success. It is known as ‘The Penske Way’ and with some local fine tuning, the approach has transformed Ford folk hero Dick Johnson’s struggling outfit into what Dane now regards as Triple Eight’s most formidable opponent.
The power of Penske is what has Dane worried. During Triple Eight’s rise over the past decade, he has assembled the backing and the talent to make it the team to beat. It isn’t invincible, but no rival has posed a consistent threat. DJR Team Penske has the resources and, most importantly, the ethos to challenge and ultimately surpass Triple Eight. Since taking a controlling stake in Dick Johnson Racing ahead of the 2015 season, Penske has invested heavily in people and processes.
DJRTP looks a worthy contender. There is stronger racing management under biz whiz team principal Dr Ryan Story, led by ex-T8 design guru Ludo Lacroix. Future super star Scott McLaughlin is alongside fellow Kiwi Fabian Coulthard in a deeper driver pairing. And Shell is back as the team’s title sponsor for longer than a race-by-race deal.
Penske expects the team to establish its pair of Falcons at the front, regularly vying with Triple Eight’s trio of Commodores. Like Dane, he races to win and after two years of costly reorganisation, ‘The Captain’ expects race victories this season, if not the championship. No excuses.
Penske may present as an avuncular figure, but the reality is, he’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. He demands success in business and in racing, it’s just that he carries himself with such composure and style. His ability to remember names is uncanny. If he’s ever met you, chances are he’ll recall who you are, even years later. He can greet many thousands of Penske Corporation’s past and present employees personally, knowing at least their first names.
The personal touch that has been the trademark of his business and racing success, earning the loyalty of blue chip sponsors and major manufacturers, is exemplified by his hosting of the opening of New Zealand corporate headquarters in Auckland during a visit in late 2015. Penske welcomed every guest at the front door as they arrived. He is so well known and revered that he is feted by fans and luminaries alike. When he visits a Supercars event, he is mobbed like a rock star as he tries to move through the paddock. Or as one senior Supercars official observed, his presence is akin to a papal tour.
At 80, Penske is 20 years older than Dane, but no less competitive or passionate. He presides over the $26 billion worldwide Penske Corporation during the week, then attends IndyCar and NASCAR events on the weekends.
While keeping Triple Eight is Dane’s primary focus among his international business interests, DJRTP is run by Penske’s racing lieutenants on both sides of the Pacific. But that doesn’t mean Penske is an absent landlord. He conducts regular conference calls late at night Detroit time with senior staff at Stapylton and keeps himself remarkably well-informed. He also comes to two or three Supercars events each year.
Penske is committed to making DJRTP successful and Dane is motivated to prove himself against another heavyweight player. There is respect, but also intense rivalry between them. Make no mistake, this really is a clash of motorsport’s titans. May the best mogul win.