The more, the merrier: Large teams take on more for Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has spent some of his time in recent weeks familiarizing himself with old friends.

“I’ve seen Scott, and the engine guy, Harry, who’s in the shop,” Castroneves said, using his fingers to count as he rattles off names. “There’s Harry and Gary – and Rick Rinaman is here, too.”  

When your team expands from four cars to five for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, you become reacquainted with names and faces from the past. That’s the case with Team Penske and Andretti Autosport, two powerful, multicar Verizon IndyCar Series teams that have expanded for the most important race.

For its five-car effort – Juan Pablo Montoya joined series regulars Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Castroneves – Team Penske even brought back Rinaman, Castroneves’ former crew chief who wrenched Indy 500 winners driven by Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Johnny Rutherford and Castroneves during a legendary career.

“There are a lot of guys who have come back, which is great,” Castroneves said. “Even one of the guys from England is here. I don’t remember his name, but I remember his face. And Bernie from Roger (Penske)’s personal warehouse is here. There are a lot of people from the past here this month, and it’s great to see them all.”

In 2009, Rinaman was the crew chief when Castroneves won the pole position, the pit-stop challenge and his third Indy 500. The 42-year-old Brazilian will attempt to tie the record of four victories shared by A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Unser in today’s race.

Expanding an already large operation is a logistical challenge, Castroneves said. He praised the effort of Penske Racing president Tim Cindric for putting together the pieces.

“It takes a lot of strategy and planning,” Castroneves said with a laugh. “Cindric is pretty good at that.”

Meanwhile, archrival Andretti Autosport has applied a similar all-hands-on-deck approach for its six-car effort. Aside from Fernando Alonso’s foray into the 500 from Formula One, Michael Andretti’s team has added Jack Harvey to its regular lineup of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi.

“When it went to six, at first I was actually bummed,” Marco Andretti said with a grin. “I thought, ‘How could we do that?’ Then I found out who the driver was, and I said, ‘Well, we have to do that.”

In all, the sport’s three most powerful teams – Penske, Andretti and Chip Ganassi Racing – will comprise 45 percent of today’s 33-car field and 10 of the last 12 Indy 500 victories. Large teams aren’t only common at Indy, they’re also traditionally the most successful.

“Our team is a large operation, but it has carefully laid it all down from a management standpoint,” Sato said. “Having the sixth car is a little bit more work, but given the circumstances, I don’t see any downside. If anything, the media part of it for Fernando has been the biggest challenge. It’s a little bit all over the place, but otherwise, from an engineering and strategy point of view, it seems to be working flawlessly.”

Having a large lineup allows a team to affect different approaches to setup and strategy. That worked last year for Andretti Autosport when Bryan Herta applied a successful fuel-saving approach to get Rossi to the finish line first

“If we’re out to lunch on the setup, it’s good to have a lot of cars because you can take a bunch of different approaches,” Marco Andretti said. “But right now we’ve got a good baseline car. It’s good if somebody finds something else during the race, but I’ve been so focused on my program that I haven’t taken a lot from my teammates setup-wise.”

While a large operation allows for more data, it also has a unique drawback. If one of the team’s drivers nails it, the others can borrow – and become the toughest competitor.

“The team has done a fantastic job of making all of this work,” Marco Andretti said. “I have everything I need to go win this race. That’s all I can ask for. The only negative thing about it is that you can have five other guys in the race on your setup if you get it right.”

The 101st Indianapolis 500 airs live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 11 a.m. ET today.


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