CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Roger Penske has always been comfortable fielding just two or three IndyCar Series entries a year. With Simon Pagenaud on the free agent market, the team owner was willing to consider expansion.
Team Penske this week added the Frenchman to its IndyCar lineup, which will have four full-time cars next season for the first time in team history.
Penske management had been aware of Pagenaud for several years because of his relationship with former Penske driver Gil de Ferran.
"That's where we took notice of what his capabilities were," said Penske team President Tim Cindric. "This has been the opportunity that we've had to bring him on board. If that meant changing to a four-car program, that's what we were prepared to do."
The addition of Pagenaud means that IndyCar's top three teams are now all at four entries each. Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport both field four full-time cars, but Andretti may be on the verge of losing James Hinchcliffe, who could be Pagenaud's replacement at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
"It's going to be an interesting season next year," Pagenaud said. "Feeding off each other is going to be an important task. I'm really excited about it. It's perfect timing in my career."
Pagenaud finished third in the final drivers' standings in 2013 and fifth this season driving for Schmidt. He has four wins and six podiums, and said he'd always wanted to drive for Penske, who has won a record 15 Indianapolis 500s.
Team Penske does not yet have a primary sponsor or lead engineer for Pagenaud, but nobody seemed worried. The organization also doesn't know when Pagenaud will get his first time on track in a Chevrolet — he's had a longtime Honda association.
"Certainly before the year is out, we'd like to get him in our car at some point in time," Cindric said.
HINCH THE MINISTER: When IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball was married last weekend, he enlisted the help of longtime friend James Hinchcliffe to make his union legal.
Hinchcliffe became a licensed minister, at Kimball's request, to officiate last Saturday night's ceremony in Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe took an online course to be eligible to preside over the ceremony between Kimball and Kathleen Thompson.
"It's something that Charlie, Kathleen and I joked about years ago," Hinchcliffe said. "After they got engaged, they invited me to dinner and said, 'Remember how we used to joke about you marrying us? Well, we've thought about it and actually would like you to do it.'"
The couple wrote their own vows, and agreed that Hinchcliffe could conduct the ceremony however he chose. Both come from different religious backgrounds and neither wanted a formal ceremony.
"For me and what I had been asked to do and by whom, I did a lot of research into what institution made the most sense and found one that fit well with the values of the people involved," he said. "In my mind, it's about the greatest honor somebody could ask you to do."
DIXON-SPORTS CAR: Chip Ganassi has added three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to his driver lineup for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta this Saturday.
Dixon will join Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the No. 01 Telcel Ford at the United SportsCar Championship. Dixon has competed twice with the Ganassi organization this season — at the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring — in a second Prototype.
"The Prototype is such a cool car to drive, and anytime I can come over to our IMSA program and help out, I'm happy to do it," Dixon said.
Pruett and Rojas are currently fifth in the overall standings, but have three wins on the season. It's the Ganassi organization's first sports car appearance at Road Atlanta, but Dixon has competed on the track three times with other teams. His highest finish was in 2008 when he finished fifth.
"We're in an odd situation being mathematically out of the championship hunt, so we can take chances and roll the dice a little in the race," Dixon said.
DRIVE FOR DIVERSITY COMBINE: The 11th Annual NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine will feature 20 race car drivers from the United States, Canada and Latin America this year.
The combine will be held Oct. 13-15 at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, where the participants will be trying to earn a spot in the 2015 NASCAR D4D Class in partnership with Rev Racing.
The combine has been the proving ground for several current NASCAR national series drivers, including Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr. and NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series driver Daniel Suarez, who recently announced a full-year NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015.
"The NASCAR Drive for Diversity program has seen significant success in recent years with several standout drivers who have consistently exceled and put on their best performance on the race track," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. "It is important for us to provide development opportunities for young female and diverse drivers who have the talent, but may lack the resources or guidance to find an entry point in our sport."
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