Michael Andretti to Roger Penske if he's not going to invest more: 'Then sell the series'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Michael Andretti couldn't hold in his laughter as the question was asked.

"From what I understood about the first proposal about the charters..."

What followed was a guttural, throaty laugh. It was all Andretti could muster for a second to express his level of insult. One of Penske Entertainment's initial proposals for a charter-like system in IndyCar -- to give current owners more value for their teams -- involved asking teams to pay $1 million to buy into a temporary system.

IndyCar's 10-owner group instantly shot the idea down.

"It was comical," Andretti told a small group of reporters Friday.

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Friday, May 12, 2023, Michael Andretti, owner of Andretti Autosport, watches action during practice for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Friday, May 12, 2023, Michael Andretti, owner of Andretti Autosport, watches action during practice for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The pitch from series ownership, Andretti explained, was that the funds for the charters that guaranteed them entry into every race and steady prize money, would be invested back into the sport to help supercharge the series' standing in the sports world.

"First of all, $20 million isn't going to do anything," Andretti said Friday. "You've got to have five times that number -- at least. And it's like, 'Don't take our money, Roger. You bought the series. We don't own the series.'"

As a reporter mentioned Penske's difficult spot -- an uber-successful billionaire businessman who owns a racing series that has leaned heavily on revenue the Indianapolis Motor Speedway generates from the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's annual visit and is trying to revamp its image without breaking the bank -- Andretti offered this:

"Then sell the series," Andretti said. "There's people out there willing to do it. I think there's a lot of people on the sidelines thinking, 'This is a diamond in the rough if you do it right.' But what you need is big money behind it to get it to that level, and if he's not willing to do it, I think he should step aside and let someone else buy it.

"I told him, Why don't you sell part of the series to somebody to use that money, as an equity stake. You still keep that control, but take that money and invest it, but he doesn't want any partners."

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The sentiment is not altogether new. For months, private conversations have centered around negative news: Texas falling off the schedule, a long-awaited video game stalled, the delayed launch of its hybrid system, and its much-ballyhooed finale on the streets of Nashville shifting to Nashville Superspeedway 40 minutes away.

In the face of impressive growth metrics from a year ago -- steadily increasing TV ratings, merchandise sales, sponsor interest, attendance, social media engagement and general fandom -- a not insignificant number of paddock members have called for series ownership to supercharge its investment in the sport. Andretti was nowhere near the first to suggest Penske should spend upwards of $100 million in the short-term in order to help it better compete with NASCAR and Formula 1.

In response, Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles told reporters last week he believes IndyCar "suffers" in comparisons to the other two major racing series in the U.S. who operate in a different stratosphere from a budgetary standpoint.

Penske Racing owner Roger Penske talks with fans Saturday, May 13, 2023, before the start of the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Penske Racing owner Roger Penske talks with fans Saturday, May 13, 2023, before the start of the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In response to Andretti's comments Friday, Penske Entertainment provided IndyStar this exclusive statement: "We have made significant investments since our acquisition that have delivered record metrics for the sport of IndyCar across nearly every area. It has fueled our momentum, and we will continue to invest rationally and strategically to grow the sport."

During a sit-down with IndyStar last week to discuss Penske Entertainment's growth successes in 2023 and how it plans to press forward in 2024, Miles was asked about the prevalence of the idea within the paddock that Roger and his charges weren't doing enough.

"You think maybe that's an echo chamber? I don't think that's six different analyses making that suggestion," he quipped. "We have substantial resources, and what we're trying to continue to do is build on the growth and avoid fads that may create spikes in growth that aren't sustainable.

"We're readily talking to other media platforms, studios, production houses, agencies and others, looking for ideas and potential partners -- by which I don't mean selling equity -- but I don't have any doubt that when we come up with big ideas that have real potential and meet the criteria I'm talking about, that those investments are available."

Andretti admitted his concerns about the future of the sport hadn't reached doomsday levels, citing movement to push the hybrid project forward, conversations about a charter system and the sport's next set of technical regulations.

On the latter, Andretti was adamant IndyCar adopt IMSA's rules to create an opportunity for the major American sportscar series' growing list of manufacturers to slide into IndyCar with the same engine. It would require, he explained, a complete car redesign for a spec chassis that would fit any IMSA engine but allow those manufacturers to tackle the loose power unit regulations their own unique way.

Penske Entertainment shouldn't, Andretti said, simply be constantly seeking a third engine manufacturer. They should be looking to add several all at once.

"You've got to start thinking bigger," he said Friday. "I really believe that if you really want to build this series for the future, we've got to build a rules package that makes sense. We've got to entice more than three manufacturers, and this is one way."

But his other major concern, revolves around what and how the series is powered off-track -- including the way in which post-race celebrations "look like you're going to an SCCA race."

"We need a big influx of cash, in order to go out and do what these other series do to make them worth all that money. It does seem like if we can give Roger things that make sense, he'd be open to do them," Andretti said. "We still do have the best series in the world that no one knows about, and we just need to get it out there for people to know what it's about.

"I think Roger has to decide where he wants to go. Does he want to make this an elite series, a world series that you can put in front of the world? Or do you want to keep it at the level that it is."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyCar: Michael Andretti questions Roger Penske's willingness to invest