The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg podium finishers of Josef Newgarden (middle), Pato O'Ward (left) and Scott McLaughlin. (IndyCar Photo)

Breaking Down Team Penske’s Disqualifications

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Instead of celebrating his first win as Arrow McLaren Team Principal, Gavin Ward got his checkered flag remotely, from his office in Indianapolis.

On April 24, IndyCar officials made the stunning announcement that six weeks after the fact, Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race winner Josef Newgarden and third-place Scott McLaughlin were both disqualified from the March 10 season opener.

Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren is now credited with the win on the Streets of St. Petersburg, leading a member of his team to declare this “Victory Wednesday.”

“It’s awesome to get a win and a real strong result, just for the amount of effort this team puts in,” Arrow McLaren Team Principal Gavin Ward said a few hours after the announcement. “This team is full of an incredible group of characters, and they have been grinding so hard trying to get results like this.

“Hopefully, this is the first of many for me in the role as a team principal. I was hoping to celebrate this first one for me in a different way in victory lane with all of our team but at the end of the day, when you win, you win so we will enjoy this.”

According to IndyCar, members may contest the imposition of the penalties detailed in the review and appeal procedures of the NTT IndyCar Series rulebook.

Josef Newgarden en route to victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. (Al Steinberg Photo)

“Chevrolet is disappointed that Team Penske violated an NTT IndyCar Series rule resulting in the disqualification of the No. 2 car and No. 3 car and the penalty to the No. 12 car from the St. Petersburg Grand Prix,” Jim Campbell, GM US Vice President Performance and Motorsports said in a statement. “We support IndyCar’s decision and action.”  

More than six weeks have passed since the opening race, but IndyCar’s penalty was severe and dramatic.

Disqualifications in auto racing are extremely rare. The announcement on April 24 is believed to be the first time a race winner has been disqualified since Al Unser at Portland in 1995.

In that race, CART officials penalized the apparent race winner for a skid plate violation under the car. Unser hit a bump in the final portion of the course and the skid plate came off the car. Although he finished ahead of Jimmy Vasser, CART officials immediately DQed Unser and gave Vasser what would have been his first career win.

At that time, Team Penske appealed the decision and later in 1995, an appeals board returned the victory to Unser.

There was a timing and scoring issue in the Indy Racing League’s first race at Texas Motor Speedway in June 1997 that did not credit Arie Luyendyk with completing two laps and scored him as two laps down, instead of the race winner. Billy Boat was the driver that went to victory lane, but Luyendyk went into the celebration saying he was the winner.

Boat’s team owner, four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, slapped the driver from The Netherlands knocking Luyendyk into a planter that contained tulips.

The next day, United States Auto Club officials announced after reviewing all timing and scoring data from the Texas race, that Luyendyk was indeed the winner and reversed the results.

That was different, however, because there was not a disqualification.

Because of the controversy, USAC was fired as the sanctioning body by the Indy Racing League.

In addition to Newgarden having his 30th career IndyCar victory stricken from the records, teammate McLaughlin was also disqualified. A 10-point penalty was issued for No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for driver Will Power.

Newgarden is the winner of the 108th Indianapolis 500 in 2023.

According to IndyCar, Team Penske was in violation of the following “Push to Pass” parameters.

The issue was not noticed until the warmup session for the April 21 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. That is when IndyCar technical inspectors discovered the team’s possible rules violation.

An extensive review of data from the race on the Streets of St. Petersburg revealed that Team Penske manipulated the overtake system so that the No. 2, 3 and 12 cars had the ability to use Push to Pass on starts and restarts. 

The start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with Josef Newgarden (2) leading. (Jason Van Horn Photo)

According to the IndyCar rulebook, use of overtake is not available during championship races until the car reaches the alternate start-finish line.

It was determined that the No. 2 and the No. 3 gained a competitive advantage by using Push to Pass on restarts while the No. 12 did not.

“Unfortunately, the push-to-pass software was not removed as it should have been, following recently completed hybrid testing in the Team Penske Indy cars,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric said in a statement. “This software allowed for push-to-pass to be deployed during restarts at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix race, when it should not have been permitted.  

“The No. 2 car driven by Josef Newgarden and the No. 3 car driven by Scott McLaughlin, both deployed push-to-pass on a restart, which violated IndyCar rules. Team Penske accepts the penalties applied by IndyCar.”

Additionally, all three entries have been fined $25,000 and will forfeit all prize money associated with the Streets of St. Petersburg race.

“The integrity of the IndyCar Series championship is critical to everything we do,” IndyCar President Jay Frye said. “While the violation went undetected at St. Petersburg, IndyCar discovered the manipulation during Sunday’s warmup in Long Beach and immediately addressed it ensuring all cars were compliant for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. 

“Beginning with this week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, new technical inspection procedures will be in place to deter this violation.”