Seven years ago, the names de Ferran and Penske combined to deliver victory in the Indianapolis 500.
Today, the two names are linked again - only this time, Gil de Ferran will be working with Jay Penske, the son of his 2003 Indy-winning team owner Roger.
Penske, Steve Luczo, and de Ferran will all be co-owners at Luczo Dragon Racing, the team announced today, with de Ferran stepping up to assume the additional role of team president. But although for the moment the team remains a one-car operation centered around driver Raphael Matos, the new Luczo Dragon partners are looking to expand in the future.Luczo Dragon Racing came into being in 2006 as a partnership between Jay Penske and Seagate CEO Steve Luczo. The two shared a passion both for sports and for creative arts - in fact, the "Dragon" in Luczo Dragon comes from Penske's antiquarian bookshop in Los Angeles.
Luczo Dragon entered the Indianapolis 500 in 2007 with Ryan Briscoe as their driver, and the team turned heads by earning a surprising fifth-place finish. The next season, the team ran a limited schedule with Tomas Scheckter, but without the equipment and technology assist from Penske Racing the team's results were significantly worse - the team failed to finish all but one race.
The adversity only seemed to strengthen the resolve of Penske and Luczo, and Luczo Dragon Racing campaigned the full 2009 season with new driver Raphael Matos. Matos was a multiple champion in various categories including Star Mazda, the Atlantic series, and Firestone Indy Lights, and he showed his prowess by registering a whopping eight top-ten finishes on his way to the Apex IndyCar Rookie of the Year award.
In the meantime, de Ferran had left a job with Honda's Formula 1 team and, with Honda's backing, had started his own operation in the American Le Mans series. For two years, while Luczo Dragon gradually was ingratiating itself into the IndyCar community, de Ferran and his works Honda team took ALMS by storm, developing Acura's factory LMP program into a dominant, if not championship-winning effort. De Ferran himself came out of his four-year self-imposed retirement as a driver to help his team to success.
Midway through 2009, however, de Ferran announced that he would retire again from the cockpit to focus on developing his own IZOD IndyCar Series team. Those plans fell through, unfortunately, with de Ferran unable to find sufficient financial backing to support his enterprise.
With de Ferran needing financial backing and Luczo Dragon needing a hand with the technical side of building an IndyCar team, the pairing of "The Professor" with his old friend Jay Penske seemed to be the most natural fit in the world.
"Gil and I have been discussing working together for many years," says Penske. "I’d say more active discussions about working together really started in the last year and have been ramping up ever since. Over the last four months Steve, Gil and I came to the realization that in order to put together an effort that could really face the challenges of the current establishment and have a better chance to deliver the successful results we all want we would be best served combining our resources. The more we talked about it the more it made sense."
De Ferran brings a wealth of technical expertise and a driver's perspective to the operation, while Penske and Luczo are natural marketers and have plenty of financial stability. Also, de Ferran makes a natural driver coach for his countryman Matos; the combination of de Ferran's analytical style should mesh well with Matos' formidable raw skills.
The gap between Luczo Dragon and their opponents still seems to be a daunting obstacle, but de Ferran, Penske and Luczo all come from tech backgrounds and they plan to use their appreciation for innovation and engineering to their advantage. According to Steve Luczo, "We have a clear view that technology and science will give us the competitive edge we need to be successful on track."
"[Our competitors] have been dominating the series the last several years and have amassed a huge amount of data with the current IndyCar equipment," admits de Ferran. "In addition, the current testing rules make it difficult for a young team and young driver to make up ground. Despite those challenges, we will do everything possible to make up that deficit. We have plans to invest heavily in simulation technology and will try to build out our engineering capabilities beyond our main rivals."
The three partners realize that part of this heavy investment will require them to expand the team to two cars. "We hope to have those details ironed out very soon," de Ferran says. Some of those details might include a return to Le Mans prototype racing and other series that are in keeping with Luczo Dragon's "strong focus in the science and technology of motorsports."
Certainly, the future for Luczo Dragon Racing is much brighter with the addition of Gil de Ferran; the strengthening and growth of one of their most promising franchises means that the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series just got a little brighter as well.