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Will Power and Josef Newgarden begin Indy quests by adapting to new strategists and engineers

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden races during a qualifying session of the IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach auto race Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Josef Newgarden and Will Power went back to work Friday with revamped teams.

The drivers’ race strategists, Tim Cindric and Ron Ruzewski, will miss Saturday’s Indianapolis Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 on May 26 while serving two-race suspensions for cheating. So will engineers Luke Mason and Robbie Atkinson.

How quickly the drivers adapt to the new voices on their radios could determine whether either of the two 500 winners and series champs can achieve their traditional May goal of putting team owner Roger Penske back in victory lane.

“It’s not ideal losing someone off your stand. Losing two people is definitely not ideal. We were better off with them,” Power said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “But I sat down with Dave (Faustino) and we just said we’re going to do absolutely the best we can with what we’ve got. We’ve got very good people on the team. It is what it is.”

Fortunately for Team Penske, Faustino and Power have a longstanding relationship that should help smooth the transition between now and IndyCar’s most prestigious race, the 500, in two weeks.

But this is certainly not how the team owner wanted to start what he has long considered the most important month on the series’ schedule.

Penske became a household name by changing the image of auto racing. He brought an exacting, businesslike approach to the Brickyard’s historic Gasoline Alley and when the pole-winning runs and race victories started piling up, he won converts, too.

Now, though, The Captain’s ship is taking on water.

Six weeks after Newgarden won the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, series officials determined the team’s three cars each had a software system that provided the drivers with horsepower boosts on starts and restarts — violating series rules.

“For Ron and I as leaders of this team, it’s not about what we did, it’s about what we didn’t do,” Cindric said this week in a statement. “It is our responsibility to provide the team and all our drivers with the right processes to ensure something like this can’t happen. For that, I apologize to Roger, our team and everyone that supports us. Our No. 1 job is to protect and enhance the reputation of our brand and that of those that support us.”

The drivers took the hardest hits.

Newgarden was stripped of his win, Scott McLaughlin was stripped of a third-place finish and all three drivers lost 10 points and were fined $25,000. Although Power was cleared of any wrongdoing and none of McLaughlin’s team members were punished, Power and Newgarden are now dealing with the transition to new team members.

“That’s the call that Roger made, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Power said.

Newgarden said after Friday’s qualifying he was surprised that team president Cindric was suspended.

“I was surprised, but this isn’t my team, it is Roger’s team,” Newgarden said. “And all I can say is I am so happy to be here. It is not disingenuous, I feel so good to be here, and we’ve got a team, a little different than it looked last year, but not that different. We’re here as a team and we’re ready to go.”

Other drivers had thoughts to share about the situation at Penske.

Marcus Ericsson, the 2022 Indy 500 champ, noted that Cindric and Ruzewski are the two key leaders at one of the series’ powerhouse teams. Six-time series champ Scott Dixon said Chip Ganassi Racing might have fired those responsible for such an infraction.

“It’s a huge thing,” points leader Colton Herta said when asked about the penalties. “But I think it’s the right thing to do.”

For Power, the suspensions may not matter as much.

He’s quite comfortable on Indy’s road course, winning five times with a record-tying three Indy GP crowns on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit. Plus, he’s still working with Faustino.

Will that be enough for the 43-year-old Australian to overcome the loss of two team members?

“I’ve been at it so long, I can almost do strategy from the car, and he’s the one that basically does the strategy anyway, and Ron sort of calls the races,” said Power, a two-time series champ and the 2018 Indy winner. “Not a massive change. It will suck not having Ron. I’ve really gotten used to him. He’s very calming and good on the radio. That’s a pity, but that’s the way it is, and we have to do our best.”

PALOU ON POLE

Two-time IndyCar champion Alex Palou became the fourth different pole winner through four IndyCar races this season with his Friday run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was Palou’s first pole on the Indy road course and the first this season for Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou won this race from third last year in the first of five victories that carried him to his second series.

He dedicated the pole run to his mother, who celebrated her birthday Friday.

To get the pole, Palou had to contend with Power, who was dominant in every qualifying round and seemed a lock for the top starting spot. But as he pushed for the final seconds he needed, Power slid slightly and dropped to third in a run that denied him both a 71st career pole and the point needed to tie Herta for the championship lead.

Christian Lundgaard qualified second for Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Newgarden was fourth for Penske and followed by Pato O’Ward of McLaren and Scott Dixon of Ganassi.

Andretti Global had a rough qualifying session and failed to advance any of its three entries out of the first round. Herta, who had been fastest in morning practice, ran out of gas on his qualifying lap. Marcus Ericsson said his car simply lacked pace and Kyle Kirkwood chalked his miss up to the tight margins of IndyCar qualifying.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.

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