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Larry Ott: Elma native is head engineer for four Penske cars

WATKINS GLEN – There was a time when the Verizon IndyCar Series came to Watkins Glen that Elma native Ron Ruzewski, than a Team Penske engineer, just had a single car to be concerned with during the race weekend. How things have changed.

Since then, based on his success, Ruzewski has climbed the career ladder and now is technical director for Team Penske’s IndyCar program.

Ruzewski is a busy man here this weekend as he and his team prepared for Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen.

Ruzewski is overseeing the four-car Team Penske armada of IndyCar drivers which includes Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power.

Power will start second, Castronves fourth, Pagenaud seventh and Montoya eighth in Sunday’s race.

Ruzewski was running all over the Team Penske paddock here the last two days, searching for winning answers for his squad.

“I’m basically in charge of the entire engineering department for our IndyCar team,” said Ruzewski, 47. “I oversee all four teams now. Originally I was a race engineer for Helio Castroneves from 2006 to 2011, maybe later. I slowly took in different responsibilities and ultimately I’m overseeing all of the engineering department for our IndyCar operation.

“I have 22 people that report to me and we have 12 people here this weekend.”

Ruzewski recalled his local racing roots, which include racing at Holland Speedway.

“I went to Holland quite a bit and hung out there and watched the track activity when I was young,” he said. “It’s been quite a ride since then I guess.”

That ride has included being a member of a Penske team that has won three Indianapolis 500’s. Ruzewski visited Indy’s fabled Victory Lane once each with Sam Hornish, Castroneves and Montoya.

Ruzewski is excited The Glen is back on the IndyCar schedule. The IndyCar Series last ran here in 2010. He considers The Glen his home race along with the event held annually in Toronto.

“I was disappointed when we quit coming here and like anything everybody likes their home type track and to be back in the area,” Ruzewski said. “This track also really challenges our drivers. For me coming here and to Toronto it gives me a taste of home and every once in a while I see some faces that I know. It’s pretty cool.”

Due to the recent repave of The Glen track and other factors, a lot of engineering homework was required of Team Penske before and during this weekend.

“This track has changed,” said Ruzewski, who holds an engineering degree from Purdue University. “There used to be specific things unique to setup here, that we had a really good grasp on.

“We’re running about six seconds faster than the previous track record at the moment. Now it’s a little bit of a game changer with the resurfacing. It’s a bit of starting over. I think this weekend we’re pulling on the strength of our team of what we can do and what we know this year to rewrite our little play book here at Watkins Glen.”

By Saturday afternoon Ruzewski and his staff had already rewritten their playbook a few times already this weekend.

“We tested here, actually, twice including a couple of months ago in a Firestone tire test with Simon and Helio,” he said. “Then we came back and used one of our team days and tested with all four guys.

“Montoya hasn’t been here before on the full course. He’s run here before on the short course in NASCAR and Pagenaud has never run here. It was a lot about getting those guys more track time. Helio’s a pole winner here (three times) and Will’s won here before (2010) for us so we’ve run through a lot of things and we’re still running through some things right now today so hopefully it will all pan out Sunday.”

With four teams to oversee, Ruzewski has a game plan in place as to where he will be positioned during Sunday’s 60-lap race.

“Generally I spend the races in the No. 2 car pit with Juan Pablo Montoya but I’m able to monitor all four cars so that’s the place I sort of call home during the race weekend,” he said. “When Juan came onto our team a few years ago I was his race engineer for basically the majority of his first season with our team (2014) as I was training another race engineer to take over that task. I developed a bit of a bond with Juan. We got him his first road course win and it’s just kind of a place to hang my hat.

“But during the race I can work with the fleet of the other race engineers and monitor everything from there.”

Ruzewski knows that he owes a great deal of gratitude to Roger Penske who gave him the opportunity to become a member of Team Penske many years ago. Ruzewski has made the most of his opportunity.

“I’m super fortunate that I got the opportunity to get back into racing at the very highest level and Roger gave me the chance to succeed or fail,” said Ruzewski. “Fortunately I was able to run with it and continue to do a good job for him. It’s super high stress and he expects a lot but he’s the kind of person that makes you rise to the occasion. There’s no one that works harder than Roger. He sets the precedent so it’s pretty easy to rise to the occasion with him as the leader.”

Ruzewski hopes that he and Roger can lead each other all the way to The Glen’s Victory Lane when the checkered flag waves here late Sunday afternoon. These days, Ruzewski has four times the chance for a win that he did years ago.

email: lawrence_14075@yahoo.com

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