INDIANAPOLIS 500 : Bird in Hand, Penske Shakes Bush


Master salesman Roger Penske might have his biggest sales challenge ahead of him.

After using a little-noticed U.S. Auto Club rule to overwhelm the opposition in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Penske is now going to try to convince his beaten Indy car brethren that the new Mercedes Benz push-rod engine should be legalized for all other races.

Al Unser Jr., who collected a record $1,373,813 at the victory banquet Monday night for winning the 500 for the second time, drove the Mercedes to its first Indy victory since Ralph DePalma in 1915. Earlier in the race, Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi, who crashed 15 laps from the end, had lapped the entire field.

“We will write a letter of application to the CART rules committee requesting that the rule be in effect for the entire season,” Penske said Monday. “If it is accepted, we have to guarantee engines for at least one other team.”


Although the application is expected to be made immediately, Penske said he had no idea when the committee might rule on it. He said he hoped it might be approved for 1995.

The push-rod engine, developed by Ilmor Engineering with financial support from Mercedes Benz, became the first engine to win in its debut at Indianapolis. Only one similar engine had even finished the 500 before Sunday. That was when Al Unser Sr. finished third in 1992 with a Buick V6.

There was a groundswell of criticism of the one-of-a-kind powerplant in Penske’s cars in Gasoline Alley. No one accused Penske of circumventing the rules, but it was generally believed that USAC goofed when the rule was written three years ago.

Said Barry Green, owner of Jacques Villeneuve’s second-place car: “They’ve got a heap more power than us, because of the rules, the unfair rules.”

Said Jimmy Vasser, fourth-place finisher: “I had to tighten my helmet one time when Emerson (Fittipaldi) went by, he went by so fast.”

Said Michael Andretti, who finished third but was dropped to sixth for a rules infraction: “I’d say their advantage was 200 horsepower. When one of the Marlboro cars went by me, I’d try to get a tow and I couldn’t keep up they went by me so fast.”

Indy 500 Notes

Jacques Villeneuve’s second-place finish after becoming the fastest Indy 500 rookie qualifier made it easy for the rookie of the year selection committee, but not to be overlooked were fine rides by Bryan Herta, Mauricio Gugelmin and Brian Till. . . . Eddie Cheever won the Perseverance Award after starting 11th. He climbed up to third before being dropped back to 27th after a stop-and-go penalty for passing illegally, and finished eighth. . . . Mark Smith, who was bumped on the final day of qualifying two years in a row and served as first alternate in 1993 and this year, was given the Jigger Sirois Award for having the worst luck.