Fifteen minutes of fame: Junior formula

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Alan Mertens’ first Glamer Indycar design won the worlds biggest race at its first attempt. Set up for life then? No, not exactly. Adam Cooper reveals why this was its only attempt, too

The Galmer G92’s spell in the spotlight probably extended to half an hour, since it did win two major races, but the fact that it appeared for just one full season before being canned makes it an ideal candidate for this series.

The story began in January 1988 when long-time March designer Alan Mertens left to join CART team owner Rick Galles. The plan was for Mertens to tweak the customer March 88C in the search for a Penske-style ‘unfair advantage’ that would give Al Unser Jnr an edge over the competition.

A combination of surnames produced the moniker Galmer Engineering, and Mertens set up a small design base in Bicester. Galles then switched to a Lola chassis in 1989, and Galmer expanded to manufacturing go-faster parts. Building a bespoke chassis was a natural progression, but the first job was to convince Galles that it was worth the investment

“It was mostly Junior who convinced Rick to do that,” recalls Mertens. “For one reason or another he believed in me, and he always wanted to continue that trend of having engineering development which was exclusive to him, and which would set him aside from running generic cars.

“In 1990, we won the championship, and that year Rick also went into partnership with Maury Kraines of Kraco. The income made it a lot more affordable. We had substance behind us as company and as a team. That’s when we decided to get ambitious and start work on the Galmer.”

The car was developed in Bicester — ironically at a facility acquired from the now-defunct March — throughout 1991. The prototype appeared at the end of that year, and in testing, Mertens discovered a problem surrounding the torsional rigidity of the bellhousing between the engine and the gearbox. That was sorted, and an impressive array of four chassis was dispatched to the season-opener in Australia for Unser Jnr and the team’s new signing, Danny Sullivan.

Incredibly, Al put the car on pole. He and Sullivan then ran first and second until it rained, eventually finishing fourth and fifth. The car was less impressive on the Phoenix oval, but shone again on the streets of Long Beach, where Sullivan won after a controversial late collision with his team mate — which denied Al a fifth straight win in California!

Next stop was Indianapolis. Phoenix had provided a clue, and at the Speedway there was more proof that the brilliant street fighter was less at home on ovals.

Mertens: “One of the unique aspects of the car was that we turned the turbo around through 90 degrees, and we had twin inlets on the top of the bodywork when traditionally they had been one on one side. The twin exhausts and wastegates traversed the complete exit of the underwing.

“On road courses and street courses it worked with us, because the balance change we got coming on and off the gas allowed us to get a very good entry into tight corners, and to get good power down coming out But it worked against us at the Speedway. If the drivers had to ‘breathe’ the car at all, or got caught in traffic, then the balance changed. So the car lacked consistency.”

Sullivan and Unser Jnr qualified eighth and 12th, quick among the Chevy crowd, but unable to match the speed of the front-runners. Then on a cold and overcast raceday, Unser came into his own. A series of huge crashes sent Mario Andretti and others to hospital, and in between the many yellow flags, Al worked his way into contention. When Michael Andretti retired with just 11 laps to go, the Galmer moved into the lead. In a thrilling finish, Unser just held off a late charge from Scott Goodyear, while Sullivan finished a solid fifth.

“It didn’t quite sink in at first,” says Mertens. “In the words of Pink Floyd, I was comfortably numb! It was a great result, but the full credit must go down to Junior — his tenacity, his common sense, his ability to use his head, keep the car on the road, and be patient He’s always been that sort of driver.”

The Galmer also earned Mertens the prestigious Schwitzer Award for technical achievement. It seemed so easy, but after Indy, there were no more wins. However, Unser finished every race, sometimes grafting his way onto the podium, and he eventually scored enough points to claim third in the championship.

“It was a pretty decent car, a nice looking car when it was altogether,” recalls crew chief `Ziggy’ Harcus. “It was heavy and overbuilt in places, but it was strong as hell. A couple of times Al had contact with other people, and one time he was three or four feet in the air at a 45-degree angle. He came down and just carried on! It was a good streetcar, but the small ovals were the biggest problem.”

The car’s inherent failings proved costly. That would have been addressed on the G93 by aero specialist Andy Brown, but the car was never built Galles simply lost interest and pulled the plug.

“After Indy,” says Mertens, “we got the impression that Rick had decided in his own mind that he’d achieved everything that he wanted to achieve when he set out to do his own car. True, it was costing a lot, but the car generated $3.5m of prize money! And by the end of the year we had orders from other teams. I was heartbroken.”

For 1993, a disappointed Unser was back in a Lola, and by ’94, he had jumped ship to Penske.

“Al was adamant that if we wanted to beat Penske, we had to have our own car,” says Harcus. The G92 enjoyed a brief swansong when Bruce McCaw entered Dominic Dobson in a handful of races in 1993, marking the birth of the PacWest team. Meanwhile Mertens sold the unused G93 design to Reynard, and it would form the basis of the company’s entry into CART the following year. Galmer continued as a design consultancy, working mainly for Pac West, until it was sold and absorbed by Prodrive in 1999.

Mertens, Galles and Unser Jnr were briefly reunited in the IRL in 2000. When that fizzled out, Alan and Al joined up with investor Mike Malloy to start a new design business based in Albuquerque. So don’t be surprised to see a 43-year-old Unser in his own car at Indy in 2006. Possibly alongside his son, ‘Mini’ Al.

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