Indianapolis 500

A triumph in America for the British engineers

Earlier this year we reported how the development of the turbocharged Cosworth V8 engine (the 2.6-litre DFX) was proceeding at Northampton. Following on that account it seems appropriate that we should tell readers how those engines fared in the race they did not quite succeed in winning last year, the Indianapolis 500. In short, the result was a magnificent achievement for British engineering talent, the younger Unser brother (Al) winning at an average 161.363 m.p.h. in the Lola T500- DFX prepared by Chaparral. As you expect today, the gearbox was of Hewland design. In second place was another British-built car, the Penske PC6-DFX driven by Tom Sneva Offenhauser engines propelled the third and fourth-placed cars, but fifth and sixth positions also went to Cosworth DFX-engined machines Sneva’s Penske also set an awesome 202.156 m.p.h., as the fastest time in practice for the annual classic. Cosworth-engined cars dominated practice speeds at the top, annexing the first five positions (three of them at four-lap averages over 200 m.p.h.!) and holding seven places in the top ten.

We have congratulated the British engineers for the very good reason that this success has been a matter of anglo-American co-operation. The Penskes are built in Poole, Dorset, but they are run and maintained from Reading, Pennsylvania; the Lola is another transatlantic effort and we applaud the success of the Chaparral team who have previously, with a little help from their giant friends at General Motors, displayed some innovative sports car engineering that would be welcome again in Europe today.

Cosworth made 25 DFX engines for the season, four such units for the Unser Lola. Sales manager Jack Field told us, “the Unser engines were built in Britain with their engine man Fritz Weitz here on an extended stay. These engines had 7.5-to-1 compression instead of the more usual 8-to-1. There was very close liaison between Cosworth and Lola: we went down there to supervise the fitting of the first engine into the chassis.”

This winter Cosworth expect to build ten DFX engines a month from November to January to produce another 30 units. Many of the teams in America are expected to pass their present units onto other teams further down the field, so it is quite possible that there will be over 50 such engines in circulation next year, completing the quiet revolution in USAC.

Doubtless the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take the currency earned by Lola, Cosworth, Hewland and others to plough into the much- publicised woes of the main British motor industry. Is it not about time the amazing succes that Britain enjoys in motorised sport was encouraged instead of ignored? - J.W.

PS: D.S.J. has thought about the Cosworth achievement and concludes this must be the first time a British engine has won at Indianapolis Indeed the last European success he can recall is that of Maserati in the 1940s. Lola last won the 500 in 1966 with Graham Hill at the wheel, while in 1965 Jim Clark took the richest race of all, driving the special Lotus with the American racing Ford V8 engine.