The Cosworth DFX engine’s ten-year winning streak at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was broken on May 29 when Rick Mears brought his Chevrolet V8-engined Penske home first, for the team’s fourth success in five years.
All three Penske PC17s started from the front row of the grid, after qualifying runs in excess of 215mph, and Danny Sullivan scorched into a one-lap lead, only to crash at half-distance when his front wing shifted. Al Unser Snr remained in contention throughout, in the process breaking the all-time record for laps led at Indianapolis, but pole-man Mears came through to lead most of the second half and carry off a personal third triumph in what the organisers bill the world’s fastest motor race.
Despite the astonishing qualifying speeds, Mears’ average speed in a race littered with yellow-flag pace-car laps was brought down to 144.809mph. Only Emerson Fittipaldi’s March-Chevrolet finished on the same lap. Former Lotus F1 driver Jim Crawford, the only Briton in the race, was also the only interloper in Penske’s domination of the leader-board. Crawford, who still walks with the aid of a stick following his accident during practice for last year’s 500, led briefly in his Lola-Buick and eventually finished sixth.
This latest success for Roger Penske’s team was made all the more special by the use this year of its own chassis, and was followed by a Mears/Sullivan 1-2 at Milwaukee the next weekend.