Way back Motor Sport became renowned in the publishing world for reducing the type size of a story to squeeze it uncut into a page space. Today such a ploy is pretty much anathema to designers, and probably readers too. I was reminded of this last month when I tried to distil the Indianapolis Penske ‘Beast’ story down into the available space.
The perhaps too-often unsung Penske Cars outfit based in Poole, Dorset, was setting build standards then which precious few other constructors could approach. The outfit was run by former Brabham mechanic-turned-manager Nick Goozée with its mid- ’90s designer being Nigel Bennett. One of the team engineers was Nigel Beresford, son of long-time McLaren staffer Don. This latter pair were known in Penske shorthand as ‘NB1’ and ‘NB2’.
Well NB2 provided some great detail which I could not find space to present, but for the record – and for any reader who sees this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed Penske display –I do so now. Nigel recalled: “The ’94 Penske PC23 with the ‘E’ motor (as we and Ilmor called it; none of this ‘500i’ marketing BS) suffered from power understeer on exit from the turns at Indy which I always attributed to the engine’s tremendous torque. Usually at Indy with a ‘normal’ engine any throttle lifting for the turns was relatively small, but with the ‘E’ engine the drivers were arriving at the turns so much faster they had to lift more, and then getting back on the throttle unleashed the beast’s torque more on exit, causing that power understeer.
“In the end we reduced this with stagger (more stagger from smaller diameter left-rear tyre gives more rotational torque with a spool differential) by reducing right-front corner weight (which helps the front of the car ‘hook’ coming off the turn, especially if you run left-front weight) and adjusting the net direction of the rear toe-ins. The point I would make is that those who claim the ‘E’ motor somehow masked problems that would surface a year later at Indy are wrong. In fact it kind of created a different set of problems, which that first year we solved.
“I went back to Tyrrell for ’95 – Harvey Postlethwaite was very persuasive – so I was not at Indy but NB1 told me they ran a very, very stiff front anti-roll bar on the PC24 at Phoenix, and Emerson Fittipaldi loved it. So they kept it for Indy and for whatever reason never went back to a more ‘normal’ setup. Nigel attributes that year’s failure to qualify to the drivers losing confidence because of the way the car handled. It’s hard to describe and explain how a bad ‘Month of May’ at Indy can sometimes cause you to cease to act logically or rationally, especially when you are handling a force as formidable as Roger.
“At the end of that year Paul Tracy returned to Penske from Newman Haas and they took him and a PC24 with a ‘normal’ setup to Indy for a Goodyear tyre test where he lapped at speeds that would easily have made the race back in May.”
“A man ran out of the pits and poured 200 silver dollars into the cockpit”
So here’s just one explanatory first-hand perspective which might never have appeared in print. Another worthwhile gem from Nick Goozée himself relates to the Penske PC5 at Indy ’77: “It was my first Indy 500 – Tom Sneva and Mario driving. During practice Tom set Indy’s first 200mph lap –a huge event. The day before qualifying all the drivers tried to set up their cars in preparation, often waiting for the last hour when the track was cooler – the Happy Hour.
“Tom was hero of the month but at 5.30pm, probably showing off a little, he put his PC5 into the wall, ripping off its left front corner. We had a spare rocker arm and lower wishbone but no spare tub. Derrick Walker and I had no option but to remake the tub’s corner, so starting with the centre point we made a jig of the right-hand side to establish all the suspension pick-up points. Derrick had removed the bushing from the damaged frame since we couldn’t get any new ones made. Meanwhile I’d made a new ‘half bulkhead’. I took the car round to the Indiana Oxygen workshop in Gasoline Ally where a TIG welder was available.
“Starting around midnight I remade the frame using the jig reversed to the left-hand side. At about dawn the frame was complete and I started on the wrinkled tub panelling. By mid morning Roger et al had arrived and were panicking about the car being ready. While I completed the repair Derrick and another mechanic prepared the car for qualifying.
“Some blue Duck tape – matching the paint – was applied to the damaged area, and with 15 minutes of prequalifying practice remaining Tom went out.
“On his fourth lap he broke the 200mph barrier again, then went on to get pole position with three 200mph laps. When the car stopped a man ran out of the pits and poured 200 silver dollars into the cockpit. Tom made a few into money clips – one of which he gave me… and I still treasure it today.”
First-hand memories from real racers. Given the space you can’t beat it.
Doug Nye is the UK’s leading motor racing historian and has been writing authoritatively about the sport since the 1960s