American Comment

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May means Indianapolis

In the American World of motor racing the month of May means just one race—the Indianapolis 500—held on May 27th, with qualifying on the two previous weekends. Indiana’s legendary “Brickyard” always attracts a huge crowd and this year looks like being no exception with an exciting line-up promised, and speeds higher than ever.

In tyre testing, early in April, Bobby Unser lapped his new Olsonite sponsored Eagle faster than anyone has ever circulated the 21/2-mile oval track before. The turbocharged Offy powered machine stopped the watches at 47.176 sec., an average speed of 190.8 m.p.h. (last year 180 m.p.h. was topped for the first time) and had previously lapped the smoother and faster 2 1/2-mile Ontario Motor Speedway oval in 196.9 m.p.h. average. The latest Eagle has been proved in competition too for, in the opening round the USAC Championship at Phoenix, Arizona, Unser was the clear winner. Indianapolis is the third round in the 12-round USAC Championship but by far the most important.

Other drivers who have the latest 1972 Eagle chassis are equally delighted with the speeds being obtained. Jim Malloy, whose Eagle is known as a Thermo-King Special, was another to post good times during the Goodyear tyre sessions at Indianapolis. He did a 25-lap continuous run with a full fuel load to average 185.015 m.p.h. Unfortunately it seems that plans for Britain’s David Hobbs to drive one of the new Eagles have fallen through.

While the high flying Eagles start favourite at the moment, no one is overlooking the Maurice Phillippe designed Viceroy Specials, which will be handled by Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Joe Leonard. The cars have a most unusual appearance with two side wings which are mounted at 45 degrees to the horizontal and contain within them the oil radiators. The car gives a very bulbous appearance with its side radiators fared completely into the sides of the monocoque and fed with air by large NACA ducts. Although some pictures of the car have been released not too much is known of the suspension yet but it is thought to be far from conventional. Phillipe, of course, was responsible for the torsion bar lay-out on the Lotus 72 Grand Prix cars.

Parnelli Jones, who team manages and masterminds the Viceroy effort, is maintaining a strict security about the project but early tests seem to be very satisfactory. Mario Andretti first drove his car at Ontario Motor Speedway just hours before he caught a Jumbo jet from Los Angeles for London so that he could take part in the BOAC 1000. At Brands Hatch he was very enthusiastic about the project. No doubt after a year with the rather uncompetitive McNamaras, from the STP team, Andretti is pleased to be back in a car with a chance of victory.

Last year it was the McLaren team from Colnbrook who set everyone talking and this year they have a development of the trend-setting M16 model. The works Gulf orange car of Peter Revson (who set pole position last year) plus the Penske prepared examples for Mark Donohue and Gerry Bettenhausen have not been in the news nearly so much this year but there is no doubt they will be amongst the front runners for the Memorial Day event.

Another British firm taking part at Indianapolis this year is Lola. They have an enviable Indianapolis record, including designing the winning car from Graham Hill in 1966, but last year they gave the race a miss. This year Eric Broadley says he just wants to keep a finger in the pie and has designed and built two cars to customer order. They will be powered by Ford V8 engine which are presently considered the underdogs compared with the timeless Offy units. But Broadley’s cars have a knack of doing well at Indianapolis although it still hasn’t been disclosed who the customers are. Best guess at the moment is that Andy Grantelli’s STP outfit will be involved.

STP themselves have been very much quieter than usual about their Indianapolis programme, possibly because they have lost the services of Mario Andretti and their promising up-and-coming driver Steve Krisiloff. The latest story is that they will be providing a car for the New Zealand driver Graham McRae, who won the Tasman Series with his Leda F5000 painted in STP colours. There is also vague talk of them trying to tempt Ronnie Peterson into a car. It seems that McRae will drive one of last year’s McNamaras while the second driver, be it Peterson or not, will be in one of the new Lolas.

Every year, quite a few British enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to see this race, and some years ago there was a direct telecast to some British cinemas. Unfortunately this idea was dropped but it should be possible to pick up commentary of the race on the AFN broadcasts from Germany.—A. R. M.