News & Multimedia

Unser produced Penske's most improbable Indy victory in 1987

Roger Penske is well-known as a fierce competitor, and the Indianapolis 500 has special meaning to him.

“If they said they’re going to run garden tractors at Indianapolis, Roger would go get the best one,” retired Penske vice president Dan Luginbuhl once said.

During a turbocharger boost controversy years ago, with some complaining the Buick engine was given too much, team manager Larry Curry said, “If the Buick had an advantage, Roger would have one.”

But possibly never in the history of Penske Racing’s record 15 Indianapolis 500 wins did it take all the elements that came into play in 1987.
The team trotted out the new Penske chassis on Day 2 of the month and didn’t crack the top 10. The team kept practicing with it until Day 6, when Danny Ongais hit the Turn 4 wall and suffered a concussion.
 
It was enough for Penske to break out an ’87 March for Rick Mears, who qualified it on the outside of the front row. Danny Sullivan also switched to an ‘87 March and checked in 11th.
          
But what would happen to the Ongais’ entry?
          
On Tuesday of the second week, IMS Medical Director Dr. Henry Bock announced that Ongais was out for the month of May. The Penske team saw it coming.
          
The team had a 1986 March on display at the Sheraton Hotel in Reading, Pa., its hometown at the time. By this time, it had the car on the move to Indy, and 24 hours after Dr. Bock ruled out Ongais, three-time Indy winner Al Unser was saddled up and on the track. He qualified it comfortably in 20th place.
          
“It’s always good to look back and see you won something,” Unser said. “At Indianapolis, it’s a fairy-tale story. Anytime you win that race, it’s a scramble.”
          
His steed had a pedigree. Unser’s car had been driven to the pole by Mears in ‘86, driven to victory by Sullivan at the Meadowlands in ‘86 and put on the ‘86 Michigan 500 pole by Mears.
          
Unser said the car and the deal went together quickly and smoothly.
          
“Roger called me and got that car out of the showroom, and away we went,” Unser said. “It was a blessing because I’d been with the team for several years, so they understood me and I understood them.”
          
As the race unfolded, it came down to Unser and Roberto Guerrero at battle. Guerrero was almost eliminated from the race earlier when he hit a wayward tire, but he worked his way back into contention. It came down to the last pit stop, and Guerrero was leading.
          
“Unfortunately, I had a little trouble,” Guerrero said. “I hit that tire with my right front. All of our pit stops were fine, but the last time, we found out that the master cylinder was losing fluid slowly all day. On that (last) pit stop, I couldn’t get the car out of gear because I didn’t have any clutch.”
          
Unser had an uneventful final stop.
          
“When he had his bad pit stop, there wasn’t any way I could pass him or he could pass me,” Unser said. “We were equal on the racetrack. The only way he could catch me was if I messed up.”
          
So Unser had his record-tying fourth victory at Indy and became the oldest “500” winner in history, at age 47. And Guerrero had the second-best performance by a driver in his first four races at the Speedway: second, third, fourth and second.
          
“I knew the makings were there because of Penske,” Unser said.
          
“We still finished second, but that was the closest I came,” Guerrero said.
          
It was short-term employment for winner Unser. It was his last race until later in the season. Ironically, he drove for an injured Guerrero at Nazareth.
          
The day after the race at Indy, a sign went up in front of Unser’s motor coach:
            REAL RACE DRIVER
            NEEDS WORK
            RECENT “500” EXPERIENCE
            INQUIRE WITHIN


                                                ***
2012 Indianapolis 500 tickets: Tickets are on sale for the 96th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 27, 2012 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Race Day ticket prices start at just $30. Fans can buy tickets online at www.imstix.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or by visiting the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.
Children 12 and under will be receive free general admission to any IMS event in 2012 when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder.
Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.



 

Show More Show Less
Now Viewing
Unser produced Penske's most improbable Indy victory in 1987
 
Unser produced Penske's most improbable Indy victory in 1987
Read More
Related Media
Starters Ring
 
101st Indianapolis 500 Field Starts Final Countdown to Race Day at Drivers' Meeting
Drivers participating in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil received final instructions and awards Saturday in the public drivers’ meeting, the final race activity at the track before “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Read More
Michael Andretti
 
Thirst for Victory Never Quenched for Owners Penske, Ganassi, Andretti at Indianapolis
Roger Penske sounds as intense as ever. Chip Ganassi welcomes every opportunity to defeat him. And Michael Andretti continues to triumph as an owner in the race that dogged him as a driver. The powerhouse trio of owners in the Verizon IndyCar Series have a combined 15 of the 33 cars entered in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday. Their cars have claimed 25 Indy 500 victories in their careers, including eight with drivers in this field.
Read More
A.J. Foyt
 
Invigorated Foyt Recalls Humble Indy Beginnings before Becoming Legend of Speedway
He arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an unknown, a big, burly dude with a Texan accent, just looking to gain access to Gasoline Alley. Nobody knew Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. in 1958. So they didn’t let him in. That’s how the legend of A.J. Foyt began.
Read More
Lyn St. James
 
St. James' Incredible Racing Journey Reached Indy 25 Years Ago
Lyn St. James still senses the feel of a race car that responds like no other and the respect for everything it takes to make it go fast. Twenty-five years have passed since she raced an Indy car for the first time, but her memories of that experience have never faded, especially the 11th-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 that earned her the 1992 Rookie of the Year award.
Read More
Alexander Rossi
 
Rookie Winners To Be Saluted on Legends Day presented by Firestone
The Indianapolis 500 has been run 100 times, and no motor race in the world has required more daring, endurance and skill to win. Only 10 drivers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” have proven to be talented enough, fierce enough and lucky enough to win the race on their first attempt.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 1,452
Reserve one of our hospitality suites for your next event!
To start planning your event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway please fill out our Information Request Form or contact IMS Sales Department at (317) 492-8739 or email at hospitalitysales@brickyard.com.
Latest Tweets
It's Pole day on @CrownRoyal Armed Forces Weekend & we can't wait to see you! Check out details on the day: https://t.co/yKQ6Db3YRK
May 21