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My Favorite Car: Emerson Fittipaldi

Note: This continues a series of interviews with Indianapolis 500 legends about the favorite car they drove in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and why, in their words. “My Favorite Car” interviews will appear at IMS.com on Mondays through the spring. Read other installments of "My Favorite Car" here.

Q: What was your favorite car you drove in the Indianapolis 500?

Emerson Fittipaldi: The 1989 Penske that I drove with the Pat Patrick and Chip Ganassi team. Morris Nunn was the chief engineer.

Q: What was so special about that car for you?

EF: It was very consistent on different tracks. Short ovals, street circuits, road circuits like Road America, Mid-Ohio. It was good everywhere. It was easy to work, plus a very forgiving car. For all the Indy cars I drove, that was to me the best, the 1989 Penske.

Q: That’s surprising. I think a lot of people might have thought the 1994 Penske car you drove at the Speedway, with the “Beast” Mercedes pushrod engine, would have been your favorite.

EF: Driving at the Speedway was incredible (in the 1989 car). Very consistent, forgiving. It was really what I call a dream car for a driver.

Q: Was that car fast right off the truck in May 1989, or did you have to make a lot of changes to find speed?

EF: No, out of the box it was very strong. I don’t know technically, but the weight distribution, downforce, everything was well balanced on that car. The it was always consistent. Every day at Indianapolis, it was consistently fast. Wind, no wind. Cold today, hot today. It was always ready. A very good car to drive.

Q: How much did it help that it wasn’t essentially a new car? Patrick Racing bought it from Team Penske, which ran it in 1988.

EF: We got the car (from Team Penske), but we worked ourselves on the setup and developed the car. I don’t think there was a lot of information from the year before. It was a very fun car to drive. I had a very good relationship with Morris Nunn, my engineer, to collaborate on the setup of the car. He was very good. We raced against each other in England in Formula 3 many, many years ago, and then I knew Morris well. All of the team was enthusiastic to work hard and have a very good car. The whole team was very motivated.

Q: You said the car was very balanced. But was handling a little better than horsepower, or vice-versa?

EF: It was just strong. Very easy to drive. Very consistent. Easy to setup for different situations. It stayed strong, strong, strong. The last pit stop (at Indy in 1989), Pat Patrick put in too much fuel. Then when I went out, the car was not running as strong as it should be. It was the only time in ’89 that I lost some performance because I was carrying too much weight after my last pit stop. So Junior (Al Unser Jr.) caught me. Pat Patrick was very anxious, and he asked them to put more fuel in. Everything happened so fast – they put more fuel in the car.

Q: Did your 1989 Indy car remind you of any of the great Formula One cars you drove during your career?

EF: For any driver to have a consistent car on different tracks and you know how the car reacts, how can you improve the car, it’s a fun car to drive the whole year. It was similar to the Lotus 72 when I won my first World Championship. I would say the Lotus 72 was my best car and then the Penske ’89.

 

Facts about Emerson Fittipaldi’s 1989 Indianapolis 500 car:

Car name: Penske/Chevrolet Indy
Car number: 20
Team: Patrick Racing
Qualified: Third
Finished: First
Laps Completed: 200
Laps Led: 158
Status: Running
Emerson Fittipaldi career "500” starts: 11 (1984-94)

 

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