Mercedosaurus Rex at Indianapolic Park
Part 24: "Plan your work; work your plan" - Chuck Sprague on the PC23
- Henri Greuter
- October 25, 2012
- March-Alfa Romeo 90CA - Fiasco Italo-Brittanico, by Henri Greuter
- March-Porsche 90P - The last oddball at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, by Henri Greuter
- Penske-Mercedes PC23-500I - Mercedosaurus Rex at Indianapolic Park, by Henri Greuter
- Part 1: Penske Racing at Indianapolis - new standards
- Part 2: Ilmor Engineering at Indianapolis
- Part 3: Mercedes, Benz and Mercedes-Benz at Indianapolis up until 1993
- Part 4: Equivalency formulas - waiting for things to go wrong
- Part 5: Stock blocks - keeping them rolling and promoting 'Born in the USA' technology
- Part 6: Indianapolis 1991 - Chevy And Rich Team owners
- Part 7: The Speedway narrowed, its speeds lowered
- Part 8: The forerunner
- Part 9: Pre-May '94 plans
- Part 10: Penske PC23 - a home for the engine
- Part 11: The 1994 Indycar season until mid-April
- Part 12: The unfair advantage and when others have it
- Part 13: Practice during the 1994 'Month of May'
- Part 14: Other bespoke-design 209s
- Part 15: From the last weekend of May '94 to the end of the season
- Part 16: Could the Mercedes Benz 500I have been stopped in time?
- Part 17: Creating an extinct species without it being forbidden, initially at least
- Part 18: The 1995 '500' - Did the Mercedosaurus bite its masters after all?
- Part 19: A possible twist of fate for Rahal-Hogan and Penske as a legacy of the 500I
- Part 20: Re-evaluation of our verdict
- Part 21: PC23's further active career after 1994
- Part 22: USAC’s points of views and some answers
- Part 23: The loose ends that didn’t fit in anywhere else and the epilogue
- Appendix 1: Specifications
- Appendix 2: Car and driver appearances and performances during the Month of May 1994
- Appendix 3: Chassis, entry, practice and race numbers in 1994
- Appendix 4: PC23's 1994 results sans Mercedes Benz 500I
- Appendix 5: PC23's 1995-'96 results sans Mercedes Benz 500I
- Appendix 6: A reflection on the PC23 chassis used by Team Penske in 1994
- Appendix 7: A review of Beast by Jade Gurss
Al Unser Jr
1994 Indianapolis 500
Sometimes you have an occurrence in life of which you think or say, “What have I done to deserve this?”
Most often that's because of things having gone wrong. Occasionally, though, it's because of a positive experience. While working on this project I had one such moment as when I saw my e-mail inbox fill up with scanned pictures of the 500I engine sent to me by Tony Matthews. The majority of those pictures can be found in Part 9: Pre-May '94 plans. Other moments of sheer disbelief came when I engaged in correspondence with Mike Devin (see Part 22: USAC’s points of views and some answers) and when it dawned on me that apart from having engineered the actual cars Nigel Beresford was now kind of “engineering” my work in order to improve it.
Once it came online in September 2009, I never closed this project, always remaining ready and willing to learn more and add to this series of articles. Early 2011, I became aware of the fact that the project had been spotted by someone whom I was eager to get in touch with if I was ever given the chance. We came close to meeting one another in May 2011 when we were both at Indianapolis, but our commitments prevented us from speaking each other. We remained in touch and eventually I got the stories and comments from another key person who had been part of the PC23-500I legend.
It didn't take long for me to wonder what I had done right in the past that I am now permitted to have you, dear reader, enjoy the memories and stories of Chuck Sprague, the man who was team manager at Team Penske in 1994.
To begin with, here's a brief introduction of Chuck Spraque: Chuck joined the IROC (International Race of Champions) program in September 1978 as a general mechanic. In January 1980, he was transferred to the CART program, partially as a result of his experience in the 5-litre Can-Am series in 1978. He was assigned to the spare car (at that time Team Penske had a single car) which was occasionally driven by Mario Andretti. Chuck was the second mechanic on Rick Mears' car from 1981 through 1983, and on Al Unser (Sr)'s car in 1984 before being promoted to chief mechanic on Danny Sullivan’s car from 1985 through 1988. In the fall of 1988, Chuck became the new team manager, and then stepped us to the role of general manager in 1997. This was a highly successful period for Team Penske, up until Firestone entered the frame in 1995, sparking off a tyre war. In 1999, Roger asked Chuck to help out in the start-up of a new company, at which point his direct involvement with the team pretty much ended.
Chuck Sprague, Team Penske team manager in 1994, a job important enough to have your picture appear in the team's media guide. (photo Team Marlboro Penske media guide 1994)
Chuck used an early concept version for another chapter of this project to put down his comments. These have been used to create this chapter. This was followed by more correspondence unveiling and solving additional details. Chuck's comments (in italics) were left unchanged in order to keep them authentic, allowing this chapter to center around Chuck Sprague's recollections of the memorable PC23-500I, a project about which Chuck wrote the following:
“It was highly complex, but we had put a lot of effort into the planning, starting in June 1993. I had seen the expression 'Plan your work; work your plan' posted on the wall of a friend's company, and the basic wisdom and simplicity of the concept stuck with me.”
When I read Chuck's use of the expression I had found the title for this part...
Given his position, Chuck Sprague was among the very few men who knew of the entire project almost from the very beginning, when the plans were made in June 1993.
Roger Penske first informed me of the plan in mid-summer 1993, after Ilmor had concluded that it seemed worthwhile. I had confidence that Ilmor would be able to execute their part of the program, and wanted to be sure that Penske Racing would as well. Since we were also expanding to a 3-car operation for 1994, we were already in the process of hiring additional personnel. This meant that burden of the pushrod project would be spread across a wider employee base, thereby softening (somewhat) the impact on our organization. I was blessed to have a Bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University; this helped me understand the complexity and technical aspects of the project that we were undertaking. I made many of the initial enquiries to some of our US-based powertrain component suppliers on my own, using the pretext of having to supply customer cars to other teams that would be running Buick engines. Since we would only be using the engines at Indianapolis where all the running was in top gear, many driveline load issues went by the wayside. (If we had used this engine at road courses with heavy aero load, softer tires, and the extensive use of lower gears, the resulting driveline torque load problems would have been monumental.) As we got to the point that various systems specialists would have to get involved in order to be ready for testing in the early spring of 1994, they were brought into the picture during the fall of 1993, following annual reviews at which point their employment through the 1994 season was confirmed.
Using the 265E on other CART tracks, however, would also have caused another complication. CART did not allow any turbo boost advantage for any engine. The boost had to be reduced to 45 inch on tracks other than Indy. Making the engine work would be an entirely different matter and an tantalizing thought, yet it is a subject beyond the scope of this article.
Chuck recalls the 1994 season with affection, the more when you realize (something that not everyone does) that there was more going on during 1994 than just the pushrod project: there were 15 more races forming part of an entire championship.
It is impossible to describe the scope of the pushrod project. It has to be put in context with the rest of the season. We were expanding from two cars to three for 1994 (plus a dedicated test team), so we were expanding facilities (including a dedicated shop for the 500I), hiring people, getting trucks and trailers built, and testing both a new car and a new 4-cam CART engine. We were also developing tire pressure sensors (our proudest achievement) and scrambled radios. We even experienced a testing disaster at Phoenix when we totalled a brand-new (one day old) car when a tire failed. It was an era of extraordinary effort from extraordinary people.
In a way, despite the scope and success of the 500I project, it is almost a footnote to the 1994 season. The mainstream accomplishments of the team during the 1994 CART season remain formidable to this day. A few years back, Tom McKean of ESPN.com selected the Penske Racing’s 1994 season as the best season ever by an Indy/Champ Car team, and the third-best ever season in motorsports, behind only McLaren's 1988 season and Williams 1996 season.
It is pretty well-known that a number of the initial tests with the 500I engine were done by Paul Tracy. The tests with the four-cam cars were carried out by all of the drivers, according to Chuck:
The three drivers rotated through testing for the regular 4-cam/CART version of the car, based predominantly on their personal schedules, and an overall sharing of the test load.
The new man in the team, Al Unser Jr. also took up his share:
Like Emmo, Danny and all the other drivers that joined Penske Racing over the years, Al was so professional and experienced that his integration with the team was essentially seamless.
Chuck Sprague was thus one of very few who knew at the end of 1993 what was coming at Team Penske in 1994. Only gradually the people who had to know something were informed. A good example of this was when Paul Tracy found out about the existence of the engine. It was only when he appeared at Nazareth for some runs with the test car dedicated to the test team that he found out about the engine. Chuck didn’t recall whether Paul was the first driver who had knowledge of the engine's existence but he is pretty sure that Roger Penske was the one informing the drivers.
I don’t recall the exact sequence of notifications, but the entire project was kept on a very strict “need-to-know” basis. Needless to say, the lead people in each department (Electronics, Engineering, Fabrication, Transmissions, etc.) were brought in and informed as their respective lead times dictated. We also had a 4-man dedicated test team in those days. The remaining team members were not informed until we had completed two or three tests at Nazareth, and the rumor mill was getting too active. That was when Roger came in and delivered his famous “talking about this is like cutting off the end of your paycheck” speech.
With respect to the “need-to-know basis”, one person who needed to be told about the engine was USAC's technical director Mike Devin. As told in Part 22: USAC's points of views and some answers Devin came over to Reading to have a look at the engine. Chuck had a part in this visit, although he wasn't the person making the contacts with USAC:
Teddy Mayer was very involved in that aspect of the program, serving as our business liaison with the sanctioning bodies. My role with Mike was primarily to serve as his host when he came to town.
Mike was very professional and methodical in looking things over. I was a bit surprised that he did not ask more questions, but, given his technical expertise and experience, I’m sure he grasped what he needed to very quickly. His role was not to evaluate the technical merits of the engine, but to offer an official opinion on its legality. Penske Racing's philosophy has always been to be upfront with the sanctioning bodies in these matters, and to resolve any issues before arriving at the track. This was especially important in this case.
Once the first engines were shipped over and built up to be fitted into a car for testing, Sprague was confronted with a number of logistical problems. The chassis itself was one of the newly designed Penske PC23 chassis and the chassis had been designed in such a manner that between the tub and the gearbox either the pushrod engine or a regular qadcam Ilmor /D would fit. The length of both engines was identical. Chuck had the following to tell about the actual test car (PC23-004):
The engine was interchangeable to the chassis. The first few transmissions of 1994 were not adaptable to the pushrod engine, but a casting change made the remaining transmissions usable with both engines. The difference was in accommodating an overdrive input bevel gear ratio. Reversing the input gear ratio from something like 22:27 to 27:22 (I don’t recall the exact tooth count) served to both reduce the input torque loads on the gearbox, and to bring our existing inventory of gear ratios into play. We still had to take a guess on just what ratios we were going to need for the race, as our gears were custom-made. We were not sure of what the race RPM target would be, and lead times were in the area of 12-14 weeks. There were LOTS of parts and logistical decisions that we had to make without knowing what the final configuration would be. I seem to recall ordering something like ten sets each of twelve potential top gear ratios.
All the guess work and orders were however close to perfect because Chuck closed this comment with the recollection that:
…we put the last three sets of one particular ratio into the cars for the race…
Eventually, the first tests were able to take place, starting with dyno tests in a dedicated area of the Penske base at Reading. About a month later, near the end of February, it was time for the first tests with the engine fitted in an actual car. Paul Tracy was summoned to Pennsylvania to make a lot of miles in difficult circumstances.
The first test was at Nazareth on February 21, 1994. I remember because the car arrived from Penske Cars on the 20th, and when we got it running that night, I called Roger and let him listen to it on the phone because it was his birthday.
Although it is a widely known fact that Paul Tracy is acknowledged as the man who did by far the most testing with the test car, he was not the first to drive it. That honour went to Al Unser Jr. As expected for a brand new engine, reliability problems were an issue in the early test. Paul Tracy had recalled some early breakdowns in the past. But Chuck recalls:
There may have been some short tests for Paul, but that was because we brought him in as late as possible to keep him fresh. I recall that virtually every test went further than the previous one.
The testing at Nazareth was carried out with a clear mission in mind.
Our first objective was to cover the same number of engine revolutions as Indy (this amounted to something like 350 miles at Nazareth), and then to move on to Michigan, where the on-power duty cycle of the engine would more accurately reflect Indy.
The scenery of the Nazareth Speedway in winter: work in progress to make the track accessible for the secret tests of a prototype Indycar. (photo courtesy Hazleton Publishing, used with permission)
To protect him for the cold, Paul wore a snowmobile suit over his race gear. People concerned with safety must have some thought about that, and so did Chuck, for very good reasons.
At first, I was a bit worried about the suit, as it was not fireproof, and we had experienced a bad situation in Rick Mears' pit fire at Indy in 1981. However, Paul was wearing all his normal protective gear underneath, and it was very cold.
Once in the pits after a run, Paul was warmed up with heat guns…
Paul really looked forward to the heat gun treatment each time he brought the car in for fuel and/or tires. We had one person specifically assigned to that job.
For the car, the team also came up with clever plans in order to use the track time as efficient as possible, being out in the cold for an as short a time as possible.
We also made it a point to warm up the engine in the shop before we loaded the car into the truck. Since it only took about an hour to get to the track, the engine was still warm, and we could get right on to testing.
The testing was focussed on the engine, as for chassis testing…
We put very little effort into the handling for the Nazareth test; we basically planted the car with all the downforce we could put on it, and made some slight adjustments for tire wear and driver comfort.
The car had so much power that, despite the slow cornering speeds and short straights, we were turning lap times that would have been competitive for the regular Nazareth CART race.
Apart from the cold, there was another cause for inconvenience typical to the winter conditions: snow!
The track manager at Nazareth was very helpful and clever. The winter of 1993-1994 was one of the worst ever for snowfall in the area, and he arranged to get gigantic snow removal equipment brought in from the local (Allentown) airport on several occasions. There was so much snow that it could not be cleared on the inner (infield) side of the track. We cleared the snow enough to make it a vertical face, then sprayed it with water to create an inner wall of solid ice. We felt that this was preferable to a soft, snowy face that might “grab” the car if Paul brushed it.
Since the test was secret, very few pictures were ever made public. From the collection of Nigel Beresford comes this photo giving at least an indication of the effort it must have taken to get the track in a driveable condition. (photo courtesy Nigel Beresford)
The test crew would come into the shop around 5:00 AM, install an engine that was still hot from the dyno, warm up the car, load it into the truck around 7:00 AM, and be running at Nazareth by 9:00 AM. Depending on how far we ran, the test crew would be back at the shop between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM and have then engine back to the engine shop within an hour. We had a major logistical operation going to keep us supplied with tires a fuel at Nazareth, plus we had to have LOTS of heaters on had to pre-heat the fuel and keep the crew warm!
Despite the winter conditions, Nazareth was still a suitable location for those early tests with the Ilmor 265/E engine. But Nazareth wasn't the only race track owned by Roger Penske…
I seem to recall something like 10 or 12 tests before Indy; seven or eight at Nazareth and four or five at Michigan. I don't think that we did any dyno testing of the pushrod engine in the US until after the first Nazareth test.
Based on the timeline, the test team rapidly made progress. During March the engine's reliability improved hand over first. That was for the better since practice at Indianapolis wasn't that far away. Entries for the “500” had to be made, which meant it was crunch time for some important decisions: would the engine be used or was it better to play it safe and enter the quadcam-powered cars? And if the pushrod was indeed used, what name had to appear on the entry blanks? Being the team manager, Chuck also had his share in Roger Penske's decision-making, even though Chuck wasn't aware of it at the moment. (Was this one of the few secrets in the plans surrounding the 265/E engine that Chuck wasn't let into from the very beginning?)
On the day when we ran 396 miles at race pace, only to experience a failure that we had anticipated, Kevin Walter and I called Roger in Germany and gave him the report. We had new parts coming that would deal with the failure, and all the other previous problem areas were looking good. Roger asked us if we thought that the engine would be ready for Indy, and we told him that we felt that it would. He said: “Great. I'm going to go and make a multi-million dollar presentation based on your input.” We found out later that that was the day he presented the program to Mercedes. We were very happy to find out later that our conclusion was correct.
As for when this happened, it must have been about late March, perhaps very early April, since on April 6th the board of Mercedes decided to take up the bills and sponsor the project in turn for the right to have Ilmor badge the engine as the Mercedes-Benz 500I.
All I can recall was this. It was via a payphone in the garage area at a very cold and dreary Michigan International Speedway. April 6th would make sense; we didn't start running at MIS until the weather cleared up there.
According to the Penske factory records which were available to us to update the appendices 1-5 and write appendix 6, the very first tests with the 265E took place from March 25 to 27 while a second took place at April 4th.
Meanwhile, while some people in Germany had something to think about and Sprague and his men were running a CART program in addition to continued development of the pushrod, the progress on the 265E was encouraging.
At this point, progress was so fast that some parts were being hand-carried on Concorde flights, where the individual carrying the parts would clear customs in the US, hand over the parts, and then climb right back on to the Concorde for the return trip!
This makes you wonder: any chance that with all those flights combined and this being done by a limited number of people, at least one of them earned enough frequent flyer miles in order to have at least one Trans-Atlantic flight for free?
More proof that Team Penske had more on its mind then just the pushrod program. According to Chuck Sprague and Nigel Beresford, this picture was taken around the time when the first CART race of the season was coming up. The team is seen loading up the cars for the race in Australia, to be held on March 20th. (photo courtesy Hazleton Publishing, used with permission)
In Part 11: The 1994 Indycar season until mid-April is mentioned that Emerson Fittipaldi was not involved in engine testing. This is not true. In fact, he was, be it in a very late phase of the project, with the engine's existence no longer a secret. Chuck recalled a test in which Emerson participated and was confronted with an utterly unexpected problem that was beyond anyone's control.
Emerson was driving at Michigan on the day that Senna was killed [Sunday, May 1st, HG] and was absolutely devastated when his wife called to give him the bad news. We sent Emerson home immediately, and pulled Al Unser Jr out of a car show in Canada to finish that test. That was a very, very difficult day for us. Senna had tested one of our cars in December 1992, and all of us had been very impressed with his skill and courtesy.
With respect to the Month of May preparations I mentioned in Part 11: The 1994 Indycar season until mid-April that five of the six cars available had been converted to PC23-500I specification, with a new car added to the batch. Only one of the first six cars, PC23-005, never carried a 500I engine. A brand new car, PC23-007, also arrived in the USA. This became the sixth car that would be used with the 265E. As history would prove this car may perhaps have been the last among the PC23-500Is, but anything but the least…
And so we entered the Month of May, the month with the three weeks for which all of this work had been carried out.
It has been mentioned on a number of occasions that with their power surplus, Team Penske simply had an advantage against which no-one else could do anything. It wasn’t that simple, however. Apart from the power understeer problem, the team was dealing with a number of other problems. Chuck recalled a number of them. Curiously enough, some of the problems were unrelated to typical “PC23-500I only” equipment on the car. One of them was related to the device dreaded by so many people at the Speedway, from race fans to drivers: the infamous pop-off valve…
The biggest drama in practice was the USAC-supplied pop-off valve. Our plan was to sneak up on boost and rpm over the first two days, but we quickly discovered that the engine was not much of an advantage unless we ran it hard. The first time we ran enough boost to open the pop-off valve, the valve locked SHUT afterwards. We found that this was the case with every pop-off valve that we had. The valve was simply not engineered to handle 55 inches of boost. USAC's position was that, if we came in from our qualifying attempt (or the race) and the valve was locked shut, we would be disqualified. This was their problem, but we would pay for it if it wasn't fixed. We launched into a program to get it fixed, trying all sorts of things (Mario Illien of Ilmor even had some springs custom-made at Ilmor's expense), but the problem still existed on Thursday before qualifying. I asked Emmo to intentionally open the valve on his car, allow it to re-shut, and then turn the boost up and up until it finally re-opened. I’m not sure how high the boost got (probably over 60 inches), but Emmo came in with his eyes wide, telling the crew that it felt as if the front wheels had been off the ground!
And when you can recall Emerson's manner of speaking English it must have been a special moment to hear him say such!
Emerson asked to take a break. Our data showed that Emmo had run 252 miles per hour on the back straight. I may still have that data printout to this day.
This figure deserves an additional comment.
Back in May 2011 when I was at Indianapolis for the Centennial 500, I listened to what is likely one of the favourite radio programs during the Month of May for the local race fans, “The talk of Gasoline Alley”, hosted by Indy/USAC historian Donald Davidson. In it, he answers just about any question fans may have about Indy history. One evening it was asked what had been the highest top speed ever recorded on the straights at Indy and by whom. Donald's answer was that to his knowledge the highest top speed ever recorded by Timing & Scoring at the Speedway had been a 247mph trap speed by one of the 1994 Penske-Mercedes drivers of that year.
Donald Davidson’s knowledge about the history of the Speedway is not to be doubted. It is probably true that 247mph is the highest speed ever recorded officially at the Speedway. But just like Arie Luyendyk's official one-lap record of 237.498mph, there is also that even more mind-boggling unofficial 239.260mph one-lap record. Into this same category we can now add a top-speed record of 252mph…
Chuck's explanation for the 5mph difference is the following:
The reason that Donald Davidson would refer to the Speedway's records only showing 247 is that their information comes from a speed trap at the very end of the straightaway, whereas our data is an instantaneous point, taken earlier on the straight before slowing for the turn. Our slowdown area happened to include the speed trap.
Back to the pop-off troubles again.
We offered to allow USAC to fit a completely independent boost monitoring system to the car in case the valve locked. This way they could verify that we had not exceeded 55 inches. USAC refused. They had already made us remove the electronic boost control system that we used in the CART races and revert to a less accurate and less reliable pneumatic/mechanical system. The problem was finally fixed on the day before qualifying. Mike Devin was very cooperative and sympathetic, but some the other USAC personnel seemed to delight in seeing us squirm a bit on this matter.
Other Indycar-standard equipment also caused worries, calling for creative and necessary efforts that were also very educating with regards to the durability of the 500I engine…
Besides Garrett's concern about the turbos [more on that later on, HG], Goodyear had raised an alarm immediately upon the announcement of the program in April. We arrived at the Long Beach race the day after the Indy press conference, and the Goodyear engineers tracked us down right away to express their concerns about the level of energy that the tires would have to deal with.
Before allowing Chuck to continue his story, there is something of interest to point out regarding the statement above.
The Goodyear reaction is rather interesting. In the years before since 1985 the most powerful engines used at Indy were the Buick stockblock-based engines. Although I have no performance data available I take it for granted that AJ Foyt's Chevy V6 (used between 1985 and 1990) was more powerful than the regular 2.65-litre quadcam V8 engines. To the best of my knowledge, however, Goodyear never expressed any concerns about the potential tyre consequences of this additional power. Also, as far as I know, Goodyear never supplied bespoke tyres for the V6-powered cars. And although it was a different era the early-70s turbocharged Offy was capable of producing even more power than the 265/E. In 1973, the strongest Offies had some 1200hp in qualifying trim but speeds in that era were lower, 1973 pole winner Johnny Rutherford just missing the magic 200mph mark. Nevertheless, Goodyear never publicly expressed their concerns about the use of their tyres on the powerful cars of that era.
However, Goodyear did react instantly in 1994 when they heard about the Mercedes. Obviously they had high expectations of what this engine was capable of. Goodyear was proven right as Chuck tells…
As history has shown, we were not able to simply crank up the downforce and deal with the drag; that approach overloaded the tires, which were simply not engineered to handle those loads. As a result, as practice went on, we had to decide if our primary area of concern was tire wear, in which case we should only lightly scuff each set of race tires, or would the problem be overheating, in which case, we should put two heat cycles into each set to toughen them up somewhat. In the week before the race, the decision was made to use a spare car to cycle each set of race tires a second time. By the time we were done, that engine had more than 800 miles on it, and required a quart of oil each time we put a new set of tires on it every 4 laps…
We used two cars for race setup work during the second week. Once we decided to double-scrub the tires, there was very little track time left, so we just used the car that happened to be in the pit lane at the time. I seem to recall Emmo doing the short runs. There was a HUGE inventory of tires in the pits, despite the team golf carts running them back and forth to the garage on a constant basis.
Now that explains the large number of laps driven by the 2T and 3T during the second week of practice.
But there were more tyre worries to deal with…
The other tire issue came on the first Tuesday of practice, once we had begun pushing the engines a bit. Emerson came in complaining of a vibration and his tire man noticed that the paintpen mark on the tire that should line up with the valve stem was off by 8” or so. Another tire man noticed that it was 8” in the wrong direction – that the tire had slipped on the wheel almost a full revolution. At that point, Rick Mears asked how we would know if it was only one revolution! As a result, we had to take all the wheels over to an industrial sandblasting operation and had the bead area of every rear wheel roughened up to give a better grip between the wheel and the tire. This was unheard of at Indy, and Newman-Haas Racing's lead engineer later told me that this information had a major demoralizing affect on them when they heard that we were having to deal with wheel slip.
The wheel slip problem was new to the team. For example, it had not been observed at Michigan during the tests out there since…
The speeds at Michigan vary very little, whereas Indy involved (in our case) the torque loads of acceleration in addition to high centrifugal loads.
The name of Rick Mears has been mentioned, perhaps the one driver besides Mark Donohue who will make you instantly think of Team Penske. Rick had retired a little more that 1.5 years ago but what about the thought of Rick behind the wheel of a Penske-Mercedes? However, it appears that Rick never expressed the desire to have a crack at racing the PC23-500I. According to Sprague:
Rick has an immediate understanding of how technological advances have helped drivers since he retired. He has never once looked back at his retirement with regret, though.
All the wheel spin troubles took place out of public sight. There was, however, one other very obvious problem Team Penske had to cope with: Paul Tracy's crash on “fast Friday”…
Roger was very upset about Paul's crash and felt that we should not have sent him out for that “last check run”. Unfortunately, we had been experiencing a problem with the car and did not want to go into qualifying day without knowing that we had fixed it.
Another problem with which the team was confronted became known after the race was done. It was of course the problem with the faulty piston rings that had shown up in some of the engines and possibly in the engines installed in the race cars for the actual race. Eventually, the decision was made to leave the installed engines in the cars and race them as they were. Chuck was not directly involved in the decision-making, others had to shoulder that responsibility.
This was all handled by Mario Illien, Paul Morgan, Kevin Walter, and Karl Kainhofer. They were the “engine guys”; it was their call. We had already devised an onboard system to add oil to the tank during the race.
With regards to the race itself, Chuck had the following to say about the two unlucky drivers in the team.
Emerson had his car so well-tuned and well-balanced that, for the second year in a row, we made NO adjustments to it during the race. (This level of setup is almost unheard of at Indy.) Had it not been for the errant hotdog wrapper that got into the radiator and forced us to make an unscheduled green-flag stop, Emerson would not have been forced out of pitstop sequence and would have likely won the race by well over a lap.
I don't know that we ever really figured out the turbo failure. I remember the Garrett guys called us as soon as they heard about the program. They had computed the airflow numbers and determined that the turbo would be operating at a speed dangerously close to it’s third harmonic resonance. We sent all the Indy turbos back to Garrett, where they were re-machined to change their natural harmonic frequency. Unfortunately, because Paul was stuck in slower traffic for so long, he may have been running at a turbo speed that was near the turbo's second harmonic, which failed the turbo. It was a shame. As far as I know, his engine was still fine afterwards.
Another challenge Team Penske faced right after Indy was the fact that next weekend the Milwaukee 200 was due to be held.
Milwaukee was on Team Penske's agenda during May already. After qualifying was over the three qualified cars were prepared for Carb Day. Paul Tracy, however, was sent off to Milwaukee since he had a two-day test with a PC23-Ilmor/D. The car in question was chassis PC23-005, the only one of the first seven chassis built that was not used at Indy and had never been fitted with an 265/E engine. These tests took place on Monday and Tuesday, May 23 & 24.
For the race weekend, though, Team Penske needed at least three PC23s fitted with Ilmor/D engines, not to mention the need for spare cars. Logistics in that period of time (Indy followed by Milwaukee) must have been a nightmare, stretching the capabilities of the team to the limit. Chuck had the following to say on that observation:
It was highly complex, but we had put a lot of effort into the planning, starting in June 1993. 'Plan your work; work your plan.'
The season went on and according to Chuck the three drivers pretty much kept using the same car they ran at Indy throughout the season. With respect to Milwaukee, it could have made sense to rebuild the backup cars early on and have them ready. But…
I'm not sure when we converted the spare cars. One car was used to double-scrub tires right up until the end of practice on the final Sunday. We probably converted them after Carburetion Day, in case we crashed a car that day. Regardless of which of the cars were to be raced, and which ones were to be the spares, the level of preparation had to be the same for every car. Our standards of preparation were such that every member of the team had to be comfortable with being able to arrive at the race track, and pick any car at random to be the car for any particular purpose or driver. Our experience with Rick Mears' pre-qualifying crash at Indy in 1991 had really driven home the value of a properly-prepared spare car to every member of the team.
The latter remark is a reminder to what is perhaps one of Rick's most impressive poles ever, if not for any pole sitter. In 1991 Rick crashed a car at the Speedway for the first ever time on 'Fast Friday'. It did not stop him from winning the pole the next day, driving a backup car, and then use that very same car to win his fourth and final Indy 500. Further proof of Chuck's theories and statements isn't needed, I suppose.
Eventually, at Milwaukee Paul and Al Jr drove the cars they raced the week before. Fittipaldi raced the 005 while 002 and 004, which at Indy had been the well-used backups 2T and 3T, were at Milwaukee for the same reason, also fitted with Ilmor/Ds. Which means that all four cars that didn't suffer accidents at Indy had been rebuilt to /D-spec within four days (this at least applying to Tracy's #3 PC23-001 and Unser's #31 PC23-007) and seven days at best for 002 and 004. Within those four days they had to be brought over from Indy to Milwaukee as well. Not that much time left for the crew to celebrate the Indy victory…
With respect to the two cars that got damaged at Indy (Paul's original #3 crashed on 'Fast Friday', Fittipaldi's #2 crashed in the race) Chuck wrote:
Paul's Friday crash did not total the car. Fittipaldi's damage from the Turn 4 crash was pretty much just bolt-on parts.
Still, according to the Penske files, the car crashed by Paul never appeared on track later in the year while Fittipaldi's car wasn't used at Milwaukee, even though it would reappear later on (see appendix 6).
After the stunning success of 1994 came the 'never believed to be possible' 1995 season.
Since this series on the PC23-500I appeared in 2009-2010 some publications have discussed the Indy 1995 Penske debacle. It is often assumed that this was a result of a design flaw in the 1994- and 1995-type Penskes that was overcome if not hidden in 1994 by the power of the Ilmor 265/E engine but manifested itself one year later without the 265/E installed in the engine bay. More details of what went wrong and its the most serious cause have appeared in print later on. Some of these were included in the 1995 part of this series. Nevertheless, I asked Chuck what he could say about what he believed where the causes of the team's DNQs, a mere year after that memorable victory by that PC23-500I 'one-race wonder'.
My role was not to make engineering decisions, but to make sure that engineering decisions were carried out to the best of our capabilities. In retrospect, the 1994 car was not particularly good at Michigan either, which leads me to believe that the car's aero and mechanical speedway packages were not optimized. Since there were so few superspeedway races each season, we focused our testing elsewhere, and Penske Cars had very little information to use in designing the speedway package for 1995. I'm sure that the 1994 car could have been optimized simply with more testing, but none of us realized that the issue was so pronounced going into the 1995 season.
About the Hazleton Publishing pictures in this part
A special edition of the 1994-1995 Autocourse CART yearbook was released to commemorate the 1994 Team Penske achievements of that year. Apart from the dust jacket, this edition contains one page missing in the regular edition, with an intermezzo sharing more information about the secret development phase of the 265/E engine. The piece contains two pictures that were taken at Nazareth during the winter tests. Pictures of these tests are near impossible to locate, so I want to express my gratitude to Hazleton Publishing for their permission to reproduce these pictures here.
Please note that the pictures were supplied to Hazleton to be inclused in the intermezzo, but their heritage as well as their respective copyright holders are unknown.
Talking of pictures: many thanks as well to Nigel Beresford for supplying additional photos to this chapter.