IndyCar
R
Birmingham
16 Apr
Next event in
39 days
23 Apr
Next event in
46 days
R
Texas
30 Apr
Next event in
53 days
R
Grand Prix of Indianapolis Race 1
14 May
Next event in
67 days
28 May
Next event in
81 days
R
Detroit
11 Jun
Next event in
95 days
R
Road America
18 Jun
Next event in
102 days
R
Mid-Ohio
02 Jul
Next event in
116 days
R
Toronto
09 Jul
Next event in
123 days
06 Aug
Next event in
151 days
R
Grand Prix of Indianapolis Race 2
13 Aug
Next event in
158 days
R
Gateway
20 Aug
Next event in
165 days
R
Portland
10 Sep
Next event in
186 days
R
Laguna Seca
17 Sep
Next event in
193 days
R
Long Beach
24 Sep
Next event in
200 days

Race of my Life: Roger Penske on the 1994 Indy 500

The latest episode in Autosport’s Race of My Life podcast series is legendary team boss Roger Penske on the day his team and Mercedes-Benz shocked the world with its ‘secret’ pushrod engine.

Race of my Life: Roger Penske on the 1994 Indy 500

Race: 1994 Indy 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Driver: Al Unser Jr
Car: 
Penske-Mercedes PC23

I don’t really go back and think about my own personal races as a driver. Those were back in the early days. More recently, we’ve had a few memorable ones as a team. The win at Sebring with the LMP2 Porsche against the Audis (in 2008) was a good one. Then there was the NASCAR title with Brad Keselowski after however many years.

Al Unser Jr., Penske PC23-Mercedes-Benz

Al Unser Jr., Penske PC23-Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: Bill Murenbeeld / Motorsport Images

But I guess the one that was really key for us was the 1994 Indy 500, when we came in with the pushrod Mercedes engine. We kept it a secret until a week or two before the month of May opened, came in, sat on pole and led almost every lap. That was a tremendous experience.

We’d watched the Buicks come in for 1992, sit on pole and lead, but not have reliability. So to think Mario Illien was able to design, build and test that engine in less than a year…

We didn’t have transient dynos in those days. We had Paul Tracy in a toboggan suit driving round Nazareth doing a reliability run. During the May we ran it at Michigan, trying to get 500 miles on it a week before the race. It was down to the wire.

Keeping it secret actually wasn’t all that hard. We had a separate group of guys working on it. I talked to our people in Reading, Pennsylvania and I just said, ‘If you talk about this, I’m cutting off your paycheck’.

Read Also:

We had the development guys in a separate building; Ilmor was obviously developing the engine in the UK. It was one of those things that we just kept under our hat. It was pretty exciting when we announced it. I’d gone to Stuttgart and told Mercedes that we were ready to go, and we wanted to do it that year – for a long time, we weren’t sure we’d be ready. And the only commitment they asked for was that we’d run it in all three cars. So we did, and it obviously paid off.

One of the most exciting things was when the top Mercedes people came into the garage in their suits and I told them, ‘You’ve got to put a Penske-Mercedes shirt on’. So that was a big day in my life, having these guys strip down and put Penske-Mercedes shirts on. And then winning was probably one of the biggest days of our racing history.

Al Unser Jr., Penske PC23-Mercedes-Benz

Al Unser Jr., Penske PC23-Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: Sutton Images

Winning any race at Indianapolis is meaningful, but when you make a commitment to a company like Mercedes, it was a victory for our relationship, our brand. We lived up to a commitment we’d made and that’s been key to our relationship over a long-term basis. And we built the F1 relationship with them that they have now – it’s the same group doing the F1 engines. A lot of those Ilmor people are at Mercedes.

We certainly were planning to keep the engine beyond Indy, but they outlawed it a couple of weeks after the race. Typical.

Interview by Mark Glendenning, first published in Autosport, 10 July 2014

 
shares
comments
Unser to receive ‘Baby Borg’ celebrating 1970 Indy 500 win

Previous article

Unser to receive ‘Baby Borg’ celebrating 1970 Indy 500 win

Next article

Dixon unhappy with stipulated tire stint length in Texas

Dixon unhappy with stipulated tire stint length in Texas
Load comments

About this article

Series IndyCar
Drivers Roger Penske
Is Arrow McLaren SP ready for IndyCar’s title fight? Prime

Is Arrow McLaren SP ready for IndyCar’s title fight?

With Patricio O'Ward and Felix Rosenqvist leading its line-up, 2021 could be the year Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet joins the IndyCar elite, writes David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Feb 21, 2021
Dale Coyne picks the Top 10 drivers in his giant-slaying team Prime

Dale Coyne picks the Top 10 drivers in his giant-slaying team

Over 37 seasons, Dale Coyne has run no fewer than 80 Indy car drivers – including himself! Ahead of his first season running Romain Grosjean, we asked Coyne to pick the best 10 drivers ever to compete for him. By David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Feb 10, 2021
Why enigmatic Marco Andretti will be missed Prime

Why enigmatic Marco Andretti will be missed

Last Friday, Marco Andretti announced he is withdrawing from fulltime IndyCar racing. David Malsher-Lopez explains how this third-gen racer was a puzzle in the car, but a straight shooter off-track.

IndyCar
Jan 19, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Is the mighty McLaren M16 the greatest ever Indy car? Prime

Is the mighty McLaren M16 the greatest ever Indy car?

When founder Bruce McLaren died in June 1970, his team could have folded. Instead, his loyal band rallied to produce a string of winners - including an Indy car game-changer that won three Indy 500s in six years.

IndyCar
Dec 23, 2020
How Newgarden delivered his best season, yet still lost Prime

How Newgarden delivered his best season, yet still lost

Josef Newgarden was our pick as top IndyCar driver of 2020 but his finest season-long run of performances failed to yield the championship. David Malsher-Lopez explains why.

IndyCar
Dec 18, 2020
2020 IndyCar Review and Top 10 drivers of the year Prime

2020 IndyCar Review and Top 10 drivers of the year

David Malsher-Lopez explains how the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series was unlike any other, and why it featured familiar and unfamiliar faces competing for glory.

IndyCar
Nov 27, 2020
How Dixon won his sixth IndyCar title, in his own words Prime

How Dixon won his sixth IndyCar title, in his own words

Chip Ganassi Racing’s newly crowned six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon takes us round by round through his remarkable season. David Malsher-Lopez listens.

IndyCar
Nov 4, 2020