Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 2001 Dallara Indianapolis winner
The fourth IndyCar car included in the 50th anniversary tribute to Penske Racing at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show in Indianapolis is the Dallara IR2 owned by the Team Penske Collection. This car was driven to victory in the 2001 Indianapolis 500-mile race by Helio Castroneves.
This was the first Penske race car to reappear at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a five race absence due to the second American open-wheel racing split which began with the creation of the Indy Racing League (IRL) on March 11, 1994 to begin competition in 1996.
IMS President Tony George began to agitate for changes in November 1991, and he continued to push for changes as a non-voting member of the CART board from 1992 to1994.  Eventually frustrated he quit the CART board and formed the IRL 

Roger Penske already unhappy with the split was further  angered when in August 1994 United States Auto Club (USAC) the sanctioning body for the Indianapolis ‘500’ for the second time in three months reduced the allowable maximum boost level for purpose-designed pushrod engines. USAC’s moves relegated the Mercedes-Benz 500I engine which had won the 1994 Indianapolis ‘500’ in dominant fashion to museum status after just one race followed by Penske Racing’s humiliation of failing to qualify for the 1995 Indianapolis ‘500.’


The nineteen seventies Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART)-USAC split was very divisive, but the CART-IRL split reached new levels of rancor.  No CART teams entered in the 1996 Indianapolis ‘500’ as CART teams claimed they were effectively locked out by new Indianapolis qualifying rules which guaranteed starting positions to the top 25 drivers in IRL points. Although the IRL countered that CART teams were boycotting the ‘500,’ the IRL one-season carry-over rules package for the 1996 ‘500’ would not allow CART teams to use their 1996 Penske, Reynard and Lola chassis.

In retaliation, in December 1995 CART announced the inaugural “U.S. 500” race at Michigan International Speedway to be held on the same day as the 1996 Indianapolis ‘500.’ Neither race was an artistic success, as the Indianapolis ‘500’ 33-car starting field was comprised of 1995 and 1995 Lola and Reynard chassis most of which were bought from CART teams.

The apparent ‘500’ pole position winning car driven by Arie Luyendyk the only former ‘500’ race winner entered was disqualified for being underweight, then a pall was cast over the race when pole-sitter Scott Brayton was killed in a practice crash on May 17. Only nine cars finished the 1996 ‘500’ won by second-generation driver Robert “Buddy” Lazier who drove the race with a broken back

The starting field for the “U.S. 500” which aired live on ESPN2, featured only 27 cars, as two cars withdrew before the race. A nine-car crash before the initial start eliminated at least seven cars and in a bizarre turn of events, CART officials allowed six of the drivers involved in the accident to start the race in their back-up cars. The 250-lap race contested on the wide high-banked 2-mile oval was marred by a remarkably high attrition rate as eleven cars experienced engine failure. Jimmy Vasser won the race and Vanderbilt Trophy replica by eleven seconds over former Formula One driver Mauricio Gugelmin as theirs were the only two cars to complete the entire 500-mile distance.

CART officials considered the 1996 “U.S. 500” a success with a reported 120,000 fans in attendance but never again scheduled the “U.S. 500” directly against the Indianapolis 500-mile race. In January 1997 the IRL unveiled its new cars and engines; competitors used either a Riley & Scott, Dallara or G-Force chassis and had a choice of an Oldsmobile Aurora or Nissan/Infiniti powerplants.

Days before the 1997 Indianapolis ‘500,’ the Indy Racing League abolished its controversial rule that guaranteed 25 of the 33 ‘500’ starting positions to IRL regulars of the new series, but still no CART regulars entered the Indianapolis ‘500’ until 2000. In 2000, after CART became a publicly traded company and competitors began to complain about series mismanagement.

CART car owner Chip Ganassi, who had driven in the Indianapolis ‘500’ five times between 1982 and 1986, assembled a two-car team to compete in one IRL sanctioned race- the 2000 Indianapolis 500. The Ganassi Target team dominated the 2000 ‘500’ as winner Juan Pablo Montoya led 167 of the 200 laps. Although a CART regular team won the race, public sentiment became that the IRL was now winning the championship racing sanction war.

Two other CART regular teams entered the 2001 Indianapolis 500-mile race - Team Penske (formerly known as Penske Racing), and Team Kool Green, while Chip Ganassi returned  with a four-car team sponsored by Target department stores with a driver line-up that counted  NASCAR regular Tony Stewart, Jimmy Vasser, and rookies Bruno Junqueira  and Nicolas Minassian. 

Penske’s 2001 Indianapolis driver lineup in the Oldsmobile-powered Dallara chassis were 2000 CART champion Gil de Ferran who had driven in 1995 “500’ paired with Brazilian Helio who had two years of CART experience but was an Indianapolis rookie.  The 121-inch wheelbase Dallara IR2 (Indy Racing League second generation) was built in Parma Italy of carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb construction with aluminum wishbone suspension front and rear.  

The 244-cubic inch all-aluminum Oldsmobile Aurora V-8 engine was based on the production engine used in the short-lived (1995-2003) Aurora luxury sedan. The methanol-burning race engine with four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts which teams purchased from one of four engine builders for $80,000 produced over 700 horsepower at 10,500 RPM (revolutions per minute).
The red square object attached to the rear of the transmission case is
the attenuator designed to absorb the energy of a direct rear engine contact  

Both Penske cars appeared in Marlboro-themed livery (neon red and white) sans the Marlboro name and logo at the request of the Indiana Attorney General.  In In time trials, de Ferran who the year before ran the fastest official IndyCar lap ever at over 241 MPH at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California qualified his #66 in fifth place, while teammate Castroneves qualified eleventh and was the fastest rookie in the 33-car starting field  

After a start led by John Mellencamp’s then-wife Elaine behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile Bravada sport-utility vehicle (SUV), the early stages of the 2001 Indianapolis 500 were marred by three crashes in the first twenty laps which eliminated four cars. Rain fell on lap 107 and the field was slowed under caution flag with CART regular Michael Andretti in the lead. After the race resumed De Ferran took the lead for the first time and held on until lap 136 when he made a pit stop under caution.

On lap 148 rains returned with Tony Stewart in the lead but he pitted the following lap under the caution flag which handed the lead to Castroneves.  The rain then became heavy enough that it brought out the red flag and officials stopped the race for seventeen minutes on lap 155 with Helio’s #68 in the lead. After the lap 157 restart, Robbie Buhl grandson of legendary mechanic and car builder Floyd “Pop” Dreyer battled Castroneves for the lead, but Buhl spun and hit the wall on lap 166.
Buhl’s elimination moved De Ferran into second place and when the green flag flew again the two Penske drivers cruised through the final laps to complete a sweep of the top two positions. Castroneves’ ‘500’ win was the ninth for a rookie driver and Roger Penske’s eleventh. After his victory lap, Helio stopped on the main straightaway and climbed the outer crash fencing. CART drivers took the top six finishing positions in the 2001 Indianapolis ‘500.’

For the 2002 season, Team Penske competed with the Indy Racing League, followed by Ganassi Racing and Andretti/Green Racing in 2003 after Federal Express pulled their sponsorship of the CART series at the 2002 racing season.  Honda and Toyota switched their engine supply from CART to the IRL after 2002. CART declared bankruptcy after the 2003 off-season and the assets of CART were liquidated.

The Champ Car World Series (CCWS) continued on after CART’s failure until CCWS’ bankruptcy in 2008 and its assets were sold at auction on June 3, 2008. For the 2008 racing season, after twenty-nine years of turmoil, American open-wheel racing was finally reunited under one banner.

The Dallara IR2 /Oldsmobile on display at the PRI show is part of the Team Penske Collection and is usually shown in the Penske Racing Museum in Scottsdale Arizona.     
All photos by the author

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