1994 Indy 500

1994 Indianapolis 500

78th Indianapolis 500
Location Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Date May 29, 1994
Winner Al Unser, Jr.
Average speed 160.872 mph (258.898 km/h)
Pole position Al Unser, Jr.
Pole speed 228.001 mph (366.932 km/h)
Fastest qualifier Unser, Jr.
Rookie of the Year Jacques Villeneuve
Most laps led Emerson Fittipaldi (145)
Pre-race ceremonies
National anthem Florence Henderson
Back Home Again in Indiana Jim Nabors
Starting command Mary F. Hulman
Pace car Ford Mustang
Pace car driver
Honorary starter none
Attendance 250,000 (estimated)
TV in the United States
Network ABC
Announcers Paul Page, Sam Posey, Bobby Unser, Danny Sullivan
Nielsen Ratings 9.1
Market share 31
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1993 1995

The 78th Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 29, 1994. Al Unser, Jr. won from the pole position, his second Indy 500 victory. Much to the surprise of competitors, media, and fans, Marlboro Team Penske arrived at the Speedway with a brand new, secretly-built 209 in³ (3.42 L) displacement Mercedes-Benz pushrod engine, which was capable of a reported 1,000 horsepower (750 kW). Despite reliability issues with the engine and handling difficulties with the chassis, the three-car Penske team (Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy) dominated most of the month, and nearly the entire race.

On lap 185, while leading his teammate Unser by almost a full lap, Fittipaldi tagged the wall in turn 4, allowing Unser to cruise to victory.

The race marked the final Indy 500 for Mario Andretti, who retired after the 1994 season. Indy veterans Al Unser, Sr. and Johnny Rutherford also retired in the days leading up the race.


Nigel Mansell went on to win the 1993 CART championship, with 1993 Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi finishing second in points. Mansell returned to team up again with Mario Andretti at Newman Haas. Andretti embarked on a yearlong Arrivederci Mario tour, announcing he would retire after 1994. Fittipaldi remained at Penske Racing, which expanded to a three-car effort for 1994, including Al Unser, Jr. and Paul Tracy.

After a dismal season in Formula One, Michael Andretti returned to Indycar racing for 1994, signing with Ganassi. Rahal-Hogan Racing, with drivers Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff debuted the first Honda Indycar engine, the Honda HRX Indy V-8.

Chevrolet dropped its support of the Ilmor engine program at Indy after 1993. For 1994, the 265C and 265D V-8 powerplants were badged the "Ilmor Indy V8."

Mercedes-Benz 500I

The most notable off-season activity involved Penske Racing and Ilmor. In the summer and fall of 1993, Ilmor and Penske engaged in a new engine program. Under complete secrecy, a 209 cu in (3.42 l) purpose-built, pushrod engine was being developed. Mercedes took over the project, and dubbed the engine the Mercedes-Benz 500I. The engine was designed to exploit a perceived "loophole" that existed in USAC's rulebook since 1991. While CART sanctioned the rest of the Indycar season, the Indianapolis 500 itself was conducted by USAC under slightly different technical regulations.

In an effort to appeal to smaller engine-building companies and independents, USAC had permitted "stock-block" pushrod engines (generally defined as single non-OHC units fitted with two valves per cylinder actuated by pushrod and rocker arm). The traditional "stock blocks," saw some limited use in the early 1980s, but became mainstream at Indy starting with the introduction of the Buick V-6 Indy engine. Initially, the stock blocks were required to have some production-based parts. However in 1991, USAC quietly lifted the requirement, and purpose-built pushrod engines were permitted to be designed for racing at the onset. Attempting to create an equivalency formula, both pushrod engine formats were allowed increased displacement of 209.3 instead of 161.7 cu in (3.43 instead of 2.65 l), and increased turbocharger boost of 55 instead of 45 inHG (1860 instead of 1520 hPa).

Team Penske tested and further developed the engine in secret in the spring of 1994. It was mated with the in-house Penske chassis, the PC-23. It was introduced to the public in April, just days before opening day at Indy. Rumors quickly began to circulate that the engine was capable of over 1,000 hp (750 kW), which was up a 150-200 hp advantage over the conventional V-8s.

Track improvements

During the off-season, the pit area was repaved. The individual pit boxes were changed to concrete, while the entrance and exit lanes were widened and repaved in asphalt.

A new scoring pylon was erected on the main stretch, replacing the famous landmark originally built in 1960.

Practice - Week 1

Saturday May 7 - Opening Day

Rain washed out opening day, the first time since 1975.

Sunday May 8

Dick Simon Racing cars of Lyn St. James, Raul Boesel, Hiro Matsushita, Dennis Vitolo, Hideshi Matsuda and Tero Palmroth were the first cars out on the track, creating a "Flying V" formation.

Paul Tracy took the first laps in the Penske/PC-23-Mercedes 500I at 12:34 p.m. Al Unser, Jr., however, was testing at Michigan International Speedway, reportedly "working on reliability." Tracy's fastest lap was 220.103 mph.

Bobby Rahal took the first laps at Indy in the Honda, with a fast lap of 219.791 mph. Scott Brayton, in the Menard Buick posted the fastest lap of the day at 227.658 mph.

Monday May 9

At 4:45 p.m., Mike Groff's Honda engine failed, which caused the car to spin and crash into the wall in the southchute. He was not seriously injured.

Defending Indy Lights champion Bryan Herta, who had started the month with Tasman Motorsports, was withdrawn from that entry, and signed with Foyt.

Emerson Fittipaldi (after 'shake down' laps on Sunday) turned in his first fast laps driving the Penske-Mercedes, completed a lap of 226.512 mph. Al Unser, Jr. took to the track for the first time in the Mercedes as well. Michael Andretti led the speed chart again, at 227.038 mph.

Tuesday May 10

Raul Boesel broke the 230 mph barrier at 5:55 p.m., th first driver to do so since 1992. His lap of 230.403 was the fastest thus far for the month. The Penske-Mercedes was close behind, turning in their best laps of the month. Paul Tracy was second-fastest for the day at 229.961 mph, and Fittipaldi was third at 229.264 mph.

During the afternoon practice, an annular eclipse crossed over the state of Indiana, and the Speedway. Track temperatures cooled, and generally faster laps were observed during the phenomenon.

Wednesday May 11

A windy day kept speed down. Al Unser, Jr. in a Penske-Mercedes, led the chart at 226.478 mph.

Thursday May 12

Emerson Fittipaldi drove his Penske-Mercedes to a lap of 230.438 mph, with a trap speed of 244 mph down the backstrech. Paul Tracy was second-quick at 228.444 mph (244 mph trap speed).

Friday May 13

At 3:37 p.m., Paul Tracy spun his Penske-Mercedes in turn 3, hit the outside wall, then crashed into the inside guardrail. He suffered a concussion, and was forced to sit out the first weekend of time trials.

Emerson Fittipaldi was quickest of the day at 230.138 mph, making him a favorite for the pole position.

Time Trials - Weekend 1

Pole day - Saturday May 14

A mix of sun and rain showers stretched the qualifying line throughout the afternoon. A short shower delayed the start of qualifying until 12:15 p.m. Rookie Hideshi Matsuda became the first driver in the field, posting a 4-lap average of 222.545 mph.

At 12:50 p.m., Raul Boesel took the provisional pole position with a run of 227.618 mph. Later, Jacques Villeneuve qualified as the fastest rookie, with a speed of 226.259 mph.

At 1:18 p.m., Al Unser, Jr. became the first Penske driver to take the track, attempting to qualify one of the three Penske-Mercedes machines. His first lap of 225.722 mph was disappointingly slow, but his speed over the last three laps climbed dramatically. His final four-lap average of 228.011 mph took over the provisional pole position.

Bobby Rahal (220.178 mph) and Mike Groff (218.808 mph) completed slow runs in their Honda-powered machines, and were the slowest two cars of the day.

A second rain shower closed the track from about 2-5 p.m. When qualifying resumed, there was not enough time to complete the entire qualifying line. Among the runs were Lyn St. James (224.154 mph) tentatively putting her 5th fastest, and Al Unser, Sr. who waved off after a lap of 214 mph.

The 6 o'clock gun sounded with several drivers still in line, including Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi. Pole qualifying would be extended into the following day.

Second day - Sunday May 15

The pole qualifying line resumed where it left off from the previous day, with Mario Andretti first out. Emerson Fittipaldi was the final car eligible for the pole position, and took his run at 1:18 p.m. His speed of 227.303 mph was not enough to bump his teammate Al Unser, Jr. off the pole, but qualified him in third position. The front row was rounded out by Raul Boesel, while Lyn St. James held on to qualify for the outside of the second row, the highest starting position for a female driver to-date.

After his crash Friday, Paul Tracy returned to the track Sunday. Since he sat out time trials on Saturday and missed his spot in line, he was ineligible for the pole position. He qualified as a second-day qualifer, and would line up his Penske-Mercedes 25th on race day. After two wave-offs on Saturday, Scott Brayton finally put his Menard-powered Lola in the field as the fastest qualifer for the second round.

Practice - Week 2

Monday May 16

A leisurely day of practice saw only 18 cars take laps. Emerson Fittipaldi, working on race set-ups, ran the best lap at 226.421 mph. Robby Gordon spent time shaking down back-up cars for his teammates Willy T. Ribbs and Mark Smith.

Tuesday May 17

Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Sr. officially announced his retirement from driving at a press conference. His son, pole winner Al Unser, Jr. was sick, and rested away from the track.

Off the track, Rahal-Hogan Racing announced they had entered into a deal with Team Penske to lease two back-up cars. Driving the new Honda HRX Indy V-8s, Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff were the two slowest cars in the field, and risked being bumped. If Rahal were to be bumped, it would mark the second year in a row. Through a sponsorship connection, Roger Penske offered Rahal and Groff the use of two 1993 PC-22/Ilmor V-8 machines (2.65L). Rahal received an Ilmor D engine, while Groff received an Ilmor C+ engine. They were not the Mercedes-Benz 209I power plants, however they were competitive enough to comfortably make the field if needed. Paul Tracy shook down the cars before handing them over to the Rahal team.

Mark Smith (219.947 mph) was the fastest of the non-qualified drivers, and veteran Roberto Moreno took over Al Unser, Sr.'s car, starting a refresher test.

Wednesday May 18

Mark Smith (220.324 mph) was again the fastest of the non-qualified drivers. Mike Groff (221.560 mph), driving the 1993 Penske/Ilmor, was already practicing faster than his qualifying speed in the Honda.

Thursday May 19

A busy day of practice saw 36 cars complete 1,511 laps. John Paul, Jr. (222.058 mph) was the fastest non-qualified car.

Friday May 20

The final full day of practice saw 32 cars complete 1,154 laps. John Paul, Jr. (221.691 mph) was yet again the fastest non-qualified car.

Time Trials - Weekend 2

Third day - Saturday May 21

John Paul, Jr. was the first car out for the afternoon, and safely put his car into the field. Later, Scott Goodyear completed a run at 220.737 mph. With temperatures in the 80s, the track sat dormant for most of the afternoon.

At 5:37 p.m., Mark Smith (220.683 mph) filled the field to 33 cars. Davy Jones (the teammate to Scott Goodyear at King Racing) made the field in car #40T at 223.817 mph. Mike Groff and Bobby Rahal, the two slowest cars in the field, withdrew their Honda-powered machines, and re-qualified in the borrowed Penske-Ilmor cars. Both drivers' speeds were greatly improved, and they were safely in the field.

The day ended with Scott Goodyear (220.737 mph), driving car #40 for King Racing, on the bubble.

Bump day - Saturday May 22

Another hot day (89 degrees) saw the cars stay off the track most of the afternoon. Marco Greco made the first qualifying attempt at 5:35 p.m. Greco bumped Scott Goodyear (car #40) from the field. The move put Bryan Herta (220.992 mph), driving for Foyt, on the bubble. Herta had practiced in his back-up car at over 223 mph, but the team decided not to withdraw the primary car prematurely.

Geoff Brabham was the next driver to make an attempt. His first lap was fast enough to bump Herta, but the second and third laps dropped off, and the team waved off the run. Mark Smith returned to the track, trying to break the "Curse of the Smiths" at the Speedway, and bump his way back into the field. On the first lap, however, he wrecked in the first turn.

After wrecking his car in practice Saturday morning, Gary Bettenhausen made a last-ditch effort to bump his way into the field. He managed only 218 mph, and waved off after two laps. Just before the 6 o'clock gun, Willy T. Ribbs made a long-shot attempt to make the field. After a lap of 216 mph, then dropping to 212 mph, he waved off and time trials came to a close.

After qualifying was over, King Racing swapped drivers for its primary car. Davy Jones was removed from the #40T entry, and full-time driver Scott Goodyear was placed in the car. The move required Goodyear to start from the 33rd starting position.

Starting Grid

Failed to qualify

Race summary


Clear blue skies dawned on race day, with temperatures in the mid-70s. The command to start engines was made on-time at 10:52 a.m. EST, and the field pulled away for the pace laps. Pole-sitter Al Unser, Jr. led fellow front-row starters Emerson Fittipaldi and Raul Boesel.

As the field came around for the start, Penske teammates Unser and Fittipaldi, driving the Mercedes-powered entries, took off out of turn four. They weaved down the front stretch single-file, blocking, and leaving behind Boesel and the rest of the field. USAC officials decided not to wave off the start, and Unser led into turn one. It quickly became evident to competitors and media that the Penske-Mercedes machines were the class of the field, as expected.

On lap 6, Dennis Vitolo spun in turn 4, but continued. Later on lap 20, Roberto Guerrero crashed in turn 2. Unser went on to lead the first 23 laps. On lap 23, as the leaders pitted, Mario Andretti dropped out early of his final "500" with ignition problems.

First half

Al Unser, Jr. stalled exiting the pits (a concern going into the race for the Mercedes) and Emerson Fittipaldi took the lead after the first sequence of pit stops. The yellow came back out again when Mike Groff and Dominic Dobson touched wheels and crashed in Turn 1.

At the restart, Michael Andretti suffered a puncture, and pitted for new tires. He stalled the car leaving the pits, and subsequently went a lap down. Eddie Cheever and Nigel Mansell were both given black flags for passing Raul Boesel prior to the restart, forcing both to make stop and go penalty passes through the pits.

By lap 85, Fittipaldi had stretched his lead to 24.6 seconds over second-place Unser. Jacques Villeneuve was a lap down, running as high as third.

On Lap 92 Hideshi Matsuda crashed in Turn 2. Under the yellow, John Paul, Jr. then spun and crashed in turn 3. As the field was circulating through turn three warm-up lane behind the pace car, Dennis Vitolo was barreling down the backstretch trying to catch up with the field. He misjudged the speed of the field, and approached the line of cars too fast. He ran into the back of John Andretti's car, touched wheels with him, and sailed into the air, landing on the car of Nigel Mansell. Al Unser, Jr. narrowly escaped the incident. No known video footage existed, except an inconclusive in-car camera view from Mansell's car. Vitolo was found on top of Mansell, and the cars were sideways in the infield grass. Hot coolant and oil began to leak from Vitolo's car, and dripped into Mansell's cockpit. Mansell's scurried out of the car, and was tackled to the ground by corner workers, in an effort to put out any fire. Mansell later stormed out of the infield medical care center, angrily refusing treatment. Vitolo admitted blame for the incident.

At the halfway point, Unser (23) and Fittipaldi (75) combined to lead 98 of the first 100 laps. The third Penske entry driven by Paul Tracy, however, began smoking and dropped out with turbocharger failure.

Second half


With less than 25 laps to go, Fittipaldi led Unser by almost 40 seconds. Third place Villeneuve was over a lap down. Fittipaldi was in need of one more splash-and-go pit stop for fuel before the race was over. Unser, however, was expected to make it to the finish. With 20 laps to go, Fittipaldi lapped Unser, and was a lap ahead of the entire field.

Fittipaldi's team scheduled a "timed" splash & go fuel-only stop for lap 194. Jockeying for position, Unser unlapped himself on lap 183. Two laps later, Unser was just ahead of Fittipaldi as they approached turn 4. Fittipaldi admitted a driver error as he drove over the inside rumble strips causing the rear tires to lose grip. Fittipaldi's car slid loose, and the right rear wheel tagged the outside wall exiting turn 4. After leading 145 laps, Fittipaldi's crashed car slid to a stop down the main stretch. The crash handed Unser the lead of the race, with Jacques Villeneuve on the lead lap in second.

Arie Luyendyk blew an engine during the caution for Fittipaldi's crash. Unser was leading, but lost use of his radio, and the team was concerned about fuel mileage. The green came out with ten laps to go. Unser held a comfortable lead over Villeneuve, who was mired in deep traffic.

On Lap 196, Stan Fox, who was running in the top ten, crashed in Turn 1. The caution came out for clean-up, and erased any doubts about Unser's fuel mileage. Unser ended up winning the race under yellow. Unser won his second Indy 500, and the Penske-Mercedes 209I pushrod engine won in its first-ever race. Villeneuve held on to finish second, and won the rookie of the year award. Michael Andretti was penalized one lap for passing under caution, elevating Bobby Rahal to third place. Rahal had charged from the 28th starting position to 3rd in the borrowed 1993 Penske-Ilmor machine.

John Andretti finished 10th, then flew to Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the Coca-Cola 600.

Box score

Post-race CART PPG IndyCar World Series Standings

Post race

Almost immediately after the race, both USAC and CART separately evaluated the situation that stemmed from the Mercedes-Benz 500I. USAC was initially willing to allow the pushrod engines in 1995, but were concerned about the potential for escalating costs. CART, as it had previously, refused to allow the engine increased boost at the events they sanctioned, effectively rendering it uncompetitive at those races.

Two weeks after the race, USAC announced that for 1995, the 209 cid purpose-built pushrod engines would be allowed 52 inHG of "boost" (down from 55 inHG). The traditional "stock block" production-based engines (e.g. Buick & Menard) would still be allowed 55 inHG. Meanwhile, the overhead cam 2.65L V-8 engines would stay at 45 inches. Other engine manufacturers, including Cosworth and Menard were considering 209 pushrod engines, and it became possible that to be competitive on the CART circuit, teams might require two separate engines for the season — a 2.65L OHC for the CART-sanctioned events, and a pushrod engine for Indianapolis singly — a daunting task which was expected to escalate costs.

During the summer of 1994, Tony George announced his plans to start the Indy Racing League in 1996, with an emphasis on cost-saving measures. On August 11, 1994, USAC changed its decision, and scaled back the boost for the purpose-built pushrod engines further to 48 inches; and outlawing it outright for 1996. The move was considered by Roger Penske as "politically motivated," and ultimately set back the Penske Team going into 1995. Observers negatively compared the radical rules change to way USAC handled the Granatelli Turbine in the late 1960s.

After the rules change, the 209-cid Mercedes-Benz 500I never raced again, but boasted a perfect 100% pole position and race winning record at Indianapolis, its only start in professional competition.

Despite reverting back to the Ilmor D powerplant for the remainder of the 1994 CART season, Marlboro Team Penske continued to dominate. The three Penske drivers won 12 (of 16) races, including five 1-2-3 finishes. Penske swept the top 3 in the final championship points standings, with Al Unser, Jr. winning the championship, Fittipaldi second, and Tracy third.


See also


  1. ^ Siano, Joseph (1994-04-18). "AUTO RACING; Penske's Engine Has Opponents Singing Brickyard Blues". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/04/18/sports/auto-racing-penske-s-engine-has-opponents-singing-brickyard-blues.html. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  2. ^ Siano, Joseph (1994-05-22). "AUTO RACING; Penske Drives Through Loophole And Into Indianapolis Front Row". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/22/sports/auto-racing-penske-drives-through-loophole-and-into-indianapolis-front-row.html. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  3. ^ "1994 Indianapolis 500 Daily Trackside Report for the Media". Indy 500 Publications. 1994. http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.
  4. "Penske Car Crashes at Indy". The New York Times. 1994-05-14. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/14/sports/penske-car-crashes-at-indy.html.
  5. "Auto Racing". The Washington Post. 1994-06-14. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-895954.html. Retrieved 2009-12-29.
  6. "Indy Racing League press release". Motorsport.com. 1994-07-08. http://www.motorsport.com/news/article.asp?ID=606&FS=INDYCAR. Retrieved 2009-12-29.
  7. "Indy Racing League announces engine specs". Motorsport.com. 1994-08-11. http://www.motorsport.com/news/article.asp?ID=708&FS=INDYCAR. Retrieved 2009-12-29.

Further reading

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