ROGER’S hiGh fivE
“Well that’s interesting,” says Rick Mears
when informed that RACER rated the
PC10 (ABOvE) as a near-miss in our top-
five great Penskes. “We only got four
wins that year but, boy, i felt the PC10
had a big margin over the opposition.”
he’s not wrong, and it’s worth recalling
that his oh-so-close runner-up finish at
indy didn’t count in the CART points table
and yet still he won the title comfortably.
it simply came down to number of wins
(in the 10B in 1983, he added a fifth
victory). had we been judging purely on
pace then, yes, Geoff ferris’ PC10 was a
remarkable machine that helped Mears
start from P1 eight times in 1982 and lead
almost half of the laps he completed. But
we were also influenced by a previous
conversation in which Rick revealed that
once skirts were banned, the PC10 was,
in his words, “a pile of junk!” its
shortcomings had been masked by its
absolute mastery of ground effects.
While we adore the aesthetics of the
PC17 (BELOW) from 1988, it narrowly
missed out to its successor. Danny
Sullivan won the ’ 88 championship and
Mears took his third “500” win that
same year, but converting 13 poles into
“just” six wins went against the PC17 in
our voting, whereas the PC18 was quite
dominant. These were the first two
Penskes designed by Nigel Bennett,
after four seasons of disappointing
homegrown cars had forced the team
to revert to buying Marches.
ThE PENSKES ThAT
ALMOST MADE OUR LiST
THESE ARE GREATS, TOO!
Of course, if we were to take a purely
objective view, a car with one win to its
name would not be in this list. But put it
into context, and the Penske PC4’s
achievement of winning in the team’s
sophomore F1 season is truly remarkable.
There was nothing special about PC4’s
engine; it was one of many DFV-powered
cars on the F1 grid (and it lost out in top-end power to the flat-12s of Ferrari and
Alfa-Romeo and the V12 from Matra). It
ran Goodyears like every other car. And
John Watson was very good, but not an
ace in the Lauda/Hunt/Peterson sense of
the word. Everything indicates that Geoff
Ferris’ third Penske design was excellent.
Mark Donohue had struggled with the
PC1 in late 1974 through the first half of
’ 75, but he’d just come out of retirement,
so there were question marks over whether
it was the car or the driver struggling for
pace. And so the team switched to a
March 751 to try and establish a baseline.
Tragically, “Captain Nice” died when a tire
failed at the Osterreichring, and the team
went on hiatus until the ’ 75 season-closer
when John Watson drove the PC1.
Ferris’s Penske PC3 was a March clone
and was only meant as an interim model.
Yet it showed promise in early 1976…until
FISA changed regs for wings and airboxes.
The PC4, already in development, had to be
rushed through and debuted at the seventh
round of the season. Distinctive, svelte and
sexy, it suffered typical new-car glitches,
but at the next two rounds, Watson finished
on the podium. Then, just two races later
– at the Osterreichring, ironically – he
qualified on the front row and battled hard
in the top five for the first half of the race,
before taking the lead and going on to win.
Penske withdrew from F1 at season’s
end in order to focus on Indy car racing,
but Roger’s team had at least proven its
true potential on a worldwide stage.
At the end of ’ 76, Penske sold its PC4 to the
German ATS squad and, on the team’s
debut at Long Beach in ’ 77, Jean-Pierre
Jarier qualified ninth and finished sixth!
NOT OVER YET
The slender sidepods
and ground effect
skirts of the PC4 are
clearly visible here.
Watson turned out to
be ideal for Penske:
adept and rapid.