“Not often in your career can you
say, ‘Today, they have to beat me.’
But these are the cars in which I
felt that, if we had reliability, no
one was going to catch us.”
WIN OR BUST
The only things that took us out of the
running for the ’ 87 IndyCar championship
were teething troubles of the Ilmor-Chevrolets at that time. We were the first
ones to race that engine and I loved the
quality of it – it was wonderful – but at
that stage it didn’t have the reliability.
We were so dominant. We got pole for
half the races, we led way more laps than
anyone else, but we only finished five times
– and won two of those! I mean, just think
about the Month of May at Indy: every
single day we were on track, we were
quickest, including in qualifying. Heck, we
even won the pit stop competition! And
then in the race we were almost two laps
ahead of the field and the engine let go.
We had Adrian Newey at Newman/Haas
at that time, and the guy was – still is! –
just magic. He was earning more than any
driver other than myself, and rightfully so.
Adrian is so knowledgable, yet also very
practical, and he could almost read a
driver’s mind. I’d come in during practice
and it seemed like he almost knew what
I was going to say before I said it, and
we’d always agree. As a result, that Lola
was permanently dialed in at each type of
track. It was a great racecar and, truly, we
should have won that title going away.
BRAWNER, BRAINS AND BRILLIANCE
1965-’ 66 BRAWNER HAWK
This was the first car I drove that
is worthy of putting in this
category. It was basically a copy
of the Brabham chassis, but
with the center of gravity
lowered by placing the fuel cells
lower and outside the cockpit.
We were the test team for
Firestone in 1965, so I got a lot
of seat time, a lot of test miles.
With Al Dean running the team,
Clint Brawner engineering and
Jim McGee as my chief mechanic,
everything came into alignment.
With all those laps I was turning,
I just got a feel for everything a
rear-engined car needed. And to
be honest, the car was already
good. What we were doing was
just detail work, so the car kept
improving and, at the same time,
I was improving my craft.
At Indy, I was top rookie, and
I qualified fourth and finished
third behind Jim Clark and
Parnelli, and we just took off
from there. We won the title
that year, and truly dominated
the following season, in ’ 66.
We could have done the same
in the modified version in ’ 67. Back
then, the Indy car system valued
races at two points per mile –
1,000 for winning a 500-mile
race, 500 for winning a 250-miler,
and so on. I lost the ’ 67 title by
80 points, despite not starting
at Milwaukee, a DNF at Indy and
running out of fuel at Riverside.
In 1965, Mario was top rookie
at Indy (LEFT) and went on to
win the championship. But ’ 66
was even more impressive, when
he collected eight wins (no one
else scored more than one!)
and took nine pole positions.