TEAM PENSKE: BETTER BY DESIGN
After four seasons of seeing his team
have to swap between Penske chassis and
“customer” March cars, Roger Penske
hired Nigel Bennett, who had designed
the superb Lola T87/00 in which Mario
Andretti should have won the 1987 title
and Bobby Rahal did win.
Bennett produced the Penske PC17,
which won Danny Sullivan the 1988 title,
then came up with the dominant PC18.
Penske, slightly surprisingly, sold one of
these to Patrick Racing and may have
regretted this as Emerson Fittipaldi beat
the “works” team of Rick Mears (2nd) and
Danny Sullivan (7th, ABOVE) to the 1989
IndyCar title – and the Indy 500.
“Those Nigel Bennett cars were just
right, aero-wise,” says Mears, “but what
Nigel really got right was packaging. Each
year, I’d fly to England for a seat-fitting
and I’d stare at his latest design, thinking,
‘Wow, this thing is gorgeous! The details,
the tidiness, they’re all just right. How can
it get any better than this?’ Then the next
year, I’d go back, see the improvements
and say the same things all over again!
“The PC18 was also a good road and
street course car. Before Nigel joined us,
we had oval cars that were sort of
unwillingly converted for road courses.
They couldn’t deal with off-throttle braking
and simultaneously turning. The PC17
and 18 changed all that; suddenly we had
the cars to beat on every type of track.”
10 wins ( 5 for Fittipaldi, 3 for Mears and
2 for Sullivan) and eight other podium
finishes were backed up with 10 poles ( 5
for Rick, 4 for Emmo and 1 for Danny).
The PC7 took eight wins, six in the hands
of Bobby Unser, two for Rick Mears, who also
took the title. They took nine other podium
finishes and Mario Andretti added a 10th.
BENNETT’S BRILLIANT BEAUTY LUCKY NUMBER SEVEN
The clean-sheet design of the PC9
saw Geoff Ferris go “whole hog” on
ground effects. Here at Michigan, Unser
races with the car’s arch nemesis,
Johnny Rutherford’s Chaparral 2K.
attempt to harness ground effects. You
know, the limit’s the limit in any racecar,
but by halfway through the season, the
PC7’s limit was clearly higher, and it was
putting up better numbers, speed-wise.”
This was brought home to Rick at
Trenton where, using the old car, he
qualified sixth and finished fifth and
seventh in the two races. In the PC7,
Unser started from the front row and ran
away with both events, prompting Mears
to make the full-time switch.
“The writing was on the wall,” he says,
“and I could see Bobby had made great
progress with the new car. I had relatively
limited experience, so it took time to work
out everything it could do, but it was a
great car and the results proved it.”
He recalls: “Although I started the year
in the PC7, I elected to give up what little
pace advantage it had at that stage for
the proven reliability of the PC6, and
obviously that paid off at Indy.
“Geoff Ferris had designed both of
them and they had roughly the same feel.
The PC7 was like a PC6, but with wider
sidepods and skirts, like an interim
(LEFT) The PC7
clearly showed a
were a good
effect, but with