Al Unser Jr. was as hot about his
car’s handling on Carb Day in 1992
as the boiling temperatures at IMS.
“It’s terrible,” he said as he stormed
back to Gasoline Alley. He’d qualified
Rick Galles’ Galmer/Chevy on the
outside of Row 4, but appeared to
be hopelessly out-matched by the
Lolas – especially in the heat.
But race day dawned
unseasonably cold and overcast,
and the “Gomer” chassis, as it was
nicknamed, came to life.
It was still no match for Michael
Andretti’s Lola/Ford, but Andretti
was cruising towards Victory Lane
when he lost fuel pressure with just
10 laps to go. That left Unser in first
place, and he managed to hold off
Scott Goodyear’s Lola by a couple
of car lengths to claim his first
Indianapolis 500 triumph.
On the day, Little Al winning
wasn’t the real surprise – but that
year, his chariot certainly was a long
shot to go to Victory Lane.
1966: Graham Hill
Before the start of the 1966 race,
Graham Hill had never raced on an
oval and most of his experience
turning left had been on London
roundabouts. “I must say I’m not
brimming with confidence,” noted
Hill. “Plus they refer to me as a
rookie, which is a bit alarming.”
Yet, by the time the smoke had
cleared from the first-lap pileup that
eliminated a third of the field and
the normal attrition from blown
engines and other accidents had
further trimmed the pack, Hill found
himself rolling into Victory Lane.
The 1962 Formula 1 World
Champion (he added a second in
’ 68) started 15th on the grid, wasn’t
close to being the fastest car at any
point, and he only led the final 10
laps in his Red Ball Lola/Ford, but
was proclaimed the winner in spite
of the protests of Jim Clark’s owner
Colin Chapman. Only seven of the
33 starters were still rolling at the
end of a grueling race.
“I don’t think I’m shocked,”
declared Hill afterwards. “More like
2011: Dan Wheldon
No matter what, the 2011 winner
promised to be a big surprise - but for
entirely different reasons.
Rookie J.R. Hildebrand was one corner
from pulling off a stunning upset when he
tripped over a backmarker, slid into the
wall and watched his sure thing slip away.
Dan Wheldon, trailing Hildebrand by
four seconds at the begining of the final
lap, came off Turn 4 and saw the leader
grinding against the wall. The popular Brit
flashed past to lead the final 1,000ft and
claim his second triumph.
In itself, Wheldon winning wasn’t the
surprise, because he’d been one the
fastest drivers on ovals the past decade,
as his 15 wins showed. No, the shock was
that a little satellite team put together by
Bryan Herta purely for the Indy 500 had
beaten the powerhouses of Penske,
Ganassi and Andretti. It went in the
history books as the least amount of
time out in front ever for a winner, but
Wheldon had predicted it.
“He told us he was going to win it and
he did,” said Herta, who backed the
victory up by helping Alexander Rossi
to his own upset win this year.
1992: Al Unser Jr.
Hill had a slow car and no experience of racing on ovals, so Graham Hill
was “pleasantly surprised” to find himself in Victory Lane at the end of
the 1966 Indy 500. Just seven cars were still running at the finish.
(TOP) Closest ever Indy finish. (ABOVE)
The Galmer wasn’t regarded as a potential
winner, but Unser didn’t get the memo...
Dan Wheldon only
led for 1,000ft in
the 2011 Indy 500,
but they were the
ones. The result
was that he added
his second portrait
to the Borg-Warner
Trophy. Sadly, the
win would prove
to be his last.