Indy 500, 1994: Power and glory
It has to be the ultimate in decadence – building an engine for just one race only. That’s what happened in 1994, when the might of Roger Penske and Mercedes-Benz got together with the brilliant minds of Mario Illien and the late Paul Morgan at Ilmor.
The group had found a loophole in the Indy 500 rules, and set about building a race-winning engine. It was the best kept secret after Tyrrell’s six-wheeled F1 car. They decided that a 3.6-litre, push-rod, stock-block engine would be more beneficial compared to the standard 2.6-litre Indy engines. Nobody believed that anyone would take on designing and building an engine in such a short space of time – especially when it would be consigned to a museum straight after. Even so, with a 26-week time frame to get the job done, they took it on – and won.
The engine quickly took shape, and when they put the engine on the test bench, the figures were astonishing. The eight-cylinder turbo was soon producing 1000bhp – more than enough
Al Unser Jr took pole when they got to Indy, Emerson Fittipaldi third. The pair ran away with the race, and had lapped the entire field by half distance. Emerson looked to be in control, until the dreaded Turn 4, when he glanced the wall with a few laps to go, leaving Al Jr to reap the rewards, and Mercedes’ first Indy 500 win since 1915
The story of the one-off engine grabbed the headlines. It was certainly a gamble that paid off for everyone involved.
Unser was reunited with the Indy-winning car at Goodwood in 2011, and took turns in sharing it with Fittipaldi and Illien. It brought back great memories. “That year was truly a great year for Penske Racing, for myself,” Jr says. “I won eight out of 16 races that year, and Penske Racing as a whole won 12 of 16. It was a great year for Marlboro Team Penske.”
The 1994 Indy 500 was certainly another chapter in Mercedes-Benz’s illustrious racing history.