Controversy isn’t just for horses, as 1981 Indy 500 proves

IMS
1 Comment

In a historic decision yesterday at Churchill Downs, a post-race review led to Country House being named winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby and first-place finisher Maximum Security being disqualified for impeding the progress of several horses in the race.

While the public continues to argue amongst themselves over the results, Country House now sets his sights on continuing a Triple Crown bid with another victory at the Preakness Stakes (Saturday, May 18 on NBC).

As the waiting game stretched on yesterday, longtime Indianapolis 500 fans may have found themselves drifting back to 1981, when The Greatest Spectacle in Racing wasn’t decided at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May – but in an appeals board meeting in October.

On October 9, 1981, an appeals board from the United States Auto Club awarded the victory to Bobby Unser. Unser had taken the checkered flag at Indy on May 24, 1981, but the following morning, USAC officials penalized him one position for illegally passing cars during a caution period – and elevated Mario Andretti to the win.

Andretti took pictures with the Borg-Warner Trophy and was feted at the Indy 500 victory banquet. But his mood was dour.

After being named winner one day after the 1981 Indy 500, Mario Andretti is photographed with the Borg-Warner Trophy. Credit: IMS Photo

“I am glad the officials did the right thing but it still is sad,” he said in an interview during the banquet. “When Bobby won he went through all the hoopla and got to experience victory lane and the other things a winner gets to experience in victory lane … then it was taken from him and given to me. And I will never get to experience that myself.”

As for Unser and his team, Penske Racing, they immediately launched an appeal of USAC’s decision. But a final decision wasn’t made until that fall.

USAC agreed that on Lap 149, after making a pit stop under yellow-flag conditions, Unser did indeed pass multiple cars before blending in with the rest of the field – a moment that was captured on ABC’s tape-delayed coverage of the race.

But USAC also maintained that the infraction should’ve been called on the spot by chief steward Tom Binford and his crew of officials. And so, the USAC appeals board voted 2-1 to reinstate Unser as the winner, giving him his third Indy 500 triumph. However, he was also fined $40,000 for the infraction.

Edwin Render, a University of Louisville law professor who was named the appeals board chairman for the case, cast the decisive ballot. In a 2013 interview with Motor Trend, he said the no-call on the infraction during the race swung his vote.

“That was what decided it for me,” Render said. “They should have acted when the foul was committed. You can’t call a foul after the game is over.”

The saga took its toll. USAC’s reputation was damaged. Unser retired from Indy-car racing at the end of the season. And for many years, Unser and Andretti were at odds over the outcome.

But during a health scare for Unser a couple of years ago, the frosty relationship finally thawed when Andretti called him at the hospital.

“He starts talking to me and I said ‘Who is this?’,” Unser told WTTV Indianapolis last year. “And he says, “g***** it, don’t you know my voice? It’s Mario!’ And I thought ‘Damn! He’s going to get over being mad before I am!’”

“[Mario] was always a good friend and I really liked the guy. I mean God dang it, I don’t know why he had to try to steal that race from me, you know?,” Unser continued with a laugh.

In the same interview, Al Unser Jr. – Bobby’s nephew and two-time 500 winner – said the old rivals were friends again.

***

‘Drive Like Andretti’, a new documentary on the life and times of racing legend Mario Andretti, debuts Saturday, May 11th at 2pm ET on NBC, leading into coverage of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 3pm ET.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

0 Comments

Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”