The 78th Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Sunday, May 29, 1994. Al Unser, Jr. won from the pole position, his second Indy 500 victory. Much to the surprise of competitors, media, and fans, Marlboro Team Penske arrived at the Speedway with a brand new, secretly-built 209 in³ (3.42 L) displacement Mercedes-Benz pushrod engine, which was capable of nearly 1,000 horsepower (750 kW). Despite reliability issues with the engine and handling difficulties with the chassis, the three-car Penske team (Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy) dominated most of the month, and practically the entire race.
Though Al Unser, Jr. won the pole position, it was Emerson Fittipaldi who dominated most of the race, leading a total of 145 laps. On lap 185, Fittipaldi was leading the race, and was looking to put Unser, Jr. (who was running second) a lap down. Fittipaldi was in reach of his second-consecutive Indy 500 victory, and third overall. Shockingly, Fittipaldi tagged the wall in turn 4, handing the lead to Unser, Jr. with 15 laps to go. Little Al was able to stretch his fuel and cruise to victory over rookie Jacques Villeneuve. Al Unser, Jr. joined his father Al Sr. and uncle Bobby as winners of multiple 500s at Indy.
The race marked the final Indy 500 for Mario Andretti, who retired after the 1994 season. Indy veterans Al Unser, Sr. and Johnny Rutherford also retired in the days leading up to the race. John Andretti, who had left CART and moved to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, became the first driver to race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, an effort that has become known as “Double Duty.” This was also the second and final Indy 500 for Nigel Mansell, who was knocked out of the race in a bizarre crash with Dennis Vitolo. It was not known at the time, but when Emerson Fittipaldi hit the wall on lap 185, it would conclude his final competitive lap in the Indy 500; he did not qualify for the 1995 race and the 1996 race was boycotted by CART.
The race was sanctioned by USAC, and was included as part of the 1994 PPG IndyCar World Series. For the second year in a row, weather was nary a factor during the month. Only one practice day was lost to rain, and pole day was only partially halted due to scattered showers. Warm, sunny skies greeted race day.
Nigel Mansell went on to win the 1993 CART championship, with 1993 Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi finishing second in points. Mansell returned to team up again with Mario Andretti at Newman Haas 48 blade meat tenderizer. Andretti embarked on a yearlong Arrivederci Mario tour, announcing he would retire after 1994. The 1994 race would be his 29th and final start at Indy. Fittipaldi remained at Penske Racing, which expanded to a three-car effort for 1994, including Al Unser, Jr. and Paul Tracy. Unser, Jr. left Galles after a six-year stint, and was replaced there with rookie Adrián Fernández.
After a dismal season in Formula One, Michael Andretti returned to Indycar racing for 1994, signing with Ganassi. Andretti won the season opening Australian Grand Prix at Surfers Paradise. It was the first Indycar win for Ganassi, as well as the first win for the Reynard chassis (in its IndyCar debut). Rahal-Hogan Racing, with drivers Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff, debuted the first Honda Indycar engine, the Honda HRX Indy V-8.
Chevrolet dropped its support of the Ilmor engine program at Indy after 1993. For 1994, the 265C, the 265 C+, and 265D V-8 powerplants were badged the “Ilmor Indy V8.”
After Michael Andretti won the season opener, Marlboro Team Penske won the next two races before Indy. Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. finished 1-2 at Phoenix, then Al Unser, Jr. won at Long Beach.
Jim Nabors returned to sing the traditional “Back Home Again in Indiana” just months after receiving a liver transplant. Nabors had suffered a near-fatal case of Hepatitis B, which caused liver failure. Initially it was not expected that he would be able to attend the race in person.
Six days before opening day, the worldwide motorsports community was shaken by the death of Ayrton Senna at San Marino. Indy drivers Emerson Fittipaldi, Raul Boesel, and Maurício Gugelmin, were among those in attendance at the funeral, all three serving as pall-bearers.
The most notable off-season activity involved Penske Racing and Ilmor. In the summer and fall of 1993, Ilmor and Penske engaged in a new engine project. Under complete secrecy, a 209 in3 (3.42 l) purpose-built, pushrod engine was developed. Mercedes eventually came on board with the project, and badged the engine the Mercedes-Benz 500I. The engine was designed to exploit a perceived “loophole” that existed in USAC’s rulebook since 1991. While CART sanctioned the rest of the Indycar season, the Indianapolis 500 itself was conducted by USAC under slightly different technical regulations. This effort represented a rare instance during this era where considerable money and effort were invested in creating a powerplant specifically for the Indy 500 only (and not the rest of the season) by a CART-based team.
In an effort to appeal to smaller engine-building companies and independents, USAC had permitted “stock-block” pushrod engines (generally defined as single non-OHC units fitted with two valves per cylinder actuated by pushrod and rocker arm). The traditional “stock blocks” saw some limited use in the early 1980s, but became mainstream at Indy with the Buick V-6 in 1985. Initially, the stock blocks were required to have some production-based parts. However, in 1991, USAC quietly lifted the requirement, and purpose-built pushrod engines were permitted to be designed for racing from the ground up. Attempting to create an equivalency formula, both pushrod engine formats were allowed increased displacement of 209.3 instead of 161.7 cu in (3.43 instead of 2.65 l), and increased turbocharger boost of 55 instead of 45 inHG (1860 instead of 1520 hPa).
Team Penske tested and further developed the engine in secret in the spring of 1994. It was mated with the in-house Penske chassis, the PC-23. It was introduced to the public in April, just days before opening day at Indy. Rumors quickly began to circulate that the engine was capable of over 1,000 hp (750 kW), which was up a 150-200 hp advantage over the conventional V-8s.
During the off-season, the pit area was repaved. The individual pit boxes were changed to concrete, while the entrance and exit lanes were widened and repaved in asphalt.
A new scoring pylon was erected on the main stretch, replacing the famous landmark originally built in 1960.
* Includes days where track
activity was significantly
limited due to rain
ROP — denotes Rookie
Rain washed out opening day, the first time since 1975.
Dick Simon Racing cars of Lyn St. James, Raul Boesel, Hiro Matsushita, Dennis Vitolo, Hideshi Matsuda and Tero Palmroth were the first cars out on the track, creating a “Flying V” formation.
Paul Tracy took the first laps in the Penske/PC-23-Mercedes 500I at 12:34 p.m. Al Unser, Jr., however, was testing at Michigan International Speedway, reportedly “working on reliability.” Tracy’s fastest lap was 220.103 mph.
Bobby Rahal took the first laps at Indy in the Honda, with a fast lap of 219.791 mph. Scott Brayton, in the Menard Buick posted the fastest lap of the day at 227.658 mph.
At 4:45 p.m., Mike Groff’s Honda engine failed, which caused the car to spin and crash into the wall in the southchute. He was not seriously injured.
Defending Indy Lights champion Bryan Herta, who had started the month with Tasman Motorsports, was withdrawn from that entry, and signed with Foyt.
Emerson Fittipaldi (after ‘shake down’ laps on Sunday) turned in his first fast laps driving the Penske-Mercedes, completed a lap of 226.512 mph. Al Unser, Jr. took to the track for the first time in the Mercedes as well. Michael Andretti led the speed chart again, at 227.038 mph.
Raul Boesel broke the 230 mph barrier at 5:55 p.m., the first driver to do so since 1992. His lap of 230.403 was the fastest thus far for the month. The Penske-Mercedes was close behind, turning in their best laps of the month. Paul Tracy was second-fastest for the day at 229.961 mph, and Fittipaldi was third at 229.264 mph.
During the afternoon practice, an annular eclipse crossed over the state of Indiana, and the Speedway. Track temperatures cooled, and generally faster laps were observed during the phenomenon.
A windy day kept speed down. Al Unser, Jr. in a Penske-Mercedes, led the chart at 226.478 mph.
Emerson Fittipaldi drove his Penske-Mercedes to a lap of 230.438 mph, with a trap speed of 244 mph down the backstretch. Paul Tracy was second-quick at 228.444 mph (244 mph trap speed).
At 3:37 p.m., Paul Tracy spun his Penske-Mercedes in turn 3, hit the outside wall, then crashed into the inside guardrail. He suffered a concussion, and was forced to sit out the first weekend of time trials.
Emerson Fittipaldi was quickest of the day at 230.138 mph, making him a favorite for the pole position.
A mix of sun and rain showers stretched the qualifying line throughout the afternoon. A short shower delayed the start of qualifying until 12:15 p.m. Rookie Hideshi Matsuda became the first driver in the field, posting a 4-lap average of 222.545 mph.
At 12:50 p.m., Raul Boesel took the provisional pole position with a run of 227.618 mph. Later, Jacques Villeneuve qualified as the fastest rookie, with a speed of 226.259 mph.
At 1:18 p.m., Al Unser, Jr. became the first Penske driver to take the track, attempting to qualify one of the three Penske-Mercedes machines. His first lap of 225.722 mph was disappointingly slow, but his speed over the last three laps climbed dramatically. His final four-lap average of 228.011 mph took over the provisional pole position.
Bobby Rahal (220.178 mph) and Mike Groff (218.808 mph) completed slow runs in their Honda-powered machines, and were the slowest two cars of the day.
A second rain shower closed the track from about 2–5 p.m. When qualifying resumed, there was not enough time to complete the entire qualifying line. Among the runs were Lyn St. James (224.154 mph) tentatively putting her 5th fastest, and Al Unser, Sr. who waved off after a lap of 214 mph.
The 6 o’clock gun sounded with several drivers still in line stainless steel water bottle safety, including Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi. Pole qualifying would be extended into the following day.
The pole qualifying line resumed where it left off from the previous day, with Mario Andretti first out. Emerson Fittipaldi was the final car eligible for the pole position, and took his run at 1:18 p.m. His speed of 227.303 mph was not enough to bump his teammate Al Unser, Jr. off the pole, but qualified him in third position. The front row was rounded out by Raul Boesel, while Lyn St. James held on to qualify for the outside of the second row, the highest starting position for a female driver to-date.
After his crash Friday, Paul Tracy returned to the track Sunday. Since he sat out time trials on Saturday and missed his spot in line, he was ineligible for the pole position. He qualified as a second-day qualifier, and would line up his Penske-Mercedes 25th on race day. After two wave-offs on Saturday, Scott Brayton finally put his Menard-powered Lola in the field as the fastest qualifier for the second round.
A leisurely day of practice saw only 18 cars take laps. Emerson Fittipaldi, working on race set-ups, ran the best lap at 226.421 mph. Robby Gordon spent time shaking down back-up cars for his teammates Willy T. Ribbs and Mark Smith.
Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Sr. officially announced his retirement from driving at a press conference. His son, pole winner Al Unser, Jr. was sick, and rested away from the track.
Off the track, Rahal-Hogan Racing announced they had entered into a deal with Team Penske to lease two back-up cars. Driving the new Honda HRX Indy V-8s, Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff were the two slowest cars in the field, and risked being bumped. If Rahal were to be bumped, it would mark the second year in a row. Through a sponsorship connection, Roger Penske offered Rahal and Groff the use of two 1993 PC-22/Ilmor V-8 machines (2.65L). Rahal received an Ilmor D engine, while Groff received an Ilmor C+ engine. They were not the Mercedes-Benz 209I power plants, however they were competitive enough to comfortably make the field if needed. Paul Tracy shook down the cars before handing them over to the Rahal team.
Mark Smith (219.947 mph) was the fastest of the non-qualified drivers, and veteran Roberto Moreno took over Al Unser, Sr.’s car, starting a refresher test.
Mark Smith (220.324 mph) was again the fastest of the non-qualified drivers. Mike Groff (221.560 mph), driving the 1993 Penske/Ilmor, was already practicing faster than his qualifying speed in the Honda.
A busy day of practice saw 36 cars complete 1,511 laps. John Paul, Jr. (222.058 mph) was the fastest non-qualified car.
The final full day of practice saw 32 cars complete 1,154 laps. John Paul, Jr. (221.691 mph) was yet again the fastest non-qualified car.
John Paul, Jr. was the first car out for the afternoon, and safely put his car into the field. Later, Scott Goodyear completed a run at 220.737 mph. With temperatures in the 80s waist pack for runners, the track sat dormant for most of the afternoon.
At 5:37 p.m., Mark Smith (220.683 mph) filled the field to 33 cars. Davy Jones (the teammate to Scott Goodyear at King Racing) made the field in car #40T at 223.817 mph. Mike Groff and Bobby Rahal, the two slowest cars in the field, withdrew their Honda-powered machines, and re-qualified in the borrowed Penske-Ilmor cars. Both drivers’ speeds were greatly improved, and they were safely in the field.
The day ended with Scott Goodyear (220.737 mph), driving car #40 for King Racing, on the bubble.
Another hot day (89 degrees) saw the cars stay off the track most of the afternoon. Marco Greco made the first qualifying attempt at 5:35 p.m. Greco bumped Scott Goodyear (car #40) from the field. The move put Bryan Herta (220.992 mph), driving for Foyt, on the bubble. Herta had practiced in his back-up car at over 223 mph, but the team decided not to withdraw the primary car prematurely.
Geoff Brabham was the next driver to make an attempt. His first lap was fast enough to bump Herta, but the second and third laps dropped off, and the team waved off the run. Mark Smith returned to the track, trying to break the “Curse of the Smiths” at the Speedway, and bump his way back into the field. On the first lap, however, he wrecked in the first turn.
After wrecking his car in practice Saturday morning, Gary Bettenhausen made a last-ditch effort to bump his way into the field. He managed only 218 mph, and waved off after two laps. Just before the 6 o’clock gun, Willy T. Ribbs made a long-shot attempt to make the field. After a lap of 216 mph, then dropping to 212 mph, he waved off and time trials came to a close.
After qualifying was over, King Racing swapped drivers for its primary car. Davy Jones was removed from the #40T entry, and full-time driver Scott Goodyear was placed in the car. The move required Goodyear to start from the 33rd starting position.
(W)=Former Indianapolis 500 Winner, (R)=Indianapolis 500 Rookie
Clear blue skies dawned on race day, with temperatures in the mid-70s. The command to start engines was made on-time at 10:52 a.m. EST, and the field pulled away for the pace laps. Pole-sitter Al Unser, Jr. led fellow front-row starters Emerson Fittipaldi and Raul Boesel.
As the field came around for the start, Penske teammates Unser and Fittipaldi, driving the Mercedes-powered entries, took off out of turn four. They weaved down the frontstretch single-file, blocking, and leaving behind Boesel and the rest of the field behind. USAC officials decided not to wave off the start, and Unser led into turn one. It quickly became evident to competitors and media that the Penske-Mercedes machines were the class of the field, as many had predicted.
On lap 6, Dennis Vitolo spun in turn four, but continued. Later on lap 20, Roberto Guerrero crashed in turn two. Unser went on to lead the first 23 laps. On lap 23, as the leaders pitted, Mario Andretti dropped out early of his final “500” with ignition problems.
Al Unser, Jr. stalled exiting the pits (a concern going into the race for the Mercedes) and Emerson Fittipaldi took the lead after the first sequence of pit stops. The yellow came back out again when Mike Groff and Dominic Dobson touched wheels and crashed in Turn 1.
At the restart, Michael Andretti suffered a puncture, and pitted for new tires. He stalled the car leaving the pits, and subsequently went a lap down. Eddie Cheever and Nigel Mansell were both given black flags for passing Raul Boesel prior to the restart, forcing both to make stop and go penalty passes through the pits insulated water bottle.
By lap 85, Fittipaldi had stretched his lead to 24.6 seconds over second-place Unser. Jacques Villeneuve was a lap down, running as high as third.
On Lap 92 Hideshi Matsuda crashed in Turn 2. Under the yellow, John Paul, Jr. then spun and crashed in turn 3. As the field was circulating through turn three warm-up lane behind the pace car, Dennis Vitolo was barreling down the backstretch trying to catch up with the field. He misjudged the speed of the field, and approached the line of cars too fast. He ran into the back of John Andretti’s car, touched wheels with him, and spun forward in a clockwise rotation. The back of the car then rammed the back of Nigel Mansell’s car, and climbed up it sideways. Al Unser, Jr., among others, narrowly escaped the incident. Vitolo was found on top of Mansell, and the cars were sideways in the infield grass. Hot coolant and oil began to leak from Vitolo’s car, and dripped into Mansell’s cockpit. Mansell scurried out of the car and was tackled to the ground by corner workers in an effort to put out any fire. Mansell later stormed out of the infield medical care center, angrily refusing treatment. Vitolo admitted blame for the incident.
At the halfway point, Unser (23) and Fittipaldi (75) combined to lead 98 of the first 100 laps. The third Penske entry driven by Paul Tracy, however, began smoking and dropped out with turbocharger failure.
Contenders Raul Boesel (overheating) and Scott Brayton (spark plug) both dropped early in the second half. Fittipaldi continued to dominate, pulling away at will. On Lap 121 he set the race’s fastest lap at 40.783 seconds, equaling 220.68 mph (355.15 km/h).
During a round of pit stops by Fittipaldi and Unser, rookie Jacques Villeneuve led five laps (125-129) before pitting himself. On lap 133, Fittipaldi was forced to return to the pits to remove a plastic bag from his radiator.
A long stretch of green flag racing followed, and Fittipaldi quickly caught Unser and extended his lead. By lap 157, only two cars were on the lead lap.
With less than 25 laps to go, Fittipaldi led Unser by almost 40 seconds. Third place Villeneuve was over a lap down. Fittipaldi was in need of one more splash-and-go pit stop for fuel before the race was over. Unser, however, was expected to make it to the finish. With 20 laps to go, Fittipaldi lapped Unser, and was a lap ahead of the entire field.
Fittipaldi’s team scheduled a “timed” splash & go fuel-only stop for lap 194. Jockeying for position, Unser unlapped himself on lap 183. Two laps later, Unser was just ahead of Fittipaldi as they approached turn 4. Fittipaldi admitted a driver error as he drove over the inside rumble strips causing the rear tires to lose grip. Fittipaldi’s car slid loose, and the right rear wheel tagged the outside wall exiting turn 4. After leading 145 laps, Fittipaldi’s crashed car slid to a stop down the main stretch. The crash handed Unser the lead of the race, with Jacques Villeneuve on the lead lap in second.
Arie Luyendyk blew an engine during the caution for Fittipaldi’s crash. Unser was leading, but lost use of his radio, and the team was concerned about fuel mileage. The green came out with ten laps to go. Unser held a comfortable lead over Villeneuve, who was mired deep in traffic.
On Lap 196, Stan Fox, who was running in the top ten, crashed in turn one. The caution came out for clean-up, and erased any doubts about Unser’s fuel mileage. Unser ended up winning the race under yellow. Unser won his second Indy 500, and the Penske-Mercedes 209I pushrod engine won in its first-ever race. Villeneuve held on to finish second, and won the rookie of the year award. Michael Andretti was penalized one lap for passing under caution, elevating Bobby Rahal to third place. Rahal had charged from the 28th starting position to third in the borrowed 1993 Penske-Ilmor machine.
John Andretti finished 10th, then flew to Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the Coca-Cola 600. He was the first driver to do “Double Duty”, competing in both races on the same day.
Almost immediately after the race, both USAC and CART separately evaluated the situation that stemmed from the Mercedes-Benz 500I. USAC was initially willing to allow the pushrod engines in 1995, but were concerned about the potential for escalating costs. CART, as it had previously, refused to allow the engine increased boost at the events they sanctioned, effectively rendering it uncompetitive at those races.
Two weeks after the race, USAC announced that for 1995, the 209 cid purpose-built pushrod engines would be allowed 52 inHG of “boost” (down from 55 inHG). The traditional “stock block” production-based engines (e.g., Buick & Menard) would still be allowed 55 inHG. Meanwhile, the overhead cam 2.65L V-8 engines would stay at 45 inches. Other engine manufacturers, including Cosworth and Menard were considering 209 pushrod engines (Ilmor Engineering had already taken 30 customer orders for 500i engines for the 1995 race), and it became possible that to be competitive on the CART circuit, teams might require two separate engines for the season—a 2.65L OHC for the CART-sanctioned events, and a pushrod engine for Indianapolis singly—a daunting task which was expected to escalate costs.
During the summer of 1994, Tony George announced his plans to start the Indy Racing League in 1996, with an emphasis on cost-saving measures. On August 11, 1994, USAC changed its decision, and scaled back the boost for the purpose-built pushrod engines further to 48 inches; and outlawing it outright for 1996. The move was considered by Roger Penske as “politically motivated,” and ultimately set back the Penske Team going into 1995. Observers negatively compared the radical rules change to way USAC handled the Granatelli Turbine in the late 1960s.
After the rules change, the 209-cid Mercedes-Benz 500I never raced again, but boasted a perfect 100% pole position and race winning record at Indianapolis, its only start in professional competition.
Despite reverting to the Ilmor D powerplant for the remainder of the 1994 CART season, Marlboro Team Penske continued to dominate. The three Penske drivers won 12 (of 16) races, including five 1-2-3 finishes. Penske swept the top three in the final championship points standings, with Al Unser, Jr. winning the championship, Fittipaldi second, and Tracy third.
The 1994 Indy 500 would prove to be the final victory for a Penske-manufactured chassis at the Speedway. The following year, the 1995-spec Penske chassis, the PC-24, proved to be noncompetitive in time trials (despite a promising test in mid-April 1995). The team failed to qualify with it or the Lola and Reynard chassis that were borrowed from other teams as alternates. By the time the team returned to the race in 2001, in-house chassis manufacturing had ended in favor of using customer chassis.
Only 69 days after the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ushered in a new era, hosting the Inaugural running of the Brickyard 400.
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Bob Jenkins served as chief announcer for the fifth year. Johnny Rutherford, who retired as a driver during the month, returned to serve as “driver expert.” Historian Donald Davidson celebrated his 30th year on the broadcast.
The on-air crew returned intact for 1994, which marked the fourth consecutive year the crew has remained nearly exactly the same (1991–1994).
The broadcast was carried on hundreds of affiliates in all 50 states of the U.S., as well as AFN and World Harvest Radio International, reaching all continents including Antarctica. The broadcast was heard in the UK on Autosport Racing Line.
Chief Announcer: Bob Jenkins
Driver expert: Johnny Rutherford
Statistician: Howdy Bell
Historian: Donald Davidson
Turn 1: Jerry Baker
Turn 2: Gary Lee
Turn 3: Larry Henry
Turn 4: Bob Lamey
The race was carried live flag-to-flag coverage in the United States on ABC Sports. Paul Page served as host and play-by-play announcer. Newcomer and former Indy winner Danny Sullivan joined Bobby Unser and Sam Posey as color commentators. Sullivan, who tentatively retired from Indycar racing in 1994, began dabbling in NASCAR as well as broadcasting. Sullivan took the turn four reporting location, while Bobby Unser reported from turn two. Sam Posey remained in the booth with Page.
With the addition of Sullivan, the same crew from 1990–1993 returned. This was the first 500 broadcast to feature a “Score bug.” A transparent digit was located on the upper right corner of the screen which counted down the number of laps remaining in the race. New on-board camera angles debuted, including a rear-wing mount on Michael Andretti’s car, as well as a forward-facing camera mounted in front of the left rear wheel on Robby Gordon’s car, which captured a spectacular duel with Raul Boesel. Bobby Rahal’s car also featured a new nose-cam, the first such at the 500.
Host/Announcer: Paul Page
Color: Sam Posey
Color/Turn 2: Bobby Unser
Color/Turn 4: Danny Sullivan
“[We’ve] Got [it]…Emerson Fittipaldi has hit the wall on the inside coming through four…“
“Unbelievable, the car comes to a stop just a few feet short of the start-finish line; Emmo raising his hands as if to say, ‘I can’t believe what has happened'”
“The Checkered flag waves, and Al Unser Jr. has won the 78th running of the Indianapolis 500“
“Whoa, look at this! Look at this!”
“Unbelievable shot! Unbelievable shot.”