During a run of success that included winning the US Formula 5000 championships from 1974 – ’76 with Brian Redman and Can Am 2 Championships with Patrick Tambay ’77 and ’80, Alan Jones ’78 and Jacky Ickx ’79, Jim Hall turned his attentions to the USAC champ car series in 1977. Hall and partner Carl Hass commisioned Lola to build the T500 a fresh design that was to be driven by Al Unser Snr in 1978.
The design was an instant success at Indianapolis Al qualified 2nd and led 121 laps to go to Victory Lane for the third time. Despite Al bending a front wing in the pit lane 20 laps from home pole sitter Tom Sneva in a Penske ran out of laps to catch the Lola which finished just 8 seconds ahead of Tom.
The ’78 Indy 500 was the first of ten that was won by a car powered by a turbocharged development of the 3 litre / 183 cui Cosworth DFV that dominated in Formula One from it’s introduction in 1966 to 1981. To meet the USAC regulations the DFV was downsized to 2650 cc / 161 cui and fitted with a Garrett turbo charger.
Engine designer Keith Duckworth described these motors as being like ‘hand grenades with the in pulled’. By the end of the DFX development programme the motors were producing 840 hp. Al Unser was also at the wheel of the last DFX powered car, a Penske, to enter victory lane at Indianapolis in 1987.
Having won the 1978 Indy 500 Al Unser also won the two other 500 mile races in the USAC series at Pocono and Ontario becoming the first winner of the ‘Triple 500 Crown’. Al is seen driving the car above in the Daily Express 200 at Silverstone, England battling for the lead with Danny Ongias.
Unfortunately the battle only lasted 4 laps, Ongias broke a drive shaft, Al led a good deal of the race but ran out of fuel right in front of me.
The T500 was used in Penzoil colours in early 1979 before Jim Halls Chaparral 2K was ready. In 1980 Jerry Sneva, seen in this photo by Ed Arnaudin, qualified 5th in this T500 and finished 17th in the Indy 500 two further T500’s were raced in this event driven by Tom Bigelow Q 31st F 8th and Gregg Leffler Q 23rd and F 10th.
My thanks to Steve Arnaudin for the scan of his Dad’s photo.
Hope you have enjoyed Triple 500 Crown edition of ‘Gettin’ a lil’ psycho on tyres’ and that you will join me again tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !