Mercedes-Benz Ruled IndyCar in 1994

Mercedes-Benz Ruled IndyCar in 1994

German automaker once built a special engine to exploit a loophole in the race rules. That project brought one of its most beautiful victories.

Mercedes-Benz in IndyCar is not the first association one may think of in motorsports, right? Even though the German automaker has competed in many categories over time, it has had a strong presence in only some of them. When it comes to IndyCar, it supplied engines to the Penske team in the 1990s. That time was mostly unsurprising, with one clear exception.

In short, the team found a technical loophole in the rules concerning the Indy 500 race and rushed to exploit it. Penske wanted that victory and Mercedes-Benz made sure to do its best towards that. The latter created a skunkworks team that worked tirelessly through months to come up with the engine on time. And the results paid off. Let us give that a closer look.

Purpose-built Indy 500 engine

In the 1990s, the CART series had exclusive rules for the Indy 500 compared to the other races on the season. Penske wanted to take advantage of that, so it worked with Mercedes-Benz to build a special engine only for that race. The goal was to have a competitive edge – within the race rules, of course – and make it easier for its drivers to lead the race and win.

The plan was simple: that loophole allowed the team to build a different engine specifically for the Indy 500 and Penske wanted to do it. The problem is that, once people learned about it, the authorities would surely rework the rules to close that loophole. Mercedes-Benz and Penske could only pull that trick once, and had to keep it top secret up to the last moment.

Skunkworks project

The race day was May 29th, 1994, but it was only the project’s grand finale. The team began to operate in secret in the previous summer, just 10 months earlier. As Mercedes-Benz once published, “if you used a single-camshaft pushrod engine, you were permitted to design a higher capacity engine and run it at a higher boost level thus generating more power.”

Besides secrecy, time was of the essence. The team had to use every available hour to think of new solutions and to address the issues that would appear. After all, they were designing a whole engine from scratch with a tight deadline. Moving its release to the next season was not a possibility because IndyCar authorities would certainly have changed the rules by then.

Last-minute release

After conducting the final tests in Spring 1994, Penske officially revealed the engine in April, just a few days before the Indy 500. Nicknamed “The Beast”, it caused huge impact in the racing community because it made 1000 hp, which was around 200 hp more than what the competitors delivered on average. The competitive edge Penske wanted was there, indeed.

Even though testing and practice showed some reliability issues, Penske snatched the pole position with Al Unser Jr. and third with Emerson Fittipaldi. All that extra power appeared especially at the start, where those cars quickly jumped to the top positions and managed to create a long distance from the rest of the pack. But that race would have more surprises.

Ups and downs at the Indy 500

Unser Jr. eventually lost the pole position after a pit stop. Fittipaldi not only took it, but led the race for a total of 145 laps, reaching a lead of 25 seconds by lap 85. Unfortunately, he eventually tagged the the barrier with the right-rear and handed the pole position to Unser Jr., who had managed to recover its pace by then. The latter would eventually win the race.

In the end, the long-awaited 1994 Indy 500 ended with Penske having one driver leading the race for most of its laps, another one effectively winning after starting at the pole position, and the third one (Paul Tracy) retiring after engine problems. All those events showed that The Beast, co-developed with Ilmor Engineering, was definitely a one-of-a-kind race engine.

Passion for car tuning

That venture at the 1994 Indy 500 proves how committed Mercedes-Benz has always been to excellence in the automotive world. The German company spares no effort to improve its cars because it knows that this is the path that made it a reference in the automotive world in terms of overall quality. And it knows that those technologies can trickle down to city cars.

Speaking of that trickle-down, Mercedes-Benz has developed a long line of car tuning parts for its cars. Mercteil is proud to say that its online catalog has a wide selection of those parts ready for you to order. They are all genuine, so you will always get the highest quality it can offer. Besides, all our products have worldwide shipping. Check out our online catalog today!

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