If Wade Cunningham qualifies for this years Indianapolis 500, he will become only the fourth New Zealander to drive in this prestigious race and the first time we have had two Kiwis in the 500.
Cunningham has already raced on this famed two and a half mile rectangular oval in Indiana, having won the Indy Lights Freedom 100 three times over the past few years but this was only the lead-up race to the main event.
Finally he gets his chance at the wheel of the No. 41 A.J.Foyt Racing Dallara Honda teamed with British driver Mike Conway who will be in the No.14 car. Team owner A.J.Foyt has won this race four times between 1961 and 1977 and started at Indy 35 times between 1958 and 1992.
Denny Hulme, the 1967 F.1 World Champion was the first NZ’er to race at Indy where he made four starts between 1967 and 1971 with a best finish of fourth in both 1967 and 1968.
Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were both going to race at Indy but neither did. In 1971 Peter Revson put the works McLaren M16A on pole but finished second to Al Unser Sr. while Denny Hulme was 17th. The following year McLaren had four cars at Indy, the race was won by the Penske Racing Sunoco M16B driven by Mark Donohue who had started third. He beat Al Unser who had won the two previous years!
Then for 1973 McLaren had six cars at Indy. American drivers Johnny Rutherford and Peter Revson were in the factory cars but only finished 9th and 31st. Graham McRae made his only Indy 500 start for Andy Granatelli and STP starting13th and finishing 16th.
Team McLaren won the 1974 Indy 500 with J.R. driving, having started from 25th on the 33 car grid then Rutherford was runner-up in ‘75 behind Bobby Unser in Gurneys Jorgensen Eagle with Foyt third.
McLaren won again in 1976 with J.R. in the Hi Gain McLaren M16E starting from the pole but the race was red flagged at lap 102 because of rain. Foyt was second but won the following year – his last win.
Scott Dixon was the third Kiwi to race at Indy, making his first appearance in 2003 for Target Ganassi Racing and has raced there ever since and this will be his tenth start. He won this race in 2008 and was runner-up in 2007 to Dario Franchitti.
They have a great chance again this year but I think they will have to beat the Chevy powered cars of Penske Racing, who have won this race 15 times over the past 40 years.
Many Kiwi mechanics have also been involved in this race. The most notable were Steve Horne who won with Bobby Rahal & Truesports in 1986, Paul ‘Ziggy’ Harcus won with Al Unser Jr. in a Galmer Chevy in 1992 while Alan McCall was there many years.
His first year was 1966 with Jim Clark & Team Lotus where they ran 2nd to Graham Hill then he went back in 1970 with McLaren Cars when Carl Williams drove his car to 9th. Last time I saw him at Indy was 1984 with Ziggy & Tom Gloy!
The race will be on NZ TV in the early hours of Monday, May 28th.
Media: Murray McLaren in Ch-Ch. May 2012.