Politics…it has ruined a number of dreams and thwarted many great moments in history. Unfortunately, motor racing is absolutely full of it. And just one month away from the 1980 Indianapolis 500, the politics would come to a nasty head and Porsche's place in Indianapolis 500 history would be delayed for years.
Porsche had first taken part in Formula One all the way back in the 1950s. However, it was pushing decades since the last time Porsche competed in open-wheel racing. But Porsche had come to prove itself at Le Mans and was looking for another challenge.
Actually, the Porsche engines and chassis purchases by privateers and small teams were proving to be quite competitive. This allowed Porsche the finances to look into other projects while being involved in others. By the late '70s, Porsche was showing a growing interest in tackling Indy.
During the late 1970s, Porsche had developed a strong 6-cylinder boxer engine that was used in the factory's 935 chassis. This engine would have an incredible racing heritage as it would become the foundation for the powerful 956 and 962 chassis of the 1980s. Therefore, Porsche knew they had an engine capable of taking on the best Indy Car had to offer.
But the real power of the engine was yet to be realized. When under the boost levels Indianapolis allowed under its rules the already powerful engine was capable of achieving some truly remarkable performance numbers. This would rightly cause fear in others. But how the fear was handled was ultimately wrong.
Porsche knew they had the engine that would be competitive. The factory then turned to a team that would make the most of the opportunity. Ted Field was the founder of the Interscope team and it would become one of the most accomplished privateer teams of the '70s. Therefore, Porsche knew that with the Interscope team they would not have to concern themselves with anything but the engine aspect to the team. The team was such a professional outfit that Porsche knew it needed to not concern itself with the daily operations of the team. This would help each partner involved focus on their particular roles. This would only add to the fears of other competitors.
Some of those that were fearful about the presence of Porsche and the partnership between it and Interscope would be some of the biggest names in Indianapolis at the time. There would be added problems that would end aborting Porsche's first attempt at Indy.
Some of the biggest names at Indy at the time were more than familiar with Porsche. From days of competing against the factory at Le Mans, there were more than a few that were fully aware of the company's potential when it threw itself wholly into a project such as it was with its development of an engine for the 1980 running of the Indianapolis 500. But instead of those aware of Porsche's ability tipping their caps in respect to what the factory was likely to achieve, those with weight and pull would take advantage of the politics of the time to ruin what would have likely been something truly special.
USAC and CART were embroiled in a bitter dispute. USAC ruled the series but did so based upon a majority. This meant anything new and clever could be thwarted. The teams wanted to have a set of regulations within which they could do things that would and could not be thwarted. USAC did not like having things dictated to them but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not owned by USAC. As a result of the biggest race not being owned by USAC, there were a number of prominent drivers and teams that could use this fact to their own end. This is what is believed to happen to Porsche. Individuals and teams threatened to leave to join CART if the inches of boost Porsche would be allowed to run its engines for the race was not reduced to merely 48 inches. At this amount of boost the engine wouldn't produce anywhere near what it was possible of achieving and, as a result, the car's speed would drop significantly placing it in the middle or tail end of the field.
All of this happened just a month ahead of the race. Porsche's reaction would be much quicker than USAC deciding upon the rules. In a one page press release that was curt to say the least, Porsche announced that as a result of the issues regarding the regulation changes and the chain of events that took place Porsche was cancelling its Indy program immediately. As a result, the 1980 Indianapolis 500 would be void of an intriguing participant that could have changed Indy Car's history from that moment on.
Porsche would finally make its debut at Indianapolis nearly a decade later but would run into similar issues that likely reduced the potential. These frustrating events would eventually lead to Porsche withdrawing after just a couple of years and has yet to return to Indy Car racing.
The Interscope team was ready for its run at Indy. Chassis 0031 would take to the test track a number of times and it is whispered it achieved some truly remarkable speeds and times. But alas, it would never be seen in competition. However, 0031, the very chassis that was to be seen lapping Indianapolis' 2.5 mile oval would be available for purchase at Gooding and Company's auction at Amelia Island in 2012.
After cancelling the project, some components and other chassis would be sold. However, 0031 would survive and would end up being sold during the 1990s to Wayne Jackson. The chassis would then be entrusted to Gunnar racing to undergo a 100 point restoration.
Some time later, the car would come to be part of the Drendel Family's impressive collection. In 2008, the car would again be seen as it was displayed at the 2008 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. Therefore, with Matt Drendel's untimely death in 2010 it would only be fitting the car would be back at Amelia Island for Gooding and Company's 2012 auction.
Complete with its 2.65-liter flat 6-cylinder engine and single KKK Turbocharger producing 630 bhp at 9,000 RPM, chassis 0031, complete with Danny Ongais' name on the side, the car was expected to bring in between $350,000 and $550,000. Sources:
'Lot No. 61: 1980 Parnelli-Porsche Indy Car', (http://www.goodingco.com/car/1980-porsche-indy-car). Gooding and Company. http://www.goodingco.com/car/1980-porsche-indy-car. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
'1980 Porsche Indy Car', (http://962.com/historic_porsches/porsche_indy_1022/index.htm). 962.com: The Finest in Motorsport: In the Spirit of the Most Successful Sportscar of all Time, the Porsche 956/962. http://962.com/historic_porsches/porsche_indy_1022/index.htm. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
'Gooding and Company Classic Car Auctions: 1980 Parnelli-Porsche Indy Car', (http://www.finecars.cc/en/detail/car/164098/index.html?no_cache=1&ret=20&requestfilteroffset=6&requestfilterrowcount=6&requestfilterorder=tstamp&requestfilterdesc=desc&requestfilterdealer=3815). Anamera: My Premium Portal. http://www.finecars.cc/en/detail/car/164098/index.html?no_cache=1&ret=20&requestfilteroffset=6&requestfilterrowcount=6&requestfilterorder=tstamp&requestfilterdesc=desc&requestfilterdealer=3815. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
By Jeremy McMullen