Chassis Num: 86C-13
Engine Num: DFX255
High bid of $1,550,000 at 2014 RM Sothebys. (did not sell)
Each and every car to win the Indianapolis 500 has a story behind it. While the victory seems straight-forward there are often so many subplots that make for compelling viewing. The subplots surrounding Bobby Rahal's win in 1986 would be so overwhelming even Hollywood would have a hard time coming up with something better.
Today, Adrian Newey's genius as a car designer is without question. However, in the mid-1980s he was still a name that people had heard of, but were still unsure of whom he was exactly. That would begin to change in 1984. In 1985, his reputation was secured. Then, in 1986, a red March would come streaking across the yard of bricks at Indy. Everything would change, practically overnight, but not just for Newey.
It would really all start with an overly-ambitious car design firm from England known by the acronym M.A.R.C.H. A group of four men would start the company with the intention of fielding cars in most of the major categories of motor racing at the time. Of course, Formula One was the biggest aim. Unfortunately, success would be sparse. This would lead to the firm looking elsewhere to earn its fame. Indycars seemed like another logical option.
March would come and go in Formula One. When it returned in 1981 it would do so with an example of a Williams FW07. March would make some changes and improvements to the car and would soon realize they had a good foundation for an Indycar. Therefore, the March 81C would be fashioned for the mix of ovals and road courses used within the American series and would quickly become a popular choice with teams.
Success for March came swiftly as their cars would go on to win the 1983, 1984 and 1985 Indianapolis 500s. The success and diversity of March made the company an attractive place to work for aspiring young engineers. One of those would be a Stratford-upon-Avon man by the name of Adrian Newey.
Newey, who certainly had a penchant for trouble-making when he was younger, was a talented engineer. Earning First Class honors in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Southampton, he would soon find his talents for aeronautical engineering being used in car design working under Harvey Postlethwaite in the Fittipaldi Formula One team. Then, in 1981, he would move to March lending a hand on many of the projects undertaken by the company.
Newey's first major project would be designing a prototype car for the IMSA GTP series based in the United States. Creating the famed 'lobster-claw'. This adaptable design was practically unbeatable winning the IMSA GTP title two years in a row.
The success in IMSA racing led Robin Herd at March to bring Newey into the Indycar program to work with customer teams. Newey would come onboard and would soon meet and form a close friendship with Bobby Rahal, who was driving for Truesports at the time.
Jim Trueman and Bobby Rahal had a long-standing relationship since the 1970s, especially from the moment Trueman lent Rahal $500 to enter a race at Watkins Glen. Jim believed in the talented Rahal and would end up hiring him on as his principal driver when he made the jump to Indycars in 1982. Newey's piece in this puzzle came along just a couple of years later. Rahal and Newey would become good friends and would work closely together developing the March Indycar. The result would be a 3rd place in the 1984 Indycar Championship.
Newey's work didn't just aid the Truesports team. His 85C chassis would be used by Al Unser, who would take it to the title that year. The 85C would also be driven by Danny Sullivan, the winner of that year's Indy 500. Suddenly, Newey was a man in demand. He genius solidified. March needed to take advantage of this. Therefore, Newey would be pulled from the Indycar project and would do work for the company trying to attract even greater investments and interest. He would also be hired by Kraco to serve as engineer to Michael Andretti. His path in motorsports was now on the move and it would result in a long-standing period in Formula One where he would become perhaps the greatest designer in Formula One history designing such cars as the Williams FW14B and FW15, championship winning cars with McLaren and, of course, a string of multiple championship winners at Red Bull.
Back to 1986. While Newey's career was just taking-off, Trueman's was coming to an abrupt end. Only days before what was to be the start of the 70th Indianapolis 500, Trueman would be diagnosed with cancer and given very little time left in which to live. This would be difficult news for Rahal who was close to Trueman and had had so many memorable moments driving for his friend. Add to this the fact the first two races of the season had not been particularly good ones, and the reality was things really could not have been much worse.
It would be hard to put aside the news and the poor start to the season, but really, there wasn't a hotter driver in Indycar than Bobby Rahal. He had finished the 85 season with three-straight wins. Rahal's close relationship with Newey led to a number of changes over the course of the season and Bobby would profit greatly.
Newey's departure from the program meant the Truesports team needed to find another capable of preparing the 86C. Steve Horne and Grant Newbury would be more than capable of updating the car over the course of the year and Rahal's starting position for the race would be evidence of this fact. Starting from the 4th place on the grid, Rahal would be up at the front and in a great position for the 200 lap race.
Rahal would run up at the front nearly the whole of the race. In fact, he and pole-sitter Rick Mears would be embroiled in a great battle for the lead. However, with about 20 laps remaining, Kevin Cogan would add his name to the fight. He would make a couple of incredible passes through traffic to take over the lead. Pulling out a lead, it seemed the victory would go to him.
Then there was a late caution that bunched the field back up again. This was Rahal's last opportunity for a victory at the Brickyard. He wouldn't miss it. Picking up the throttle quicker than any of the others, Rahal would sweep by Cogan into the first turn and would be in the lead. Still, there was no time for the Truesports driver to relax as Cogan would remain right there.
Among hundreds of thousands of fans cheering and shouting over top of the noise of the engines, and among all of the drama outside of the track, Rahal turned for home and powered his way toward the yard of bricks for the final time. Flashing across the line to take the victory, the scene would be absolutely electric. Yet, Trueman would see none of it. With his head turned away from the track from the moment of the beginning of the last lap, Trueman would not see the gift given him by his friend out on the track, but it didn't matter. He knew. Cancer may have taken his life just eleven days later, but Trueman would overcome everything on that 31st of May. As Rahal would say, as the wreath was being placed around his neck, 'This one's for Jim Trueman…If there is one thing I can give him it's this.'
All of the emotion of the moment, the milk spilled from victory, even pieces from the wreath would all be caught by chassis 86C-13, the March chassis that had beaten all the others to take its place in Indianapolis 500 fame. However, even the fame of the victory would nearly too little to save it.
This same chassis would not only go on to win the Indy 500, but it would also go on to win the Indycar Championship for 1986. However, room needed to be made for the '87 model cars, even famous race winners could not be spared.
It just wasn't right and numerous voices would speak up. The loudest voice would be the team's biggest sponsor—Budweiser. Keen to take advantage of the promotional value of the car, Budweiser would take the car on tour throughout 1987. But though it had gone on to win the championship, 86C-13 needed to be presented in its Indy 500 glory. Therefore, work would be done and the car would be returned to its resplendent Indy 500 glory, and then, would set off across the country. Nearly every detail of the car would be returned to its original look at Indy. This included its original rear wing, engine and even Jim Trueman's sticker celebrating his birthday.
Such a famous Indycar would not be forgotten. Soon after the tour for Budweiser the car would be purchased by its current owner and would become part of an impressive collection. The car would not sit idly in some collection however. It would make a number of appearances for nearly 25 years. It could be found at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and would even cross the Atlantic to make an appearance in the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2011. This would be a special occasion as not only Bobby Rahal, but Adrian Newey, would all take a turn going up the hill.
Associated with some of the most famous names in the world of motorsports, this nearly discarded Indy winner is a central figure in one of the most intriguing stories of Indycar history and a moving tribute to Trueman, Rahal and NeweyBy Jeremy McMullen
British manufacturer and Formula One constructor, March Engineering began operation in 1969 by its four founders, Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd. The name 'March' was chosen by using initials from their first or last names. Each of these individuals brought unique qualities and talents to the team. Herd was the designer, Rees was the team's manager, Coaker oversaw production, and Mosley handled the commercial side of the operation.
The purpose of the company was to provide chassis for customers competing in all racing categories. In 1969 the company built a Formula 3 car. A year later they produced an F1 racer, the 701, which they used for team competition and to supply to privateers. In the non-championship Race of Champions, Jackie Stewart gave March its first F1 victory. He won the Spanish Grand Prix a month later.
In the years to come, the company would become more successful in more classes, except for the F1 program, than any other manufacturer. Their products appeared in Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula Ford 1600, and CanAm.
The March 86C was created to contest the new CART regulations which appeared in 1986 and continued through 1989. These regulations reduced the size and length of the diffusers and improved the vehicles rearward visibility. The tub of the car was to be constructed from honeycomb and sidepods were to be added to increase driver safety. March also removed their trademark lare nose in the front of the vehicle.
The March and Lola were some of the main producers of customer chassis for the sport, with the March having more success than their competition. At the Indy 500, nine of the top ten positions were captured by March 86C racing machines. Bobby Rahal, a former Atlantic series driver, piloted an March 86C to victory for Jim Trueman and the Truesports Motor team. Rahal would end the series in first place in the Championship and was followed closely by another March 86C, Michael Andretti.
The Rahal victory at Indy was memorable for many reasons. First, it was a brilliant accomplishment and a very tough victory; it was the closest freeway finish in the history of the race. As the laps began to wind down, Rahal's fuel light came on signaling a shortage of fuel. Had the race been just one lap longer, and Rahal would have found himself closer to the back of the pack. Another reason was, at the time, the Truesports' patron, Jim Trueman, was battling cancer. The victory was the first win at the Brickyard for Trueman, and this completed his life's goal. Ten days later, Trueman passed away.
Danny Sullivan drove a Miller Beer March 86C at the Indy 500 and was the second fastest qualifier. He would score two victories in the car. Rick Mears drove the number 4 Pennzoil car and finished in third place. Michael Andretti drove the Kraco March 86C. In the Interscop/Goodwrench cars was Danny Ongais. Emerson Fittipaldi drove the Marlboro 86C, and Foyt was in the Coppenhagen 86C. Josele Garza qualified his March 86C for the Machinists Union.
In 1987, the Penske March 86 was driven by Al Unser, Sr. to an Indianapolis 500 victory. The car was powered by a Cosworth/Ford DFX V8 engien with DOHC and producing around 700 horsepower. The March marque had an excellent string of victories at the Indianapolis 500 race, winning five straight times between 1983 and 1987, with the 86C continuing that streak two times in a row.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2011