NTT INDYCAR Series
HISTORY: Made-In America Chassis Troubles, Part 1
There are multiple reasons why a made-in America chassis combination has been absent from IndyCar racing since the end of the 2000 season.
The burden of running an unsuccessful effort like this can be devastating; the financial costs are usually higher and more compounded when success is not achieved. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the last three attempts by the Stars and Stripes to produce a successful IndyCar that will not only be competitive, yet maintain staying power.
In the first of our two-part series, we will look at the beginning of these so-called whiffs the Truesports project. After enjoying two championship years in 1986 and 1987 with Bobby Rahal, the Jim Trueman-founded squad elected to join the constructors’ list in 1991 after going winless in the three years following the Ohio pilot’s departure.
Veteran IndyCar engineer Don Halliday oversaw the initial testing of the new vehicle in late 1990, and the entry made its race debut at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, in March of 1991 with Scott Pruett at the controls. Despite securing a fifth-place result in its first effort, the car proved to be at a disadvantage on oval tracks with its aging John Judd-built V-8 engine.
The No. 11 Budweiser machine would place no higher than 12th in any left-hander only layout event in ’91. However, the car proved effective on the tight road and street circuits. Overseen by Steve Horne, the squad ripped off four top-fives in a five-round period late in the year to eventually allow Pruett to take tenth in the final standings.
Entering the 1992 campaign, experts pegged Pruett and the new Truesports 92A (main photo) with Chevrolet power as a pre-season title threat. Unfortunately, the expected jump in performance never materialized. While the team managed 11th at the conclusion of the year, their season was marred by an early exit from the Indianapolis 500, where Pruett placed 30th due to a blown motor.
While the success of the made-in America chassis drew the team media attention, the financial burdens started to catch up with the Ohio-based operation. When Budweiser elected to move its support to Kenny Bernstein’s squad in 1993, plans were initially made to end its in-house car effort. However, with massive financial losses already present, Truesports decided to cease operations completely.
The chassis did not die however, as reigning CART champion Bobby Rahal absorbed the remaining assets into his own team, run in-tandem with Carl Hogan. The machine, re-badged as the RH001, began testing in November of 1992. Despite a serious accident suffered at Phoenix International Raceway, the team made the 1993 season opener at Australia.
Rahal opened the year solidly, finishing sixth in the Land Down Under and followed it up with a runner-up effort at Long Beach. In between, however, was a return to trip to Phoenix. Although the car was comparable to its Penske and Lola rivals on the twisty bits, its extra weight proved a burden on ovals.
A DNF in the Phoenix 200 had the team scrambling for a solution in advance of the Indianapolis 500. The team arrived at the two–and–a–half mile oval in May with new aerodynamic options, including a rear wing that proved successful in wind tunnel testing a month earlier.
The expected speed gains would be tough to come during the first week of time trials, as Rahal and the team accepted a 217.150 MPH four-lap average on the second day. Only two drivers had posted slower efforts up to that point. With the splitting of time between preparing for the race and being ready to protect itself in case of being bumped from the field, others in Gasoline Alley began to find extra pace.
By the end of the third day of qualifying, the field was full and Rahal’s day two effort was on the bubble. Although rain was predicted, the expected washout of Bump Day never occurred. Eventually with less than 20 minutes remaining on the final day, Eddie Cheever found the necessary speed to bump Rahal from the show. The 1986 Indy 500 champion returned to the track just before time expired in a back-up car, but was unable to retaliate successfully.
Following the frustrations at the Brickyard, Rahal acquired a 1993 Lola chassis to finish out the year. Rahal-Hogan test driver Mike Groff ran the RH001 on a limited basis in the year’s second half, mana
nging only a ninth-place effort at the Milwaukee Mile. With the team introducing a new Honda engine for 1994, the in-house chassis project was canned at the end of the year.
As you can see, running your own car can be a challenge for a small operation, but that even holds true for a large team as Newman-Haas Racing, or a full out constructor such as Riley & Scott. Coming up in part two, a look at NHR’s success and failure with the Swift car in CART and R & S’ foray with its ride in the Indy Racing League.
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