McLaren's boss owns a piece of Indy history

30th July 2021
Ethan Jupp

A “motorsport industrial complex” could be a fair description of Penske... Such is the success and legacy of “The Captain” – Roger Penske – and his outfit. The name Roger Penske commands reverence in the pits at any given race weekend, from Ginetta Juniors or the Clio Cup to the heady heights of the World Endurance Championship and F1. In fact, it’s via McLaren Racing’s CEO Zak Brown that two of Team Penske (the racing team inside the massive Penske empire)’s winning cars, the PC-18 and PC-20, came to be at the 2021 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard for our celebration of Roger’s towering six-decade, multi-discipline presence in motorsport.


So, while many might have wanted to pin down Zak Brown, contemporary racer and McLaren CEO, we wanted a chat with Zak Brown, car collector, about the two CART legends he brought along.

This car, the winning PC-18 of the 1989 Indianapolis 500, is emblematic of the strength of Penske’s racing enterprise. While all of Team Penske’s own cars found themselves out of the running by race end with mechanical issues, this car was privateer-run, with Emerson Fittipaldi taking the win for Patrick Racing.

The 1989 trade deal that saw Patrick Racing running two PC-18s would be Pat Patrick’s swansong before retirement. The two cars were traded by Penske to Patrick in exchange for the transfer of Marlboro as a sponsor and Emmo’s services as wheelman to Penske for the following 1990 season. Chip Ganassi, at the time co-owner of Patrick Racing, would form a new team of his own, having taken on the Patrick assets, including the two PC-18s.

It seemed to be Fittipaldi’s race to lose in fairness, leading most of the race before being overtaken twice. First by Michael Andretti on lap 154, who subsequently ducked out due to a blown engine. Second, by Al Unser Jr, who, via a fuel gamble, caught up during a caution on lap 181. He took the lead from lap 196, but as he and Fittipaldi weaved around traffic with just one lap to go, the two lead cars made contact and Unser Jr’s Lola-Chevrolet came off worse, spinning out and crashing. He was awarded a ceremonial second place as a result.

At the end of it all, though, as was so often the case, Roger was the real winner. He’d provided the winning car, he was getting the winning driver on the payroll proper and Marlboro would now be paying the bills. Far from the last time, a Penske car was heading the podium at the Brickyard and The Captain made his mint.

“Roger Penske is a hero of mine,” Brown says as we pore over Fittipaldi’s winning PC-18. “I bought it directly from Roger, about two years ago. This is Emmo’s Indy 500 winner and also his championship car. He won a handful of races in it.

“I’m a huge Fittipaldi fan. I remember the race against Al Jr. like it was yesterday. It’s a very special car and I’m glad to bring it out to be a part of the show for Roger.”


It’s a spectacular-looking thing, appearing as oval-spec CARTs did in this era like a missile on its side, with very few aerodynamic perversions to its shape. As the body washes out towards the back wheels, two gradual canards sprawl.

At the nose, two token winglets sit as a moustache would on a giraffe. It works in tandem with a minimalist wing, in the name of high-speed stability and as little drag as possible. The titanic Chevrolet V8 is a token-badged turbo monster, coming from Ilmor, a company that, you won’t be surprised to read, was also part-owned by Penske (and would go on to become the F1-dominating Mercedes AMG High-Performance Powertrains).

“Roger, when he decided to let go of it, he called me right away,” adds Brown. “One call and done. Not only was it in perfect condition when I bought it, but it also had its Indy 500 setup on it. Not even just the bodywork. If you look at the back of the car, it’s staggered. The setup is how you would run it, as it would have been for Indianapolis."


“I’ve never driven it. I don’t think I’ll fit,” Brown laughs. “I’ll have someone take a look and see, but I don’t think I’ll fit, which is a sad reality. Dario and I are going out soon to shake down some of my IndyCars. He knows what he’s doing so I trust him.

“I’ve got a nice IndyCar collection, which consists of about ten cars, all of which have been driven by champions and all of which have won a race. I absolutely love IndyCar racing and to me, this is an awesome period.”

  • Penske

  • PC-18

  • Zak Brown

  • FOS 2021

  • IndyCar

  • Indy 500

  • Emerson Fittipaldi

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