Rebuilding Penske’s McLaren Indy 500 winner

09th June 2022
Adam Wilkins

Team Penske has such a long and illustrious history that there needs to be some form of selection process when it comes to choosing what goes into the in-house museum. Fortunately there’s one easy way to decide which IndyCars are a shoe-in for entry: any Indy 500 winning car is automatically granted museum status. As long as it can be found…


Long before the collection started, Mark Donohue won the 1972 Indy 500 aboard a Penske-entered McLaren M16B. These days, any Penske car that wins the Indy 500 is immediately retired and sent to the museum. Five decades ago, it was a different story. Heritage wasn’t high on the team’s list of priorities and the McLaren was donated to the Indy Museum. Around 18 years ago, Team Penske was looking for ways to get the car back into the museum. They had to get creative.

They owned the car that was run by Gary Battenhausen in 1972. It wasn’t in speedway specification, though, which would feature all manner of bodywork alterations to make it suit the high-speed oval. With a bare chassis, the search was on for the parts to build it up. “One of the older Penske employees remembered building a promotional M16B for Goodyear,” says the team’s Bernie King, “so we approached them to see if we could buy it.”


They struck a deal to swap for a Rick Mears car, and the build of the recreation could begin. The Goodyear car didn’t have a proper chassis tub, instead the parts Penske needed were built around a folded aluminium monocoque. It didn’t matter, as they had the Battenhausen chassis for that. What the Goodyear car did have was all the necessary Indy 500 components: the side pods, radiators, wings, suspension and more were what they needed to recreate Donohue’s race-winner. It’s now a full running car in 1972 Indy 500 specification, and was part of an 11-strong display of Team Penske cars at the 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. That was the first time it had been outside of the United States.

The M16B has three Indy 500 wins to its name, making it one of the most successful cars at the famous oval. In 1972, Donohue’s team-mate Battenhauser led for 116 laps before the turbo let go, forcing him to retire. The works-entered M16Bs also retired, but were off the pace anyway thanks to their larger wings. It proved to be a race of attrition, Donohue leading the last nine laps and claiming victory.

Photography by Pete Summers.

  • Penske

  • McLaren

  • M16B

  • Indy 500

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