Was this Penske PC22 the Indycar Senna tested?
It was perhaps one of the closest and coolest fights for FOS Hillclimb supremacy that we’ve seen. Where else would you find an international motorsport mash-up quite like the Penske CART v Jaguar Group C battle that had us all on the edge of our seats?
Big cats of a top-level endurance flavour as prepared by Don Law Racing have had something of a potted monopoly on the Hillclimb in recent years but this newcomer Penske landed heavy punches throughout the weekend. Justin in the big Jag really had to work for his honours, of that we’re in no doubt. Impressed and intrigued, we wanted to know more about this slicked-back single-seater from across the pond.
One thing you noticed apart from the sheer speed of the thing, was the plume of reek that it excreted under hard acceleration. You can thank the 2.6-litre Ilmor-Chevrolet turbo V8 for that, with this superfast American paying little heed to budding emissions woes in the early ‘90s. Owner Anthony Smith talked of the trials and tribulations of ownership of a top-level single-seater from an era when racing was exploring computerisation and courting real sophistication:
“It’s a 2.6-litre engine with a 14,000rpm limit, though this is limited to 12 for longevity’s sake. It needs two wastegates to control turbo boost… It has a modern Motec computer system in place of the original for ease of control. Getting the original to talk to modern computers is impossible so this is the best solution. It even negates the need for a blow-off valve.
“We try to strike the balance between having a reasonably original machine but also have a bit of fun with it”.
There were eight PC22s built for the 1993 IndyCar season with the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy taking seat time. An F1 and CART champion should command a championship-calibre machine and so the PC22 was, with Emmo bringing it home second-to-top in the 1993 CART season behind F1 world champion Nigel Mansell, as well as taking first at the Indy 500. Though this wasn’t his actual Indy 500-winning car, it did participate in 1993’s 77th running and placed eleventh with Stefan Johansson at the wheel.
At present, it’s fresh out of a restoration that began not long after being acquired by Anthony. That Jeremy Smith was able to hot foot it up the Hill on the car’s first real weekend out post-restoration in 46.33 seconds – just 0.09 seconds behind Justin Law in the Jag – is either a testament to some prodigious driving skills or the car’s preparation performance and tractability. We suspect it’s a bit of both.
It began life as the original PC22 test car, carrying chassis code PC 93 001. Emerson spent time enough in the car such that his personal neck brace remains with it to this day, including for its visit to this year’s FOS. PC 93 001’s most intriguing tidbit was however only revealed in a curious, if in-part speculatory anecdote:
“This car was at Firebird in Phoenix when Senna did his Indycar test. We always like to think that he might’ve driven this but heh, who knows…
“An article written way back talked of how Senna had to stop and go again to get used to the sequential box. This has a sequential box, the other car was an older H-pattern, so it’s possible…”
There’s no hard evidence but it stands to reason that the original PC22 test car, chassis PC 93 001, should be present for early tests and being sequential, could well be the car in which Senna semi-famously got his cogs crossed.
It might not be a podium-sitter, nor absolutely confirmed as a car in which Senna got a taste of CART but if either were concrete, would it have been pressed so hard up the Hill to within milliseconds of shootout glory? We love the idea of the Senna story but what we love even more is the fact that it doesn’t dictate the rest of this car’s history.
We love that wins, accolades and alleged flirtations with motorsport royalty don’t damn it to a life behind a red rope. As such this otherwise insignificant machine could really be let loose as we looked on in wonderment at the speed and speculated on what may have been.
Photography by James Lynch and Drew Gibson