INDY 500 RETRO: How to beat Andretti, by Rick Mears
For July 2009's issue of RACER magazine, Bryan Herta carried out one of his regular "Racer2Racer" interviews with the great Rick Mears. Unfortunately, space did not permit inclusion of the whole transcript in the magazine (the four-time Indy 500 winner gave us nearly an hour of his time, after all). But this is one of our favorite outtakes: Mears describing his duel with Michael Andretti's Newman/Haas Lola-Chevy in the closing stages of his 1991 triumph at The Brickyard.
Rick Mears: I don't know if you've got the time to hear the story…
Bryan Herta: Oh yeah! It's always cool to hear about battles from inside the cockpit perspective.
RM: Well, my side of it starts with what I was talking about earlier: getting the big picture. I was working to where I need to be on-track, adjusting the car at each pit stop, getting it where I need it to be, dialing it in to where it's the best it can be in relation to the track conditions for the shoot-out, which is what the Penske guys and I did. But you also need to make sure you don't show your hand, because whoever you show it to will probably try to find something in reply. But after the last stop, we said, “OK time to go,” because at that point it's too late for your rivals to make any changes to take you on.
So that's what we did, but we came around for that final restart with two cars ahead of us – I think it was John Andretti and Al Unser Jr. And at the green flag, just as I jumped out to go 'round Al, Michael pulled out to go 'round John and I had to pedal to avoid hitting him, which killed my momentum. Then I pulled out again, so now we're three abreast, and Michael's always quick on restarts anyway, and he's gone. So at Turn 1, I went to the bottom and I knew he was going to go by me but I could at least make him go around the long way. The part that made me a little mad was when we got to the short chute to Turn 2, he gave me a little chop down and stayed down.
BH: To try and take the air off your wings going into Turn 2…
RM: Yeah. And I thought, “Michael, that wasn't necessary.” So I just stayed flat, but with the momentum he had on me already from the green, he pulled a little distance on me. As it happened, that distance meant I had the downforce necessary to really fly through Turn 4 and get a run on him. We've been flat out since the green.
I was fighting a little bit of understeer, and I was hoping that the tires would still be cool enough that the front end would stay with me, because I was going to run the higher line. But what really saved me was that he was fighting understeer too, so he'd had to go down to the apron to make the turn, so when he did that, I came down with him to keep my front-end down low enough that I didn't have to lift off the throttle. To his great credit, he didn't move up to block me when he could have. And from that point on, I had momentum. But coming onto the short chute, I remembered his little maneuver on me from the lap before, although I'd also thought that when he did it on me, it was not only unnecessary, it was also killing himself in terms of speed, because you're screwing your entry up into Turn 2. So when I came past him, my priority was going through 2 as best I could to put enough distance on him so that he couldn't get the draft on me down the back straight.
But I'm afraid I couldn't let it go, what he'd done to me, so I gave him one of these [Rick's hands make a little swerve] just to say, “I didn't like that!” and then jumped right back to the outside where I could get a nice late turn-in. From that point on, for the remaining 14 laps, the car was pretty good.
Then Mario caused another yellow, and I was a bit mad at him because where his engine let go, he could have made the pitlane without causing a yellow. So for the final green, I had to do what I normally would not do on the restart. It wasn't a brake check, but Michael was holding back and holding back to get a run on me at the green, so what I was doing was making as if I was going to go and then backing off.
BH: And we're talking about the turbo era here, so you had to keep the turbo spooled up and ready.
RM: Yeah, so you had to use the throttle and brake together and keep the turbo loaded up. So I kept rolling off the brake a little to start picking up but I wouldn't go: I was just watching the mirrors, waiting and looking at him to make him go, knowing he couldn't pass me before the startline. Finally, maybe the third time I did this, I guess for sure he thought I was gonna go this time, and I didn't. I just waited with the turbo loaded up but still holding the car on the brakes and let him come at me. And I knew he was gonna have to lift so that he didn't pass. I kept watching my mirrors, and as soon as I saw the nose of his car drop as he came off the gas, I rolled off the brake and – [claps] I was gone. That gave me all the space I needed. I wouldn't normally do that sort of thing, but it was the closing laps of Indy, and Mario had caused the yellow, so…”