That is: Indianapolis drivers are permitted to qualify with light fuel loads and to use oxygen-rich fuel additives, such as nitromethane, called "pop," which make their engines drunk with power for a few laps. But it is a delicate, expensive business, full of the sharp, clean sound of breaking blocks—and under actual racing conditions, with full, unpopped tanks, the cars are close to 10 mph slower. The point is that the turbocar qualified at its racing speed.
The gentlemen started their engines on cue and, except for one unsettling item, they all dashed in orderly, fast file into the first turn: Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Gordon Johncock, A. J. Foyt, Joe Leonard. Unsettling item: there, around the outside, whining menacingly and four-wheeling, came the turbine. And faster than you could say, "So long, old reciprocating piston engine," the thing suddenly reappeared running all alone down the front straightaway, while Starter Pat Vidan was still furling his flag and shooting his cuffs.
You know the rest: how Jones ran off and hid from the field; how, with just eight heartbreaking miles left to go, he coasted slowly into the pits with a transmission-bearing failure; how grown Italian men wept.
Andy, with that elusive race dancing just out of reach again, began the familiar long walk home. The denouement was quick and deadly, starting with an audience of edgy, uneasy race fans watching USAC President Thomas Binford play the leading role in Hold Back the Turbine Dawn.
First, the Establishment car owners—-piston-car owners—threatened revolt, saying, in effect, either them turbines go or we go. And USAC, faced with the prospect of a one-car race, set out to find a formula that would be fair for all. This was not precisely what the car owners had in mind; they were thinking more in terms of lashing Car 40 to a stake at the starting line.
Then USAC asked advisory help from, among others, Ford Motor Co., which produces Indy piston engines, not Indy turbine engines. This was like asking Goliath to give David a few pointers on how to hold a slingshot. In less than a month after the 1967 500, USAC cut the turbine air-intake area from 23.999 to 15.999 inches—and slapped on the ruling immediately, although it had been customary to give two years' notice of engine changes. When Andy threatened to sue to have the original air-intake rule restored, USAC suspended his membership, citing not the turbine row but a dispute as to whether Foyt did or did not use STP in his engine. USAC later offered to reinstate Granatelli if he promised not to sue over the turbine, and while all this was going on the outside activities began to look like show-and-tell time at the United Nations.
Wallis and Granatelli split, and Wallis went off to build three turbocars of his own, bankrolled by Goodyear. The sponsor of the new cars turned out to be Carroll "Hogwash" Shelby, looking for all the world like a man who just knew them turbines were good cars.
In October in Mexico City, while world-class athletes were gamboling about in the Little Olympics and the Mexican Grand Prix was playing in a beautifully landscaped park just outside town, who should come strolling along but Colin Chapman, racing bon vivant and peerless car builder. And there, bathed in angelic light, stood Granatelli. Over dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, Chapman and Granatelli forged an agreement to build five turbocars to an all-new design with rear, not side-mounted, engines conforming to the new rule, four-wheel drive and the tough monocoque chassis for which Chapman is famous. Chapman went off to build the cars and Granatelli went off to sue USAC.
One plan worked, the other did not. Chapman got the cars built; wild-looking, wedge-shaped little creatures (see cover) that flicker around like Whisper-jet commercials. But in court Granatelli was the loser.
Still, the Indy 500 is the only game in the land for Granatelli and, battered though he may be personally, he cannot free himself of the dream. It would be the final irony if he were to lose this year's race to another turbine—and one that looks greatly like his own first model. Yet the Wallis forces have promising cars and plenty of confidence.