This year the Parnelli-Cosworth became the feature subject of qualifying, and neither USAC nor Unser had any complaints. Both the chassis and engine trace their lineage to Formula I, where Jones had fielded a car driven by Mario Andretti the past two seasons. Its heritage makes the machine the closest thing to being the missing link between Monaco and Indianapolis since Dan Gurney. Said Miletich, "We're in the same place where the rear-engine Lotus-Fords were in 1963: leading a revolution 'by one year."
In direct response to the pending Cosworth challenge, Drake Engineering, manufacturer of the ubiquitous Offenhauser-Drake engine, had spent the past year revising the venerable four-cylinder power plant to produce about 50 more horsepower. But when defending champion Bobby Unser blew one of their new $28,000 engines after a mere 1� laps of practice, an expensive epidemic started: by the first day of qualifying, only the new engines of Rutherford, Sneva and Andretti had not fallen victim. A lubrication problem was suspected, and for the most part the other new Offys, those that hadn't already blown, were replaced with older Offys by wary mechanics.
The wisdom of the precaution was reinforced during qualifying when the final new version to break was the replacement Offy in Bobby Unser's Eagle. (The next day Bobby made the field with an average speed of 187.520 mph.) All three of the new Offys that survived had been assembled by Gary Knudsen of Team McLaren. Obviously he had found the secret to making the engines live, but as qualifying drew closer engine specialist Herb Porter, who all the other new Offy owners were relying on to discover the same secret in his shop on Gasoline Alley, spent a sleep-starved week.
"I'm not the smartest son of a gun in the world, but I've been here a long time and know a thing or two," Porter said. "Still, I can't exactly say I'm brimming with confidence."
The retreat to the drawing board of the foundering Offys meant that most of the equipment on Gasoline Alley was at least one year old. Two prominent exceptions were the pair of Wildcats designed by George Bignotti and powered by his own Drake-Goossen-Sparks engines, which are Offy offshoots. Bignotti was once crew chief for Foyt, and after studying Johncock's machine in Gasoline Alley, one of Foyt's mechanics made it clear what he thought.
"So this is your new Wildcat," he said to Bignotti. "Sure is nice."
"I like it," said Bignotti.
"Only thing is," said the mechanic, pretending to scratch his chin but actually trying to wipe a smile from his face, "looks more to me like maybe you should of called it the Copycat."
Eight rookies had entered this year, but only three passed their tests the first week: Spike Gehlhausen, Bobby Olivero and Vern Schuppan. Of the three, the most highly touted was Olivero, a quiet California sprint car star. He had dazzled USAC officials by breezing through his two-stage test in one day, the first practice day, an unprecedented feat.
Still, the rookie that garnered the spectators' interest was Janet Guthrie, a New York City physicist who is the first woman ever to don a driving suit at Indy. She couldn't so much as go to the bathroom without being followed, ogled and questioned by fans, photographers and reporters. Taunted on one occasion by two drunken young wise guys, who jeered, "Hope you crash in our corner," Guthrie remained composed and gracious. On the track, she was constantly under pressure, too, aware that with one mistake there would be cries of, "See! We told you a girl doesn't belong out there!"