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The man behind Fittipaldi's switch was Teddy Mayer, who either owned or managed Team MacLaren from 1964 through '83. Mayer's r�sum� includes two Formula One world championships and two Indy 500 victories. For most of his career he was Penske's most formidable rival, but in 1987 Mayer went to work managing Penske Cars, Ltd. in England, where the team's Indy Cars are built.
Mayer believes that Fittipaldi might be the best race driver he has ever been associated with because of his scientific approach to the sport, his precise memory and his virtually crash-free record. Mayer helped Fittipaldi win the '74 world championship. He will run Fittipaldi's pit at Indy, while Penske oversees Mears's.
From the outside, it might seem that Penske is asking for trouble, what with the egos of three former Indy winners rubbing against one another. But Penske doesn't tolerate attitudes, and he insists that his drivers share all in detailed briefings after every practice session. In reality, Penske doesn't need a firm hand with this three-some, who are among the most respected drivers on the Indy Car circuit. Says Fittipaldi, "I'm so happy to be working with Rick because I'm learning so much from him on the oval tracks. And Danny is a very special driver on the road circuits."
Says Mears, "It'll be tougher to beat Fittipaldi now that he's with Penske, but you have to look at the positive side. Emerson's a good tester, and with his knowledge and expertise in developing cars, I'll be going faster, too. I'll have to race him, whether he's here or there. If we get to where all we have to worry about is each other, it'll be great."
There are many things Fittipaldi likes about racing in America. He loves the drivers' openness and relative camaraderie compared to that found on the Formula One circuit. "If you have a problem," he says, "after the race you look at the other guy's eyes and you discuss it. You wash your dirty clothes and it is finished, no bad feelings. That doesn't happen in Formula One.
"Here there is no——. The American mentality is very fair for any sport. Americans try to maintain the essence of sport. When the flag drops, the race always be a beautiful race. The sportsmanship always is there."
It was even there on Turn 3 of the 200th lap at Indy last year. As Fittipaldi raced past Little Al on his way to the finish line, Unser stood beside his crumpled car, applauding the man who had just defeated him with a daring and skillful maneuver. When Fittipaldi eventually pulled off his helmet, whose intricate paint scheme he had designed, one saw tears in his eyes. It had been a long, rough and unpredictable road that had taken a once-retired Formula One champion to Victory Lane in the Indianapolis 500.