AUGUST 21, 2008
A race team's nightmare
Penske Racing is one of the most successful in US racing, but even the great suffer setbacks from time to time and early on Wednesday morning disaster struck Penske when the transporter carrying its race cars west to California, for this weekend's race at Sears Point, caught fire at four o'clock in the morning on a stretch of remote road in Wyoming. The fire is believed to have been started by a wheel-bearing failure.
The two drivers stopped immediately and tried to get the fire under control, but the extinguishers they had were not sufficient and there was no water to hand and no cell phone coverage. There was little that could be done, apart from detaching the tractor unit to save that from the blaze.
The fire was eventually extinguished by the local fire department, but not before the contents of the trailer had been destroyed or damaged. This included the two race cars which were to have been used by Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. The team was fortunate in that there were two cars already at Sears Point, which were left there in a second transporter after the recent test at the Bay Area track. These will now be transformed into race cars.
Another two cars, which were being prepared for the oval race at Chicagoland, were loaded aboard a test team transporter and the team scrambled to replace all the pit equipment and team clothing before the truck was sent west.
Penske is a team that has coped with worse. At Indianapolis in 1987 the team not only had to replace concussed driver Danny Ongais with Al Unser Sr, but also transformed a pair of year-old March show cars into racing machines after deciding that their own Penske chassis were not good enough. Unser used one of the Marches to win the 500. The car had previously been sitting in the foyer of the Sheraton Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania.