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Auto Racing : Sullivan and Penske Look Ahead to 1987

November 02, 1986|BOB KEIM | United Press International

MIAMI — With the driving championship out of reach, Danny Sullivan will be preparing for 1987 in the final race of this year's Championship Auto Racing Teams season.

After being eliminated from contention for the driving championship, Sullivan and team owner Roger Penske decided to get in as much preparation as possible for next year, when they will switch to a different car. That is why Sullivan plans to drive Penske's PC-15 Chevrolet (a car with a Penske chassis and a Chevrolet engine) in the season ending Nissan-Indy Challenge at Tamiami Park Nov. 9.

Sullivan, who won the inaugural Indy-car race at Tamiami last year, is in third place in the championship standings with 147 points, but is too far back to catch leader Bobby Rahal or second-place Michael Andretti.

"Sure," he said when asked if he was disappointed in not winning the championship. "I would be kidding you if I said any different. What we're after is the championship and we lost it."

The 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner drove a March-Cosworth in every race this year. He planned to run the PC-15 at the Meadowlands in June, but a blown engine forced him back into a March, and he ended up winning the race.

"That (getting ready for next year) is the reason we're running Penske cars and Chevrolets," Sullivan said. "The championship has been lost. We've decided that's the car we're going to run for next year, although modified, so we're going to go ahead and run it. I figured it's better to start now and get the thing sorted out and get the engine sorted out.

"We're still planning on coming down here and winning."

Since the PC-15 is designed by Penske, Sullivan and teammates Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. hope to gain an advantage over the rest of the CART drivers.

"What you're hoping for is an all-around better performance," Sullivan said. "That everything will be better. Better braking, better acceleration, better handling, everything."

Sullivan believes a better performance on the oval tracks this year would have put him in contention for the championship.

"The oval races this year have been a very big frustration for me," he said. "I think the basic problem was that Rick's so good on the ovals, I was trying to do like I did last year and keep pretty much the same setup as he had. This year I tried to do it and I couldn't get the car right.

"So the last race in Phoenix we just decided to do it our way and we went much quicker. So hindsight again is 20-20."

Sullivan finished second behind Andretti in a 200-mile race at Phoenix International Raceway Oct. 19, his best finish on an oval track this year.

Considering all of the Penske team testing was devoted to the PC-15, Sullivan's year has been outstanding. He has won two races (Cleveland and the Meadowlands), four pole positions, and $651,033.

Most teams test on the car they are using that year, and it is rare to test one type of car and run another in a race. The newness of the PC-15 made development even more difficult.

"What really cost us was trying to do not only a car and an engine, but putting the two of them together and trying to do both at the same time," he said. "I'm not so sure it was a mistake, it was just more difficult for us to get everything done.

"If something went wrong with the chassis, then we weren't doing any engine development. It was just a slow process. Bobby and Michael and everybody else, they had one car to do their development on. Our March really kind got of shoved aside. All of our development, all our wind-tunnel testing, everything went into the PC-15."

Sullivan hopes all that work will pay off, beginning with the Tamiami race. If he does win, Sullivan is prepared to again be overshadowed by the championship race. Rahal leads Andretti by three points, 174-171.

Last year, the battle between eventual champion Al Unser Sr. and Al Unser Jr. grabbed all the attention, and Sullivan wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think it's natural," he said. "It didn't bother me in the least. I had a great time. There's always two or three weeks before the last race and that gives the media time to hype it.

"This year it wll be the Rahal-Michael Andretti battle, last year it was father and son. So when it comes down to it, all eyes will be on that."

Except Sullivan and Penske are staring straight at 1987.

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