1980sABCAuto RacingIndy 500Jim LampleyJim McKay

Auto Racing – 1987 Indy 500 – Mario Andretti & Al Unser & Danny Sullivan


The 71st Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Sunday May 24, 1987. After dominating practice, qualifying, and most of the race….leader Mario Andretti slowed with mechanical problems with only 23 laps to go….then 5 laps later….Al Unser, Sr. assumed the lead….and winning his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. During the month of May, an unusually high 25 crashes occurred during practice and qualifying….with one driver in particular, Jim Crawford, suffering serious leg injuries.

Unser’s victory is considered one of the biggest upsets in Indy 500 history.…as Unser entered the month of May without a ride and without sponsorship money….which left him on the sidelines for the first week of practice….but after Danny Ongais suffered a concussion in a practice crash….Unser was hired by Roger Penske to fill the vacant seat….to which Unser proceeded to win the race with a year-old March chassis….along with the venerable Cosworth DFX….the powerplant’s tenth consecutive Indy victory. Unser’s car originally entered as a back-up….had been sitting in a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania as a show car just weeks prior.

The race was sanctioned by USAC and was included as part of the 1987 CART PPG Indy Car World Series. Of the notable statistics….the 1987 Indy 500 was the first such where the entry list did not include a single car built in the United States. During the race, a spectator was killed when an errant tire was hit into the grandstand….the first spectator fatality at the event in a racing-related incident since 1938.

ABC Sports carried live flag-to-flag coverage in the United States for the first time on the scheduled race day….as Jim McKay served as host for his 20th and final 500 on ABC. Jim Lampley served as announcer for the second and final time. Bobby Unser joined ABC starting in 1987, serving as color commentator alongside Sam Posey. Unser had been working CART series races on NBC (with anchor Paul Page) and had been part of the IMS Radio Network crew in 1986.

With 20 laps to go, Roberto Guerrero led second place Al Unser, Sr. by almost a full lap….as he came upon Unser, Sr. in traffic….putting him a lap down on lap 180….but two laps later….Guerrero went into the pits for his final fuel stop….and with his clutch failing from the earlier incident….entering and exiting the pits was becoming increasingly difficult….as during the race….Guererro had also broken third gear….for while being stopped in the pits his car became stuck in gear….so when refueling was complete….he attempted to pull out of the pits but the engine stalled. Unser, Sr. was driving through the third turn at the time….as the Guererro crew refired the engine…..and the car started to roll away….and with Unser, Sr. heading down the mainstrech….Guererro’s car stalled once again. The lifeless car sat on the pit road as Unser, Sr. drove by to take the lead.  Guererro finally got back on to the track with 18 laps to go….but by that time….Unser, Sr. had put him a full lap down. Meanwhile, Mario Andretti’s team had made some hasty repairs and returned him to the track. After one slow lap, still being scored in the top 8….he went back to the pits for more repairs.

Guerrero spent the next several laps chasing Unser, Sr. in an attempt to get his lap back. With 11 laps to go, Unser Sr. was slowing his pace as rookie Fabrizio Barbazza was holding him back….and trying to avoid going 2 laps down. Unser Sr.’s crew asked officials to wave the “blue flag” to order Barbazza to pull over and allow Unser past. Officials waved the blue flag to Barbazza who refused to pull over until officials threatened to black-flag him. With 9 laps to go Guerrero unlapped himself. Meanwhile, Mario Andretti tried once again to get his car back up to speed….when his second return to the track was also short-lived as  his car stalled. His car coasted to a stop in turn four and brought out the caution on lap 192.  The yellow flag bunched up the field, and allowed Guerrero to make up the rest of the lap….as he lined up only six cars behind Unser, Sr….so when the green flag came out with four laps to go….Al Unser, Sr. held off Roberto Guerrero by 4.496 seconds, to win his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. By leading the final 18 laps, Unser, Sr. tied the all-time record for most laps led in Indy 500 competition….and, at 47 years of age, he also became the oldest winner of the 500.

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