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  Article Image gallery (12) PC9B-003 Specifications  
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Country of origin:United States
Produced in:1981
Designed by:Geoff Ferris for Team Penske
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 04, 2021
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAmerican single seater racing kept close tabs on the developments in Formula 1 during the late 1970s. Of particular interest was the ground effect aerodynamics pioneered by Team Lotus. This used the space under the side-pods to generate negative pressure, which was effectively free downforce as it did not come at the expense of drag. Ground effect arrived in USAC with Jim Hall's Chaparral 2K and the Penske PC7. Whereas the former was a completely new design, Penske's new racer was effectively the existing PC6 with full length side-pods added. It was still very much an experimental design and Team Penske driver Rick Mears actually preferred to run the PC6 at Indy instead and used it to win the race.

The performance shown by the 2K throughout 1979 did show that ground effect was the way forward, so Roger Penske commissioned lead designer Geoff Ferris to create a brand new car ahead of the 1980 season. Dubbed the PC9, it was built around a sturdy aluminium monocoque, which used the Cosworth DFX V8 engine and Hewland gearbox as fully stressed members of the chassis. Crucially, it featured in-board suspension on both ends. This allowed for a clean airflow to ground effect tunnels, which could now run beyond the rear suspension to maximise the effect. Full-length sliding skirts sealed off the area underneath the side-pods.

On the Team Penske driver roster was two-time Indy 500 Bobby Unser, who was very experienced but also not shy to experiment, so he was the ideal development driver for the PC9. The 1980 USAC Championship was very much a Chaparral versus Penske affair. It was a rivalry that dated back to the late 1950s when Jim Hall and Roger Penske were still drivers themselves. Unser scored four wins, while Rick Mears and Mario Andretti also won a race each in the PC9. With five victories, including the Indy 500, Chaparral's Johnny Rutherford was nevertheless crowned the USAC champion. Ferris did win the prestigious Louis H. Schwitzer award for the best racing car design in 1980.

For 1981, the car evolved into the PC9B and benefitted from further refined ground-effect tunnels. With the bugs ironed out, the PC9B was the car to have in 1981. Mears won seven of the eleven CART rounds. For the USAC sanctioned Indy 500, it was Bobby Unser who started on pole position. He controlled the field and took his third win ahead of Mario Andretti, who was racing a Wildcat this season. Unser, however, was stripped of his victory the following morning after being penalised one position for passing cars on the pit exit while the race was under yellow. Team Penske protested the result and Unser was eventually reinstated as winner in October after a 2-1 vote by the USAC appeals board. He was 47 years old at the time and became the oldest Indy 500 winner to date.

Team Penske replaced the PC9B in 1982 with the PC10, which was another Louis H. Schwitzer winning design by Geoff Ferris. The PC9 and PC9B were not only raced by Team Penske but several customers also campaigned this successful design.

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  Article Image gallery (12) PC9B-003 Specifications