Chevrolet has had a great record in the Indianapolis racing series and especially in the marquee race, the Indy 500. Chevrolet’s dominance really showed its face in the late 80s when Mario Illien and Paul Morgan’s Ilmor, an independent British engine manufacturer, began to build engines for Indycars with the money of team owner and chassis manufacturer Roger Penske.
Ilmor-Chevrolet debuted at the 1986 Indianapolis 500 with Team Penske driver Al Unser Sr. The engine program expanded to all three Team Penske drivers in 1987 (Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, and Al Unser Sr). It was Mario Andretti, driving for Newman/Haas that scored the engine’s first victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1987. Andretti also won the Pole for the ’87 Indy 500 with the Ilmor Chevrolet engine.
The engine was rebadged as the Chevy Indy V8 and installed in Penske’s new PC17 chassis. The combination was lethal from the start as Mears and Sullivan won the pole positions for the first two races of the CART season.
By the time that the 72nd Indianapolis 500 was held Sunday May 29, 1988, team Penske dominated the event, sweeping the top three starting positions with Rick Mears winning the pole position, Danny Sullivan at the center of the front row, and Al Unser Senior on the outside. Mears set a new track record becoming the first driver to break the 220 mph barrier in time trials.
On race day, the Penske teammates proceeded to lead 192 of the 200 laps, with Rick Mears taking the checkered flag, his third-career Indy 500 victory. The victory was the first of six consecutive Indy 500 wins by the Chevy Indy V8 engine. The victory also marked a triumphant return of success for the Penske chassis (the PC-17), after dismal results in the previous four seasons.
The Chevy Indy V8 went on to win 64 of 78 races, but it was truly dominant when coupled with the Penske PC17 chassis.