1995 Indianapolis 500: Remembering The Final Pre-Split Spectacle

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The 2024 edition of the Indianapolis 500 is just around the corner - a race steeped in history. And arguably, the 1995 Indy 500 is one of the wildest of the last 30 years.

The time for the big race is almost here: As is tradition, the IndyCar fraternity has set up shop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in early May, not only to run the Grand Prix at the IMS road course, but of course to prepare for the legendary Indianapolis 500. It is the undisputed king on the calendar of the series, and part of the Triple Crown in motorsport.

Each year the 500 writes countless stories - sometimes fun, sometimes dramatic, sometimes tragic. Take Fernando Alonso's failure to qualify in 2019, being sent home by Kyle Kaiser and the then-tiny Juncos Racing team on Bump Day as one of the more recent instances. The Speedway does not hand anyone anything, and it is often good for plenty of surprises, too.

Perhaps the wildest edition of the race in the last 30 years took place in 1995. The final running of the race ahead of the Split from 1996 onwards seemingly had it all, including favorites not qualifying, big crashes, controversy at the end - and a cloud of doubt over IndyCar's future above it all. But first, some back story.

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In which this car piloted by Scott Goodyear plays a rather significant role.

The Lead-up To The 1995 Indy 500​

As many racing fans know, the IndyCar World Series was in a great spot in the early 1990s. Popularity was skyrocketing, so much so that the reigning Formula One World Champion Nigel Mansell decided to jump ship for 1993, driving for Newman/Haas Racing. The grid became more and more international, circuits were packed, and the series offered a mix of tracks like no other.

At the center of it all, of course, was the Indianapolis 500. At the time, it was still a proving ground for innovation - not as much as in earlier years, but there was still something to be gained by trying something new. The 1994 500 was a prime example for this, as Team Penske unleashed what later became known as The Beast.


Penske, Mercedes And The Beast​

The rule book allowed for pushrod engines based on custom-built stock blocks to be built and used at the Indy 500, but not at the other rounds the series hosted. This was due to the fact that while CART sanctioned the entire championship's races, USAC still held the reigns when it came to the Indy 500 as the only exception - a result of the first Split that had developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

For the most part, the rules from both sanctioning bodies did not differ, but it did allow for the different engine configuration. Penske, who had just struck a new cooperation deal with Ilmor who had also built the Mercedes-Benz branded F1 and sportscar engines, took full advantage of this.

In a development process so secretive that it actually made for a highly-interesting read in Beast by Jade Gurss - that is your free book recommendation for this article out of the way - the two companies managed to create an enormously powerful engine just for the 1994 Indy 500. In the back of Penske's PC-23 cars, it stomped the competition, who were unable to react in time with developments of their own as it was only unveiled in late April, just before practice started at Indianapolis.

While Emerson Fittipaldi (accident) and Paul Tracy (turbo failure) did not finish, Al Unser Jr. took the victory that year. It would be the only appearance for the engine in a race, as the custom-built stock block engines were banned after the race.


Shocking Qualifying Eliminates The Favorites​

With Penske's Indy advantage evaporated, the team struggled mightily the following year. Still regarded as favorites for the Indy 500 win, the team brought two PC-24s for Fittipaldi and Unser Jr. to the Speedway, which they could not get up to speed. As time became an issue, the team even wheeled out the previous year's PC-23 - to no avail. After a dominant display in 1994, the iconic red-and-white cars did not qualify for the 1995 race.

Stock block engines were still present at Indianapolis, however, with Team Menard running V6 Buick motors in their Lola cars, qualifying 1-2 with Scott Brayton and Arie Luyendyk. The cars, known as 'Humpbacks' due to their raised engine covers to accomodate the bigger engines, were lightning quick in qualifying, but plagued by reliability issues in the race.

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The striking Lolas of Team Menard, without their characteristic engine covers in AMS2 - they are V8-engined in the sim, though.

In a similar spirit to the original intention of stock block engines, production-based motors wre supposed to form the backbone of the Indy Racing League, which was set to start racing in 1996. Dissatisfied with how the IndyCar series had moved away from its short track roots and the power the team owners wielded in CART, Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George had announced his own, oval-only series in 1994 already. As a result, a dark cloud of uncertainty hung above the 1995 Indy 500 - would it be the final one as fans knew it?

On the positive side, there was a promising class of rookies on the grid. André Ribeiro qualified his Tasman Motorsports Reynard 95i in 12th, while Hall Racing's Gil de Ferran made his debut in a striking yellow Pennzoil-sponsored Reynard. And who could forget Christian Fittipaldi's Walker Racing Reynard, which, when viewed from above, looked like the Brazilian flag? Despite having three F1 seasons with Minardi and Footwork under his belt, Christian was an IndyCar rookie.

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Emerson Fittipaldi's nephew Christian raced arguably the most creative livery on the 1995 Indy 500 grid.

The 1995 Indianapolis 500 also marked the return of Firestone as a tire supplier, competing with Goodyear. Ironically andin a concidence that most movie scripts would deem too over-the-top, the fastest driver in qualifying piloting a Firestone-shod car was - Scott Goodyear. The Canadian lined up third on the grid.

Green Flag - The 1995 Indianapolis 500​

After an entire month of practice and qualifying, it was finally race day at Indianapolis on May 28, 1995. As the cars lined up for the start in rows of three, excitement filled the air - soon to be replaced by devastation. An estimated 375,000 spectators at the track and millions more on TV saw Goodyear take the lead into Turn 1, and the chaos that broke loose a few rows behind the leaders.

Hemelgarn Racing's Stan Fox spun on the inside of Turn 1 and triggered a colossal pile-up that sent his purple Reynard into the catchfence at speed, ripping of the front half of the car. The mages of Fox flying through the air with his legs exposed went around the world afterwards. Suffering head injuries, Fox was in a coma following the crash, but survived. Despite this, his racing career was over, and he was tragically killed in a road accident in 2000.

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Veteran Stan Fox was luckly to survive an enormous career-ending crash in Turn. Hemelgarn Racing would be victorious with Buddy Lazier a year later - in the very depleted, upstart IRL.

Four other cars, namely those of de Ferran, ex-F1 driver Eddie Cheever, Carlos Guerrero and Lyn St. James, retired as a result of the crash. Éric Bachelart also dropped out during the caution period, having suffered mechanical issues.

The race was restarted on lap 10, and shortly afterwards, one of the key moments of the race took place. As a caution came out for Luyendyks headrest (which the Dutchman had knocked out of his car by accident while trying to flip off Scott Sharp for supposedly blocking him), Villeneuve overtook the Pace Car by accident, not realizing he was in the lead. The yellow had come out in a pit stop cycle, causing confusion.

Accidental or not, the Canadian was penalized and put two laps down for the infringement. The race seemed over for Gilles' son in the iconic Player's-liveried Reynard entered by Team Green.

Villeneuve Charges To The Front​

As it turned out, it was all but over. Villeneuve managed to claw his way back up the order, in part due to smart strategy, and also due to luck with some of the upcoming cautions. Meanwhile, the Andretti Curse had continued, with Michael Andretti retiring from the lead on lap 77, leaving the legendary racing dynasty to wait for its second Indy 500 victory after Mario Andretti's in 1969 for another year.

Further yellows caused by Sharp, Ribeiro, Tracy, Davy Jones and Scott Pruett meant that Villeneuve was running second behind Goodyear by lap 189, when the Pruett yellow came to an end. Fans were preparing for an all-Canadian sprint shootout for the victory.


It was not to be, however. Exiting Turn 3, both drivers increased their speeds, but Goodyear kept it flat despite the caution lights still being on. He would later claim to have seen the green light already - either way, the #24 Tasman car rocketed past the Pace Car and was slapped with a stop-and-go penalty. Goodyear ignored this so in case the decision was overturned, he would not be out of contention for the victory.

However, this meant that he was stopped scoring with five laps to go, handing the lead to Villeneuve - who brought it home for a controversial victory, the only one for a Canadian to date. In doing so, he won the race despite completing two more laps than the race distance dictated due to his earlier penalty, leading to his victory occasionally being referenced as the "Indy 505".

The Final Pre-Split 500​

Taking the 1995 IndyCar title and signing with Williams to head to Formula One for 1996, Villeneuve would not return to the Indianapolis 500 until 2014, when he finished 14th for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in his final attempt to date. He would not be the only driver to return only years later, however.

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An Indy 500 win and a IndyCar championship title under his belt, Jacques Villeneuve would not return to Indianapolis in an open-wheel race car for 19 years.

As 1995 went on, the Indy Racing League did indeed materialize, just like many had feared. While most of the teams and drivers stayed put in the IndyCar World Series (later renamed as CART World Series), the Indianapolis 500 became the centerpiece of the new IRL. The series raced exclusively on ovals and mainly focused on American drivers.

The first CART team to come back to Indy was Chip Ganassi Racing, who dominated the event in 2000. This opened the floodgates for more teams to come back, and eventually led to CART going bankrupt and transforming into ChampCar. In 2008, both series reunited, ending an enormously damaging period in American open-wheel racing.

This Split - subject for at least one separate article - also meant that many of the late 90s greats never got to race in the Indianapolis 500. The two prime examples are Alex Zanardi, who raced for Ganassi from 1996 to 1998 and Mo Nunn Racing in 2001, and Greg Moore, who debuted in the same year as Zanardi.

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What could (and should) have been...

The Canadian became immensely popular almost immediately, being a favorite among fans and drivers alike. Competing for Forsythe Racing, he soon garnered a reputation for being extremely quick, especially on ovals. Tragically, Moore lost his life in the 1999 CART season finale at Fontana at only 24 years of age. He had signed with Penske for 2000 at that point already - the team returned to Indianapolis in 2001 and had great success with Helio Castroneves at the wheel of the #3 car Moore was suppsed to drive.

Moore's car number 99 was retired by CART, and has remained unassigned since the reunification, too.

Today, the Indianapolis 500 still stands as one of the biggest events in racing and attracts fans from around the globe. The stands are still packed, but the cars on track are very different - as you would probably expect after almost 30 years.

1995 saw four different car models by two manufacturers, two tire suppliers, and four engine suppliers battle it out. Since 2012, Dallara and Firestone have been the mandated chassis and tire suppliers, respectively, with Honda and Chevrolet being the only engine suppliers used. Development on the cars by the teams themselves is extremely limited.

The damage caused by the Split is obvious. And with the 1995 Indy 500 being the final one before this seismic change for the worse, many consider it to be the last "real" 500.

1995 Indy 500 In Automobilista 2​

In part, the race can be re-lived in Automobilista 2. The sim features both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 1995 IndyCars in the Formula USA Gen 1 class, and IMMERSION Modding Group has created a fitting skin pack including driver helmets and AI files.

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It even comes with multiple XML files (although not the recently-introduced XML selector) for different race scenarios. To access the correct liveries, proceed as follows:
  • Head to the overrides folder (Steam/steamapps/common/Automobilista2/Vehicles/Textures/Overrides)
  • Rename the default XML file in each of the 1995 cars' livery override folders by adding a '- Default' suffix (i.e.'cart_reynard_95i-honda - Default.xml)
  • Delete the '- Indy' suffix from the 'cart_reynard_95i-honda - Indy.xml' file
  • Launch AMS2

To revert to the standard liveries, simply reverse these changes. This also works with the other race-specific files, such as Long Beach. Note that there are only 28 cars, however, as that is the maximum number of vehicles in the F-USA Gen 1 class.

What are your memories of the 1995 Indianapolis 500? Did you ever try recreating it in sim racing? Let us know your experiences on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

The Indy 500 used to be such a highlight of the year for me back in the late 80's early-mid 90's when it first got broadcast live on UK satellite TV. It's hard to overstate what a big deal it was in the racing world. Now it's just a bit meh.

Such a shame that pea brained moron Tony George effectively neutered the race. The 500 and the IRL were a laughing stock for years after and despite the CART teams eventually switching over the damage had been done. A severe case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

George was such a liability is own family had to eventually remove him as CEO of Indianapolis and then ironically sold the brickyard to Roger Penske. Pity they didn't have the foresight to do that back in '95!
 
The Indy 500 used to be such a highlight of the year for me back in the late 80's early-mid 90's when it first got broadcast live on UK satellite TV. It's hard to overstate what a big deal it was in the racing world. Now it's just a bit meh.
I agree on the damage done by the split, but disagree on the interest of the Indy 500 nowadays. The first editions after the split were not great but when some CART teams started competing again, it got better. I still remember Montoya winning on his first try and showing everyone that he was such a massive talent. It’s still to me the one race I wait all year round for (with the 24 hours of Le Mans.) the show is still as exciting as ever and this year’s edition is very promising, especially with Kyle Larson qualifying 5th and showing so much potential.
 
One of the most exciting races I ever watched. As a French-Canadian and a huge fan of Gilles Villeneuve, I was elated to see his son win. I remember the American analyst on tv saying that this would open the doors of F1 for Jacques, and indeed, only a few weeks later, he was signed by Williams for the 1996 season.
 
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I was actually there for this race! It's the only time (thus far) I attended The 500. The experience of being there on race day was mind blowing, the enormity of the event, the track, the hundreds of thousands of people, the speed, everything. I was disappointed at first because at the time Al Unser, Jr. was my favorite driver and of course didn't qualify that year. My seats were in the infield of turn 3, so we couldn't see what happened in the lap 1 accident but I remember seeing (rookie!) Gil de Ferran's damaged car limping past on his way to the pits. I think we also thought Scott Goodyear had won at first, not knowing about passing the pace car - he was still ahead on track (for those who maybe haven't attended a live race, after a while it can be difficult to know what's going on, what position people are in etc. if you're not in view of a score board. They didn't have video screens all over the place back then and of course no smart phones, and it can be very difficult to hear the track PA announcers over the sound of the cars.) Afterwards, "The Split" angered me so much I didn't renew my tickets, had that not happened I probably would have kept them (upgrading several times, I'd hope) to this day. I've considered maybe going back for the IMSA race or the Indy GP before the 500. I'd go to another 500, but I'm not as keen on massive crowds anymore.

But, I would say to anyone who has never been and considered going - do it, it's really one of those experiences in life you'll never forget.
 
But, I would say to anyone who has never been and considered going - do it, it's really one of those experiences in life you'll never forget.
I'm already planning to attend the 2026 edition. It will be my retirement gift to myself. Right now, as a college teacher, I cannot go to Indy at that time of the year, it coincides with the end of the semester.
 
I'm already planning to attend the 2026 edition. It will be my retirement gift to myself. Right now, as a college teacher, I cannot go to Indy at that time of the year, it coincides with the end of the semester.
Hopefully the museum will be re-opened by then, there is so much history there. It's one of the reasons I'm delaying going back for one of the other events - I want to visit the museum after the renovation.
 
I agree on the damage done by the split, but disagree on the interest of the Indy 500 nowadays. The first editions after the split were not great but when some CART teams started competing again, it got better. I still remember Montoya winning on his first try and showing everyone that he was such a massive talent. It’s still to me the one race I wait all year round for (with the 24 hours of Le Mans.) the show is still as exciting as ever and this year’s edition is very promising, especially with Kyle Larson qualifying 5th and showing so much potential.
I still enjoy it as well. It's definitely come a long way from the abyss of the late 90's and it's certainly got a new lease of life (like Le Mans). But remember - Indy used to get a capacity crowd not just on race day, but on pole day as well! I just wonder what would have been if not for the split. I guess we'll just have to race the 1998 and 2001 Gen CART cars in Automobilista 2 to find out :D
 

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