Peter Revson in the revolutionary McLaren M16 on his way to second place at Indy in 1971.  Copyright Glenn Snyder 2009.  Used with permission.

Indy 500 and USAC racing 1971

There was a saying at the Speedway in the 1970s that new cars never won the 500, even if they were quickest. So it proved in 1971 when the new McLaren M16 was by far the fastest car at the Indy 500, taking three of the top four places in qualifying, but it was Al Unser in his Lola-derived, George Bignotti-modified PJ Colt that won the race. The Colts took Unser to victory in the five of the first six races of the season, the other falling to Mike Mosley in AJ Watson's heavily modified 1968 Eagle. Thereafter races fell to AJ Foyt's latest Coyote evolution, to the similarly evolved Eagle 71 of Bobby Unser and only at the end of the season did Marc Donohue take two wins in the M16.

The other race was won by Al Unser's teammate, Joe Leonard, in a race of attrition at Ontario in September when none of the top ten qualifiers finished the race. With the USAC points system rewarding reliability, Leonard shot into the championship lead from Al Unser, whose car had led the race for 84 laps before retiring. Al Unser failed to finish either of the remaining races and Leonard was crowned champion.

It is worth noting that Bobby Unser's Eagle took seven pole positions from the twelve races and McLaren M16s took another three. The race was not to the swift.

The races

28 Feb 1971 > Rafaela Indy 300 (1) at Autodromo de Rafaela

28 Feb 1971 > Rafaela Indy 300 (2) at Autodromo de Rafaela

27 Mar 1971 > Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

25 Apr 1971 > Trentonian 200 at Trenton International Speedway

29 May 1971 > Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

06 Jun 1971 > Rex Mays Classic at Milwaukee Mile

03 Jul 1971 > Pocono 500 at Pocono International Raceway

18 Jul 1971 > Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway

15 Aug 1971 > Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee Mile

05 Sep 1971 > California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway

03 Oct 1971 > Trenton 300 at Trenton International Speedway

23 Oct 1971 > Bobby Ball 150 at Phoenix International Raceway

1971 USAC National Championship table

1Joe LeonardColt 70 - Ford turbo
Colt 71 - Ford turbo
3015 pts1 win
2AJ FoytCoyote 70 - Ford turbo
Coyote 71 - Ford turbo
2320 pts1 win
3Billy VukovichHayhoe 68 - Offy 159 ci turbo2250 pts0 wins
4Al UnserColt 70 - Ford turbo
Colt 71 - Ford turbo
2200 pts5 wins
5Lloyd RubyMongoose 70 - Ford turbo1830 pts0 wins

Points table by Phil Harms.