1979 California 500 (lost footage of SCCA/CART IndyCar Series race; existence unconfirmed; 1979)

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Program for the race.

Status: Existence Unconfirmed

The 1979 California 500 was the 11th race of the 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series. Occurring on 2nd September at the Ontario Motor Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Bobby Unser, after edging out fellow Penske-Cosworth teammates Rick Mears and Mario Andretti.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1979 California 500 was the tenth running of the event, with the annual race lasting 500 miles.[1] The only 1979 SCCA/CART IndyCar Series race to commence at Ontario Motor Speedway,[2] the track itself was nicknamed the "Indianapolis of the West", and was also part of USAC's Triple Crown alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the Pocono 500.[3][4] However, the speedway closed in 1980 because of financial issues, and was demolished shortly afterwards.[3]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Rick Mears winning the pole position with a speed of 203.046 mph.[1] Directly behind him was Chaparral-Cosworth's Al Unser, who entered a new ground effect car,[5] with his older brother Bobby lining up third out of 35 competitors.[1]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1979 California 500 commenced on 2nd September.[1] Al shot into the lead on the opening lap, leading the first 25 before being passed by McLaren-Cosworth's Tom Sneva on lap 26.[1] Unser quickly regained it on lap 31, and with the exception of a few laps led by his brother Bobby, would control the early stages of the race, the Chaparral generally outpacing the Penskes.[5][1] But after losing first to Bobby on lap 72, Al dropped out of leadership contention, as a broken front‐spoiler bracket necessitated multiple pitstops, with him ultimately finishing fifth after losing two laps because of it.[5][1]

With Al out of contention, the only driver that challenged the Penskes for the win was McLaren-Cosworth's Johnny Rutherford.[5][1] Despite remaining competitive in a car that did not utilise ground effect, he would lose distance from the trio of Unser, Mears, and Mario Andretti, eventually dropping back a lap with 55 miles remaining.[5] The teammates were evenly matched, though it appeared Mears was gaining the upper hand as he made his penultimate pitstop.[5][1] However, while his pitstop only lasted 15 seconds, he misfired the engine, resulting in him losing 12 seconds to Unser.[5][1] In contrast, Unser's pitstop was 17 seconds with no engine issues, while Andretti's took 21.5 seconds.[5]

Thus, Unser led from laps 166 to 183, eventually making his final pitstop that took only 16 seconds.[5][1] Mears stayed out for another four laps, and when he pitted, his stop only required 13.7 seconds.[5][1] However, he was still considerably behind Unser, while Andretti dropped out of contention as his final pitstop lasted 24.5 seconds.[5][1] Ultimately, Unser kept the distance between himself and Mears, claiming victory with a 9.94-second margin and $72,900 in prize money.[5][1] Mears finished second, while Andretti took third, being the only drivers on the lead lap.[5][1] This was Unser's third California 500 victory, having also won the 1974 and 1976 editions.[5] His team also made history, as the 1-3 was the first of its kind in any 500‐mile championship car race.[5]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, rumours have persisted that the race was televised by ABC, most likely as part of its Wide World of Sports.[6] As of the present day however, no confirmation that a broadcast occurred has been achieved,[6] with no race footage currently being publicly available. Nevertheless, some photos of the event can be found online.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]