Winning Indy car team-owner Granatelli dies

Vince Granatelli

Vince Granatelli

Photo by: Steve Shunck

Vince Granatelli of STP, Bill Dunne, Mario Andretti and March designer Robin Herd at Kyalami F1 GP in 1970.

Vince Granatelli of STP, Bill Dunne, Mario Andretti and March designer Robin Herd at Kyalami F1 GP in 1970.

Photo by: David Phipps

Vincent Joseph Granatelli, son of charismatic STP promoter Andy Granatelli, started at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1961 as a mechanic on the Novi-powered machines his father brought to the 500 that year.

He would go on to work on the legendary – and legendarily unfortunate – STP turbine cars. Both the STP Paxton car of Parnelli Jones in 1967 and the Lotus 56 of Joe Leonard in 1968 would fail almost within sight of the checkered flag on Memorial Day Weekend. So he shared in the family joy and exhilaration when the following year Mario Andretti nailed Indy victory in the STP Hawk.

Vince was also involved in the STP team’s brief flirtation in Formula 1 in 1970, which saw Andretti score a podium finish in the pretty but mediocre March 701, and he would also serve as mechanic on the Eagle-Offy that Graham McRae drove to 16th place and Rookie of the Year honors in the 1973 Indianapolis 500.

The Granatelli family would quit racing in 1974. But on his return, Vince truly emerged from the shadow of his famous father when he took over Dan Cotter’s Indy car team in the 1980s and almost immediately found success.

After winning the Indy 500 in 1983 with Tom Sneva, the Bignotti-Cotter team’s fortunes dwindled as Sneva departed and Bignotti retired. Roberto Guerrero scored only four podiums in three seasons.

However, with Vince Granatelli in charge from 1987, the team won only its second race, Guerrero charging from the back of the field at Phoenix (his car had failed post-qualifying scrutineering) to take victory.

Next race, the Indy 500, Guerrero took over the lead after the dominant Mario Andretti retired with 23 laps to go, but his car’s clutch had been damaged in a collision with another car’s errant wheel – which flew up into the grandstands and killed a spectator. Departing pit lane after his last stop, Guerrero’s faulty clutch caused him to stall twice, handing Penske’s Al Unser his fourth Indy 500 victory. Guerrero came home runner-up.

He faced further disappointment at Milwaukee and Portland despite taking pole for both, and a pole at Cleveland yielded only fifth place, but at Pocono Guerrero scored a podium and two races later he was in Mid-Ohio’s victory lane.

A huge shunt testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway put the Colombian star in a coma, out of action for the last three races of the season, yet he still salvaged fourth in the championship.

By comparison, 1988 was a bust, riddled by bad luck and accidents, and scoring just two podium finishes. At season’s end Guerrero departed, and Granatelli switched to the Buick engines for ’89 but the ageing Tom Sneva, John Andretti and Didier Theys could barely muster a top 10 finish, and 1990 would prove little better.

However, at the end of the year, Granatelli merged with the now Bob Tezak-owned Doug Shierson Racing and thus acquired the services of the most recent Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk and a contract with Chevrolet. The Luyendyk-piloted Lola-Chevy won at Phoenix, Granatelli somehow kept the team going through the summer despite falling out with Tezak, and was rewarded for his perseverance with another win, when Luyendyk captured victory at Nazareth and went on to finish sixth in the championship.

Despite this, Granatelli couldn’t find the funding to continue and so shut down the team

A sorrowful Luyendyk, who remained in contact with his former boss, tweeted: “Just heard that Vince Granatelli passed away today, I’m gutted, devastated by this sad news. We have lost an icon of our IndyCar community and a great friend.”

Arie Luyendyk with Vince Granatelli after their second and last win together at Nazareth in 1991.

Arie Luyendyk with Vince Granatelli after their second and last win together at Nazareth in 1991.

Photo by: Dan R. Boyd

Vince Granatelli with Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti in 2014.

Vince Granatelli with Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti in 2014.

Photo by: Brad Hoffner

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