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Part 16: 90CA on active duty - the last part of 'Indianapolis'



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Roberto Guerrero


March-Alfa Romeo 90CA




1990 Indianapolis 500 (May 24, 1990)


On Wednesday May 23 Roberto Guerrero attended an Alfa Romeo press conference, held at the IMS Press conference room. Also present that meeting was Speedway old-timer Johnny Mauro, up to then the last man who ever drove an Alfa Romeo in the 500 miles of Indianapolis. This was in 1948, he failed to qualify the same car in 1949 and 1950. The actual car is part of the collection of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and to honour Alfa’s return to the Speedway the old car was put on display. A demo version of the V8 engine used in this year’s cars was put in front of the pre-war warhorse.

The IMS Museum celebrated the return of an Alfa Romeo-powered car by putting the last ever Alfa Romeo that appeared at the track on display. (photo HG)

Mauro had a field day during the conference and it was difficult for conference moderator Bill Yorke to stop him in telling stories. It was obvious he had the time of his life. Mauro told how in 1948 his car was desperately slow, but his chief mechanic had done some miracles and all of a sudden the car was fast enough to qualify after all. Roberto joked that he wondered if this mechanic was still alive since his team could use such a miracle man with the current cars. Laughter among the gathered press corps.

Roberto Guerrero and Johnny Mauro available for questions by the press corps. Moderator of the conference was Bill Yorke, the well-known director of the Press Room at the Speedway. (photo HG)

After the press conference Guerrero and Mauro posed for the attending photographers. (photo HG)

Was there anything in which Alfa Romeo and/or Team Patrick gained creditable honours at all? Yes, certainly. Among the press corps no other press kit was as well received as the neat Alfacorse kit. Decent pictures, five slides (all of which can be found in the part in which the 90CA is introduced) and a kitbag: a collectors’ item for any collector of printed Alfa Romeo-related matters.

The 1990 Alfacorse press kit as released at Indianapolis. Top left, the outside envelope, top right the pictures and slides, bottom left the storage map that contained the pictures and data sheets, bottom right the data sheets. (photo HG)

Other than that, there were three other press kits related to either Patrick Racing and/or sponsor Miller Beer. Then there was the Patrick Team promocard. The car on this card was not a 90CA, but it did carry the colours of the primary Patrick entry. The car looks like a 1987-1989 Lola or a 1988-1989-type Penske. The Miller Genuine Draft Racing Team Press kit had a front cover with the same composition as the promocard.

The 1990 Patrick Racing promocard. Roberto Guerrero signed this one.

Another handout was a poster titled “Aerodynamica”. A breathtaking composition of a neat curvy girl in chequered flag bathing suit in the centre of the poster, flanked by two Alfa Romeo-powered racing cars, one in white, the other one in black. Even without the beauty in the centre of the poster it was an artistically neat design with an interesting use of black and white, and spotlights and shades. I dare to make the question: what was the most aerodynamic item in this composition?

“Aerodynamica”, the poster handed out by the Miller PR dept. The cars on the poster are no 90CAs and appear to look even better in certain details than the 90CA.

Another one of Alfa Romeo’s assets was their catering, which was reported to be second to none in the Garage Area for those who were lucky to have entry to or were invited to the Alfa hospitality tent. Also, the head of PR, Paul Bryan, received wide acclaim among the press members as one of the nicest men to work with. If only the track performance had been up to the standards of the level of PR and goodwill that Patrick Racing and Alfa Romeo generated among the press!

Some members of the press corps came up with questionable evaluations about the Alfa effort. In one preview, the reader was told that Al Unser Sr had been invaluable to the team. Now that was indeed a good observation. But the same writer also rated the Alfa engines as weak and hopeless (now that was probably true) while the car seemed competent…

During the 1.5-hour test session on Carb Day both Alfa drivers had gearbox troubles. At long last we saw Roberto driving a car in, for him, familiar colours again, primarily black and gold, like the car crashed 10 days previously. On Roberto’s official qualifying pictures he is posing in the still-white car as he had qualified it. After qualifying it had been repainted at last.

At long last, on Carb Day Guerrero drove a black Miller-sponsored March-Alfa Romeo again. (photo HG)

Al Unser Sr during his Carb Day test session. (photo HG)

Sunday, May 27: the 74th Indianapolis 500 miles race

The 500 miles race itself yielded little for Patrick Racing and Alfacorse. It was a battle with the backmarkers for both Guerrero and Unser.

Due to circumstances I was unable to make a close up of Guerrero’s car in black. IMS Photos were kind to help us fill this gap.
(photo courtesy IMS Photos, copyright IMS Photos, used with permission)

Roberto Guerrero’s car was reported to have very unpredictable handling right from the green flag.

Roberto Guerrero in action during the race. (photo HG)

He was forced to retire when, during a pit stop, the drive pins fell off when the right rear wheel was changed. A 23rd place, credited with 118 laps, was all he could look back upon.

The retired car of Guerrero is pushed off the pit lane. (photo HG)

Al Unser’s race can be figured out with the following observations written in a leading race report:
- “When Al entered Turn 1 for his 4th lap, leader Fittipaldi just came out of Turn 4 on his 4th lap and Fitti put Al down a lap during his 5th lap.”
- “Al was in 29th place and three laps down on Fitti when Emmo was in his 26th lap.”
(Guerrero was two places ahead of Al at that time.)

Al Unser Sr in one of his most difficult races ever. Rarely did he drive such an uncompetitive car in the “500” as he did in 1990. (photo HG)

All that Al could do that day was try to stay out of the way of faster drivers who lapped him ever so often. As luck would have it, the race had only four yellow-flag periods, thus it became a genuine race instead of drivers being fortunate or unlucky due to yellow lights coming to their rescue. Al managed to keep his car in one piece and was actually flagged home, albeit 14 laps down on winner Arie Luyendijk.

Irony of ironies, Unser won the award for having made up the most positions from start to finish: having started 30th and finishing 13th.

Al Unser Sr heading for yet another finish. Nobody knew it at that time but Al was to be the last driver ever who got a chequered-flag finish driving a March chassis. (photo HG)

A race to forget for Patrick Racing and Alfacorse. Nevertheless, there is another positive comment to make about Al’s finish. With it, Alfa Romeo achieved something that a March-Porsche never succeeded in: making it to the end to be flagged off. But that was about all the positive news that could be said about the March-Alfa 90CA at Indy. With his 13th place, Al came one position short of scoring at least one single point for the CART championship, Patrick Racing remaining at zero points after Indianapolis.

“I had to look more into my mirrors than I looked forwards” were his comments about his race. He also revealed that he had lost his brakes early on in the race, but later they did came back again.

As for the Alfa Romeo engine, Al stated: “I’ve been involved the development of the Cosworth and the Chevy engines, and this Alfa engine needs more work. It takes time.”

Unser admitted this wasn’t the kind of race he wanted to drive and that it was hard on Patrick Racing and everyone involved. But, as he said: ”It will improve.”

In the post-race interviews at the Speedway, Roberto Guerrero said that his engine had been working reliably and that he had no indication that his car was breaking down during the pit stop. The car had been handling rather bad early on, but prior to his retirement the car had been comfortable. He also believed that the engine could have gone the distance.

The most interesting comment Roberto made and which indicates where he suspected the problem to be was when he said: “This month has been frustrating. We have had plenty of problems. This piece is just another one of the March chassis.”

Other than that, he stated that he felt both Alfa Romeo and March had to make more progress, but such would come and he was looking forward to that. How different it would eventually be…

Within a week after the 500-miles race Patrick Racing made it known that they had reached an agreement with Lola to buy one of the new T90/00 chassis. This car was to be tested against the March chassis in order to evaluate whether the disappointing results were chassis (March) or engine (Alfa Romeo) related. The Lola was acquired primarily on the insistence of the Alfa engineers who stated that, based on dyno results, their V8 was comparable to the Chevy engine and they questioned the abilities of the March chassis.

Trouble was lying ahead…