Bobby Rahal was outnumbered by the dominant Chevrolets in the 1988 Quaker State 500 at Pocono Raceway, but he used a "tortoise-and-hare" strategy to outlast the competition and give the Judd engine its first and only win in Indy cars.
Team Penske came in as the clear favorite to win the 500-mile race at Pocono Raceway, having won the Indianapolis 500 (Rick Mears) and Michigan 500 (Danny Sullivan) earlier in the CART season. And with Mears and Sullivan qualifying in the first two positions, and Al Unser starting fourth in the third Penske entry, the odds looked good for another victory on Aug. 21, 1988.
Attrition and accidents took out the Penske trio, as well as other front-runners including Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. When the dust settled, Bobby Rahal led the final 28 laps in the No. 1 Budweiser Truesports Lola to pick up his first win of the season and what would become the only Indy car race win for the Judd engine.
Rahal later recounted the day in an interview with IndyCar.com:
“That year had been tough initially with the engine,” said Rahal, the retired three-time Indy car champion and now co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “We had been at a deficit to the Chevrolet, which was the dominant engine. We were good on the road courses, but definitely at a deficit to Chevy in terms or power at Indianapolis, Michigan and Pocono (superspeedways).”
In a race of attrition that saw 12 of the 26 cars finish the Pocono race, Rahal and second-place Al Unser Jr. were the only drivers to complete all 200 laps. Indy car greats Emerson Fittipaldi, Mears, Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sullivan, Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser all exited early due to mechanical issues or crashes.
“We qualified third for the race, which I attribute more to the car’s handling than anything,” Rahal said. “Once the race started, it was obvious we were at a deficit and knew we weren’t a threat to win. It wound up being a sort of tortoise-and-hare story. The Chevy teams started having engine problems and dropping out.
“I was leading toward the end,” added Rahal, who took the lead for the first time on Lap 146 of 200 around the Tricky Triangle, “and Al Sr. powered by and I thought that was it. Next thing, I saw him slowing down (with an ignition issue) and the race fell in our lap.”
Rahal collected the 18th of what would be 24 career Indy car victories. The Pocono win vaulted Rahal into the CART points lead, but he wound up finishing third in the championship.
Three decades later, almost to the day, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Pocono Raceway for the ABC Supply 500 on Sunday, Aug. 19 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).