May 9: Roberto Guerrero achieves pole position at record speed for the Indy 500 in 1992

Monday, May 9, 2022 by René Fagnan

Former Formula 1 and road racing driver, Colombian Roberto Guerrero took pole position at record speed during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 9, 1992.

Guerrero was then at the controls of a Lola T92/00 with a Buick 3.4-litre V6 turbo engine. Due to the specific Indy 500 technical regulations which differed from those of the CART series, this Buick with rocker arms of the “stock block” type could have an increased displacement and a higher boost pressure.

The Colombian, who had been living in the United States for a very long time at the time, drove for the King Racing team of NHRA drag racer Kenny Bernstein. The green-colored Lola was sponsored by Quaker State Oils.

After learning his skills in Europe, Guerrero raced briefly in Formula 1. He drove for small teams Ensign in 1982 and Theodore in 1983, and his best result in F1 was an eighth place at the German Grand Prix in 1982 .

After leaving F1, Guerrero emigrated to the United States and raced in the IndyCar Series. In 1987 he drove for the Vince Granatelli Racing team and scored his first two victories. However, a few days after winning the Mid-Ohio event, Guerrero went to practice on the Indianapolis oval where he crashed into the protective wall. A tire hit his helmet hard and Roberto suffered a severe concussion. The doctors kept him in an artificial coma for 17 days, then his condition improved and he recovered all his faculties.

Ironically, that crash aside, the Indianapolis Super Oval has always smiled on Guerrero. He finished second in the Indy 500 in 1984, then third in 1985, fourth in 1986 and second again in 1987.

After his accident, Guerrero no longer competed in full seasons, contenting himself with taking part in a few events with the avowed objective of one day winning the Indianapolis 500 Miles.

Maximum pressure for the pole

This Saturday, May 9, 1992, the showers follow one another and the track remains wet. It was only during the afternoon that the conditions improved and the asphalt finally dried up. Guerrero set the fastest time in a 60-minute exploratory session at an average speed of 232.090 miles per hour (373.433 km/h).

A strong opponent for Guerrero in the hunt for pole position, Briton Jim Crawford, blew up his Buick engine during this exploratory session, which prevented him from taking part in the qualifying session.

This famous qualifying session, “Pole Day”, begins at 4 p.m. Arie Luyendyk signs an average speed of 229.127 mph (368.665 km/h). Gary Bettenhausen clocks a lightning-fast lap at 229.317 mph (368.971 km/h), but his four-lap average isn’t fast enough for pole position.

At 5:34 p.m., with less than 30 minutes to go in the session, Roberto Guerrero took to the track with his Buick engine at maximum boost pressure. He completed his first timed lap in 38”762 at a speed of 232.186 m/h (373.587 km/h) and broke the lap record.

He puts it back on his second lap in 38”707 (232.516 m/h, 374.118 km/h), then 38”690 on his third lap (232.618 m/h, 374.282 km/h) and finally he completes his fourth and last lap in 38”692 (232.606 m/h, 374.263 km/h) for a total time of 2’34”851 and an average speed of 232.482 m/h (374.144 km/h). He smashes the record! Once the finish line is crossed, the engine coughs, the Lola slows down and comes to a standstill out of fuel!

In numbers, that pole position means a top speed of 241 mph (388 km/h) down the two long straights.

It’s cold in Indiana on Sunday, May 29, race day. Guerrero leads the field during the warm-up laps with Mario Andretti and Arie Luyendyk on the first starting line.

The incredible happens when Guerrero suddenly loses control of his car during those warm-up laps! He damages his Lola against the concrete wall and his race ends like this. Annoyed, Guerrero said: « I think it’s a combination of cold tyres, cold track and excess engine power… »

Sad abandonment for the holder of the pole position who cannot even take the start of the event…

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