The Penske Zerex Special.
The car known as the Penske Zerex Special started out as a 1961 Formula 1 car built by the Cooper Car Company. The Cooper T53 chassis # F1-16-61 apparently was sold to the Briggs Cunningham team and entered in the United States Grand Prix at Watkin Glen to be driven by Walt Hansgen. Unfortunately Walt crashed out of the race by lap 14. Roger Penske bought the car at the track from Briggs Cunningham less the engine.
Roger rebuilt the crashed Cooper T53 and entered the USAC Road Racing Championship as a monoposto in the opening rounds of the series. The first two races were for Formula Libre or run what you brung, the final three races of the 1962 USAC Road Racing Championship series was for sports cars.The first race of the series was the Hilltop race where Roger finished second to Dan Gurney. The second race in the USAC series was contested at Indianapolis. Apparently Roger had some problems as he is credited with 15th place and only finishing 51 laps out of 80 for the winner Dan Gurney.
Race #3 of 1962 was the USAC race at Kent Washington. Roger was entered in a Cooper T57 Monaco but never showed up. Was he rebuilding the T51 Formula 1 car to contest the remaining races as a sports car?
Roger being Roger had read the USAC rule book which stated that sports cars for the USAC series needed. Two seats. No where was their a mention of a size specification for the seat size. Roger placed the drivers seat slightly off center and created a small passenger seat under the body work to the drivers left.
October 1962 Roger entered the L. A. Times Grand Prix when he unloaded his car he created an uproar of protests by almost every team. Roger calmly unfastened the Dzus fasteners on the left side and calmly climbed into the passengers seat. Yes it is was very cramped as his knees came almost to his chin. The race stewards said that the car met the rules at least in spirit.. ( see photo attached)
The grid was stellar, Jim Hall, Bruce McLaren, Innes Ireland, Ken Miles Masten Gregory, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Bob Holbert, Gram Hill, and Walt Hansgen among others.
This list of makes was first class also, it included Lotus 19, Chaparral, Cooper Monaco, Maserati, Scarab, Porsche 718 RSK and Lister Chevrolet, and the Roger Penske shows up what was essentially a current Formula 1 car with fenders.
Poger Penske in the Zerex Special won the race with a 14 second margin over Jim Hall in the Chaparral I, Masten Gregory driving a Lotus 19 Climax was third and Bruce McLaren in a Cooper Monaco T57 Climax finished fourth.
The next outing for the Zerex Special was at Laguna Seca. This last race was also run in two heats. Race 1 was won by Dan Gurney driving the Lotus 19 Climax with Roger Penske finishing second. In race 2 Roger finished second to Lloyd Ruby also in a Lotus 19 Climax. Dan fell out with problems . Because Lloyd Ruby only finished 4th in the first heat and Roger finished second in both heat races Roger and the Penske Zerex Special was the oiverall winner of the final race of theis series.
Roger was also crowned the 1962 USAC Raod Racing Champion.
Was this the start of Rogerís unfair advantage?
Roger raced the car in 1963 under Mecom banner and painted in blue. The car raced in several races in the U.S., Canada and in England. In 1964 Roger apparently sold the car to Bruce McLaren who replaced the frame and inserted a Traco-Olsmobile of 3.5 liters. It is quite possible that this car eventually morphed into the McLaren MkI or at least was the inspiritation for the Mk I.