Four-times Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser has died at his home in New Mexico, 17 years after he was diagnosed with cancer, at the age of 82.
Following back-to-back wins with Parnelli in 1970 and 1971, Unser triumphed again for Chaparral in 1978. His final victory came for Penske in 1987 as he substituted for the injured Danny Ongais. Five years later son Al Unser Jnr took his first of two victories in the race, the father following him home in third place.
Unser also won three championships in America’s premier open-wheel racing series of his day, taking the USAC National title in 1970, and the CART championship in 1983 and 1985.
Both CART titles were won in closely-fought seasons. Already 44 when he joined Penske for the 1983 championship, Unser amassed a strong haul of points over the opening half-dozen races. But as the team encountered trouble with its PC11 chassis, Unser’s lead came under siege, principally from Forsythe rival Teo Fabi. Unser clung on, taking the title by five points as Fabi out-scored him in all bar one of the final seven races.
In 1985 the competition wasn’t just closer, it was closer to home. His son had made his CART debut three years earlier, and mounted a strong championship challenge driving for Doug Shierson’s team. In a close finale, son and father finished third and fourth respectively in Miami, Unser bagging the crown by a point after passing Roberto Moreno. As in 1983, one win but consistent points-scoring delivered him the title.
Unser made his final attempt to start the Indy 500 in 1994, but failed to qualify for the race which took place on his 55th birthday, and saw his son’s second victory.
Unser’s brother Bobby passed away on May 2nd and his daughters Mary and Deborah also preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife Susan and son Al Jnr.
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