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Indy 500 Mercedes Grand Prix racer

Legendary victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrated a century later

by Royce Rumsey

Keep pushing!

After leading 196 of the 200 laps of the 1912 Indianapolis 500, Ralph DePalma’s Mercedes suffered a cracked piston. Rather than pull the crippled car into the pits and retire, Ralph and his mechanic Louis Fontaine, hand-pushed the large Mercedes the remaining 4 laps (10miles!) on the brick-surfaced speedway to finish 11th! This is the stuff that legends are made of and it’s nearly impossible to imagine any contemporary sports personality exhibiting this kind of grit and determination. Ralph’s luck would improve 3 years later.

Ahead of its time

In 1913, the Le Mans specifications required a 4.5 ltr engine and Mercedes developed a new, high revving (for then) 3500rpm SOHC 4-valve, in-line aluminum block 4-cylinder with pressurized wet oil lubrication (vs. splash). The specifications also called for maximum weight of 1100kg and Mercedes chassis was a period-conventional cross-braced, pressed-steel frame suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs and solid axles. The V-shaped radiator was also fitted to the 1913 Mercedes Grand Prix platform.

Brickyard celebration

A 1914 Mercedes Grand Prix car became part of the George Wingard collection in Oregon, where it was respectfully cared for and maintained in running order. In 2015, to celebrate the centennial of Ralph DePalma’s 1915 victory, Mr. Wingard and his family shipped the car to the Speedway to be part of the 2015 Indy 500(George’s son-in-law is featured as a riding mechanic in photos). I was fortunate enough to be engaged by Mercedes-Benz to document this remarkable centennial reunion.


Photos & Story by Royce Rumsey © 2015, All Rights Reserved