RETRO: The first Magnussen IndyCar debut

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RETRO: The first Magnussen IndyCar debut

Insights & Analysis

RETRO: The first Magnussen IndyCar debut


Jan Magnussen’s first drive in the CART IndyCar Series came in the summer of 1996 at Mid-Ohio (pictured above). He was drafted in to substitute for Team Penske’s Paul Tracy, who had been injured in a severe crash at Michigan International Speedway. Twenty-five years later, his son Kevin finds himself in the same scenario as he prepares to substitute for the injured Felix Rosenqvist with Arrow McLaren SP at Road America.

The elder Magnussen would go on to make his second CART IndyCar start in yet another super-sub opportunity at the next round. By coincidence, it took place at Road America where he filled in for the injured Emerson Fittipaldi in the Penske-affiliated Hogan Racing entry.

Altogether, Magnussen would make four starts in 1996, adding Vancouver and Laguna Seca to his plate with a best finish of eighth coming in Monterey.

The parallels between father and continue as Jan’s first Formula 1 start was with McLaren in 1995 while Kevin made his F1 debut with McLaren in 2014, and with his upcoming start in IndyCar, he’s back with McLaren through a direct outreach from the team.

Both Magnussens made their F1 debuts with McLaren, but would experience more frustration than fun there. Steven Tee/Motorsports Images

Jan returned to CART in 1999 to make seven additional starts, this time for Patrick Racing after his F1 career met a frustrating and unrewarding end with the upstart Stewart Ford team. He’d soon return and become a legend of North American sports car racing with Corvette in the ALMS and IMSA. Kevin’s story is similar, leaving F1 after the newish Haas F1 team devolved on an annual basis. And what was his choice for a career reboot? North America, in IMSA, with a factory sports car team representing General Motors. and now, IndyCar.

“Our careers have had a few of these similarities,” the 47-year-old Magnussen told RACER. We both debuted in F1 for McLaren, and now all of this. Kevin and I were talking about this before he got on a plane to go to Road America this weekend. The same thing happened to me 25 years ago, and I hope he has better luck!”

Kevin’s journey from winning his first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race last weekend in Detroit with the Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing team to subbing for Rosenqvist days later at Road America is simple and straightforward compared to what his father went through a quarter-century ago.

“I was just coming back from an injury myself; I crashed my scooter in the paddock at a DTM race and broke my leg,” he related. “I was still going through rehab in Austria, getting back on my feet after that accident, and I get the call from [former McLaren boss] Ron Dennis who asked if it was something I wanted to do. I hadn’t been following the American racing scene very much, but I said yes immediately.

“I was doing DTM with Mercedes and had my testing contract with McLaren, but I saw this IndyCar opportunity as a way try these cars and maybe to get back in Formula 1. My first test was at Sebring at the little short course, and those things were just monsters — so much power, heavy cars compared to the Formula 1 car, but a lot of power. But I wasn’t really finished with my rehab at all.”

There’s no denying the fortitude of the racing Magnussens from Denmark.

“I really did come straight from rehab to Sebring,” he continued. “I still had the staples in my knee. They had inserted a big titanium rod, like a nail, that went down from my knee to my ankle to hold the broken bone together, and when Ron called, I was in the rehab hospital in Austria getting that removed. So when I arrived at Sebring and I walk into the tent, they knew I came straight from the hospital. The team said, ‘There might be a little bit of a problem. You’re testing the car today, but the doctors here won’t let you test with the staples in your knee.’

“I’m like, ‘Well, we can take them out!’ I was pretty sure you could just get rid of them and go testing; it was only a short day of testing anyway. I thought, ‘Screw this,’ so I went into one of the mechanic’s toolboxes, got a pair of pliers, and clipped them out myself! I really wanted to drive. I thought, ‘Well, better a little bit of pain now than to not drive at all.’”

Jan would step into the No. 3 Penske PC-25 chassis powered by a 2.65-liter V8 turbo Mercedes-Benz engine built by Ilmor Engineering — the same company that builds the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 Kevin will use in the No. 7 Dallara DW12-Chevy. New to American racing, Magnussen fell in love with the CART IndyCar Series and the reception from Team Penske.

The PC-25 Mercedes was a handful even without a damaged leg, but Jan Magnussen still impressed with Team Penske at Mid-Ohio in 1996. Motorsport Images

“I’d only been out of Formula 1 for about a year, but those CART cars were fast,” he said. “I remember getting in this car and it had a sequential shifter — a stick shift, which I hadn’t used in a little while. And just the way the power came in with the turbo and all the stuff that I wasn’t used to in Formula 1. And then at Sebring, super bumpy, but I felt I could get in and drive here; it was such a cool experience.

“The team was great with me, gave me all the room and the time I needed to settle in, just being really professional. I had the same feeling the feeling I had when I joined the Panoz [ALMS] team in ’99 after having a s••• time in Formula 1. This was team spirit like I had never felt before: We’re doing this together. I found that again, with a great big team like Team Penske. And the only thing I knew about Penske was it was the equivalent of McLaren, but in America, and they were so much nicer than McLaren. Just took really good care of me.”