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The first time an Aussie scored an Indy podium

Toowoomba native Will Power may have been the first Australian to win the famed Indianapolis 500, but more than three decades prior a lad from Whyalla scored a podium.

Two years prior to his success at Le Mans and four years following from his last Formula 1 Grand Prix, Vern Schuppan ventured to the US to focus on Formula 5000, sports cars, while opportunities in IndyCar also became available.

A winner of the Macau Grand Prix twice, a driver in 13 Grands Prix for BRM, Ensign, Hill and Surtees, with substantial experience in sports cars made Schuppan one of the most versatile drivers during the 1970s entering the 1980s.

Schuppan made his debut at Indy in 1976 driving an Eagle 74 entered by Jorgensen Steel where he finished 18th and took the prestigious Rookie of the Year honours.

He failed to qualify in 1977, but he returned two years later to finish 21st for Wysard Motors as another DNQ followed the next season.

Holding a long association with Hong Kong’s Teddy Yip and his Theodore Racing operation during the mid-1970s after sponsoring Schuppan in Formula 5000.

After the fraught starts previously, Schuppan with the support of Yip decided to go it alone. The decision to choose a McLaren was easy after using an M24 that was back up to Tom Sneva until the star driver needed it after crashing his Phoenix chassis.

For the next year Schuppan purchased a spare McLaren chassis and although it didn’t handle as well as Sneva’s the previous year. However, a change to the rear wing’s trailing arm and a lift of the same amount proved the difference.

In one of the more controversial Indy 500s in history due in part to Bobby Unser allegedly passing cars under a yellow flag and a resultant protest from Mario Andretti’s team swapped the two in the standings. This lasted until October 9, 1981 when Unser was reinstated.

Of course, Schuppan was a lap down in third to score Australia’s first podium at the Brickyard in a surprise result, especially for the driver.

Although Schuppan failed to lock in a career in the US, it didn’t matter as Porsche was on the phone…