- March 09, 1950
- United States
- Not Active
Danny Sullivan is an American former racing driver who achieved his greatest results in the CART Indy Car World Series, winning the title in 1988 and winning Indianapolis 500 in 1985.
In total, he scored 17 victories in 170 CART starts between 1982 and 1995. He also tried Formula One competition, driving for Benetton Tyrell team in 1983, participating in fifteen races and scoring one Top 5 result.
Racing school course as the birthday present
Daniel John Sullivan III, widely known as Danny Sullivan, was born on March 9, 1950, in Louisville, Kentucky. As a son of a building contractor, he had a few different jobs (including as a New York City cab driver) and he wasn't into racing until he got an unusual present for his 21st birthday. It was a course in the Jim Russell Racing School at Snetterton Circuit in England.
So, in 1971, he went to England and started his racing career. After a racing school, his first competition was Formula Ford and then the British Formula 3. The first victory came in 1974 but the most successful season was in 1975, when Danny finished third in the BARC F3 Championship, behind Gunnar Nilsson and Alex Dias Ribeiro.
Danny returned to America in 1978
Sullivan's last competition in Europe was the Formula 2 in 1977. He returned to America in 1978, entering the Formula Atlantic Championship but also the International Formula Pacific Series. In 1979, he debuted at Daytona 24h and Sebring 12h, driving the GTU-class #8 Lancia Stratos HF for Automobile International Inc. He didn't finish any race.
In 1980, Sullivan competed mostly in the SCCA Can-Am Challenge, driving Intrepid GB1 and Lola T530 prototypes for Garvin Brown Racing. He scored two podiums and finished sixth in the points. In 1981, his performance improved and he finished fourth in the Can-Am classification, with one victory and four podiums in ten races.
In August 1981, he joined Thunderbird Swap Shop team at Road America 500 miles, which was important for the World Championship. He was sharing the #90 Porsche 935 K3/80 with Edgar Doren, but they failed to finish the race.
1982 - third place in the Can-Am and Indy Car debut
In 1982, the season started with one more Sullivan's retirement at Daytona 24h. He was driving Rondeau M382 prototype for Belcher Racing. Can-Am Series remained his main competition in 1982, but he moved to Paul Newman's team. Under the guidance of the famous actor, Danny finished third in the championship, behind Al Unser Jr and Al Holbert.
In May 1982, Danny debuted in the CART Indy Car World Series, driving for Forsythe Newman Racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway and he finished in third place. A few weeks later, he debuted at Indianapolis 500, crashing out after 148 laps.
1983 Formula One season with Benetton Tyrrell
Instead of starting his Indy Car career, Sullivan was recruited for the 1983 Formula One season by Tyrrell, because Benetton (primary sponsor) wanted an American driver for the #4 Tyrrell-Cosworth. His teammate in the #3 car was Michele Alboreto.
Sullivan had a Formula One debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix in March. He finished in 11th place. In the fifth round of the championship, at the streets of Monte Carlo, Sullivan scored his career-best F1 result, finishing fifth and earning two points. At the end of the season, after 15 races, he was 17th in the classification, far behind his teammate Alboreto. For Sullivan, the highlight of the season was the Formula One Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in April, where he finished second, behind reigning champion Keke Rosberg.
Three Indy Car wins in the first full season
For the 1984 Formula One season, Tyrrell completely changed drivers line-up and there was no place for Danny Sullivan in Formula One. He returned to America and joined Doug Shierson Racing for his first full season in the Indy Car World Series.
At 1984 Indianapolis 500, Sullivan was driving new Lola T800 (Cosworth) for the first time, finishing the race early, after just 57 laps, with a broken wheel. The #30 Lola reached the first victory at Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport in July. Danny scored two more wins at Pocono Raceway and Sanair Super Speedway, finishing fourth in the points.
'Spin and win' at 1985 Indianapolis 500
Sullivan signed for Team Penske in 1985. He remained among the front-runners, scoring a podium in the first race with Penske's March-Cosworth, finishing third at Long Beach Grand Prix. The next race was the Indianapolis 500. Sullivan scored a sensational victory ahead of Mario Andretti.
The race was remembered by Sullivan's "spin and win". On Lap 120, after passing Andretti for the lead, Sullivan spun between turns 1 and 2. Luckily, the car wasn't damaged and he pitted for new tires, continuing to chase Andretti. Twenty laps later, Sullivan passed Andretti for the second time and remained in the lead until the end. Sullivan added one more victory to his account, in the season-closing race at Miami's Tamiami Park and he finished fourth in the final standings.
1986 - runner-up finishes at Daytona and Sebring
In 1986, Sullivan returned to the sports car racing, participating in two races with Henn's Swap Shop Racing's Porsche 962, at Daytona 24h and Miami Grand Prix. He finished second at Daytona in February, sharing the car with AJ Foyt, Arie Luyendyk and Preston Henn. A month later, in Miami, Foyt and Sullivan were second again.
In 1986 Indy Car season, Sullivan finished third in the points, scoring two victories (Meadowlands and Cleveland). The season of 1987 was disappointing, with two podiums and a ninth-place finish.
Danny was the 1988 Indy Car champion
And then, Danny's championship-winning season came. Team Penske's #9 car was victorious four times and Danny took the title with a big advantage over Al Unser Jr and Bobby Rahal. Sullivan was the winner at Portland, Michigan, Nazareth and Laguna Seca. At 1988 Indianapolis 500, Sullivan was leading for 91 of the first 101 laps, before crashing out into the wall at Turn 1.
Sullivan spent two more seasons with Team Penske, scoring two wins in 1989 and two wins in 1990, to finish 7th (1989) and 6th (1990) in the final classification.
1988 - Le Mans debut with Jaguar
During 1987 and 1988, while driving for Team Penske in the Indy Car, Sullivan occasionally competed in the American endurance races with different teams (AJ Foyt Enterprises, Castrol Jaguar Racing) but also debuted at Le Mans.
Two last Indy Car wins with Galles Racing
At the end of 1990, Sullivan left Penske and joined Patrick Racing for the 1991 season. The Alfa Romeo-powered Lola T91 was an uncompetitive car and Sullivan didn't score any win or podium. He finished in fourth place at Surfers Paradise.
For the 1992 season, Danny moved to Galles Racing, winning one race (Long Beach) and finishing 7th in the points. The last Indy Car victory followed in June 1993 at Detroit, with Galles Racing's #7 Lola-Chevrolet.
Second place at 1994 24h Le Mans
In 1994, Sullivan left Indy Car to try some other racing disciplines, like NASCAR, DTM ad return to Le Mans, but he was also working for ABC/ESPN as a color commentator. In NASCAR, after three DNQ attempts, he finally qualified for his first Winston Cup Series race, the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In DTM, Danny participated in two rounds (Mugello, Donington) with Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI.
Crash interrupted Danny's last Indy Car season
In 1995, Sullivan returned to the Indy Car World Series, for his last season, driving for PacWest Racing. His best result was the fifth place at Surfers Paradise and Cleveland. His season ended after a serious crash at Michigan International Speedway. While recovering from injuries, he announced his retirement from professional racing.
In the next couple of years, he continued to work for ABC TV and occasionally participated in selected racing events, mostly in the famous endurance races.
Sullivan was active until 2004
At 1996 Le Mans, he finished 8th overall with Team Bigazzi's McLaren F1 GTR, sharing the car with Johnny Cecotto and Nelson Piquet. At 1998 Daytona 24h, Sullivan scored the 2nd place overall and GT1 class victory with Rohr Motorsport's Porsche 911 GT1 Evo, sharing the car with Allan McNish, Jorg Muller, Uwe Alzen and Dirk Muller.
In 2004, Sullivan expanded his racing activities with Barron Connor Racing, participating in six races (including Le Mans) with #61 Ferrari 575 Maranello GTC. He was sharing the car with John Bosch and Thomas Biagi. Sullivan's last race was 1000 km Spa in September 2004.