Bobby Unser was declared winner of this year's Indianapolis 500 auto race today, 4 1/2 months after he crossed the finish line first only to find himself runner-up to Mario Andretti because of a one-lap penalty.

The penalty against Unser, who passed cars during a yellow caution period during last May's race, "should have been called during the race. If any other conclusion were reached, the officiating of an event such as this would be nothing short of chaotic," panel chairman Edwin Render wrote in a 23-page opinion released at U.S. Auto Club headquarters.

Unser had protested USAC's original decision that removed him as winner, and the three-member panel conducted hearings on the appeal in June and July. The decision issued today makes Unser the sixth three-time Indy winner.

Unser had been the first winner in the 65-year history of the Indy 500 to be disqualified because of a penalty imposed a day after the race.

The belated victory cost Unser, however. The panel ruled that he got an advantage by passing cars while coming out of the pit area and fined him $40,000. The first-place prize of more than $262,000 and the second-place prize of $168,000 has been held in escrow by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I'm just too sick to even think about it," Andretti said.