Andretti Stakes Claim At Detroit
At The Expense Of Teammate
By Jim DeFord
©1996 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
DETROIT (June 9, 1996) - Michael Andretti took advantage of a late race slip by teammate Christian Fittipaldi to win the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix, on The Raceway at Belle Ilse.
This was setup when Rahal went into the tire barriers on lap 62.
When the green flag dropped on Lap 66, Fittipaldi went wide into turn four. Andretti seized the opportunity and slipped past to take the lead for good.
"It was a great race for me and the team," Andretti said, "This (award) is Christian's, this was Christian's race the whole race. I just drove hard and got a chance to pass Christian."
In what was the best drive of his IndyCar career, which had started in the wet and ended in the sun, Fittipaldi accepted the fact the he just got beat on this extremely bumpy, very tight course.
"It was a great race," Fittipaldi said, "The Newman-Haas team prepared a good car. My car was flying since the start. I was driving to the limit. Michael beat me fair and square."
Fittipaldi had taken the lead from pole-sitter, Scott Pruett, on the second lap. Pruett, driving a Firestone-shod Lola-Ford, could not hold back Fittipaldi, who was running the far superior Goodyear "wets".
All the Firestone-shod cars were suffering terribly on the damp course.
The lack of wet-weather testing became evident during morning practice when the quickest Firestone driver was Greg Moore in 14th, while Roberto Moreno, Parker Johnstone, Adrian Fernandez, Scott Pruett, Alex Zanardi, Jeff Krosnoff, Jimmy Vasser and Andre Ribeiro occupied the 18th through 25th positions.
This prompted Firestone to contact the IndyCar officials to obtain permission to hand-groove its tires for the race, but the last minute effort proved fruitless as all the Firestone cars moved steadily back through the pack.
In the interest of safety, the race was start single-file and Pruett jolted away from the pack, but was quickly gathered up and passed by several Goodyear-shod cars.
The first of six cautions was brought out on lap 4 when Robby Gordon locked the brakes and dumped his car into the tire barriers in turn 8.
By lap 11 the course was starting to show signs of drying and on lap 20 Alex Zanardi became the first driver to pit for slicks.
Moore attempted a pass on Andre Ribeiro at turn 13 but couldn't hold it. The two touched and went into the tire barriers which brought out a full course yellow on lap 24.
All the drivers came in for slicks except for Jimmy Vasser who was attempting a one pit stop strategy. A strategy which would later come back to haunt him when he ended up pitting under green for slicks and fuel.
Upon exiting the pits, Gil de Ferran spun out and Andretti moved into second.
"I hit the speed limiter to control my speed to the 60 mph pit lane speed limit," de Ferran explained, "but when I left the pit lane I forgot to deactivate it. When I pressed the button I had too much throttle and it spun the tires. It was a silly mistake."
With all the pit stops and IndyCar's new restart rules for road courses, it took a miserably long 8 laps to sort out all the cars.
Coming back to green, the order was: Fittipaldi, Andretti, Tracy, de Ferran, Unser, Rahal, Pruett, Fernandez, Emmo and Vasser, who had not yet pitted, with a total of 16 cars on the lead lap.
Emmo got a bit too hot going into turn 9 on Lap 37 and smacked the wall hard with his right-rear tire. The contact caused terminal suspension damage and Fittipaldi was done for the day.
Three laps later Andre Ribeiro repeated the same move on the same corner with the same results. Terminal suspension damage.
Meanwhile the front six cars remained static, as expected, on this almost-impossible-to-pass race course.
But there were a few that tried from time to time, which usually meant locked rears and a trip into the tire barriers.
The next to join that club was Al Unser Jr. as he attempted a pass on a visibly slower teammate, Paul Tracy, on lap 47. This prompted yet another full course yellow so his car could be safely retrieved.
Six laps later it was back to green-flag racing with the top six cars still remaining static, save for shunts: Fittipaldi, Andretti, de Ferran, Rahal, Tracy and Pruett.
Not wanting to feel left out, Rahal joined the Tire Barrier Club on lap 62 when he lost it at turn 13. Yup. Another full course yellow.
Then came Christian Fittipaldi's worst nightmare. A minor bobble in turn four and Andretti slithered past into the lead, which he would not relinquish.
On that same lap, with a little help from Pruett, Paul Tracy involuntarily joined the Tire Barrier Club via turn 7. Yup. Full course yellow.
Tracy was restarted with the help of the corner workers and he rejoined the race in 17th place when the green flag came out on lap 68.
One lap later, Pruett's rear brakes locked up in turn 4 and he spun backwards to be the latest, and last driver of the day to join the Tire Barrier Club....much to the chagrin of Tracy. Yup. Full course yellow.
Pruett was also able to get his car restarted and rejoined the field in 10th place, which is where he would finish after moving up to 4th.
The IndyCar officials instituted the two-hour time limit and the race ended on lap 72 of a scheduled 77 laps with Andretti winning his second-consecutive race and third of the season.
Jimmy Vasser who scored only one point, still maintains the points lead with 98 points over Al Unser Jr., with 75 points and a hard-charging Michael Andretti with 71 points.
Next race: Portland International Raceway. Portland, Oregon. June 21 - 23.