Michael Andretti pulled off a win at Elkhart Lake today is what is the wildest, craziest IndyCar race in recent memory. Andretti inherited the lead after Al Unser Jr., who seemed to have the race under control, blew his Ilmor/Mercedes engine at Canada Corner on the last lap in ballistic fashion.
"We had a lucky day today," Andretti said, "We have to win the next two races to have any chances, so Iím going to just keep plugging away. Itís great to win a sponsorís race. In fact, all of my wins (Nazareth, Milwaukee and Detroit) have been sponsor or owner-related."
"This was a shame for Al, and Christian, too," Michael continued, "In 1989, I ran out of fuel in the exact same spot as Junior. I donít think I could have caught either one of them. As for the decision to use the harder compound tires, the yellows hurt our choice. We needed a long stint. A long time without a yellow would have been in our favor."
"This track is just flat unlucky for me," a diappointed Unser Jr. commented, "The black cloudstarted in 1982, when I first raced here in a Can-Am race. I sat on the pole and was leading the race when I broke on the second lap. Then, in 1985, I had a 20-second lead and ended up breaking my leg. If I can ever make it past ĎCanada Cornerí (Turn 12) on the last lap when Iím leading the race, then, I know Iíll be in victory lane."
The race started out with Zanardi taking out Gil de Ferran in turn 3 after they had gone side-by-side through turns 1 and 2. Zanardi pinched off de Ferran on the outside going into three and they touched wheels sending Gil off into the grass and the gravel trap, which ended his day and pretty much dashed his chances for the championship.
"My perspective of this is the reality of what happened," de Ferran said, "I donít know what his (Zanardiís) problem was. He just decided to move over and knock me out. It was not as if I just came on the scene. There was plenty of room for both of us and he knew that and he knew I was there. I just donít understand what he was thinking."
"They should have black-flagged him for that stunt," said a an upset de Ferran, "Iím out, and he should be, too. It was unsporting and the worst blatant action Iíve seen in my two years on the circuit. We were side- by-side and he takes me out. It was stupid. Iím not going to talk to him about it. Thatís the stewardsí job, but in my opinion, he should have been disqualified."
Zanardi ended up finishing on the podium, in third place
"To be honest, I donít know how I did it," Zanardi said. "We simply did not have what we had yesterday [Saturday]. I was strong in the braking areas, but I didnít have anything on the straights. Itís great to go home with a third-place finish. I would have liked to score a third place in another way. I would prefer to pass than to see someone like Al stopped on the track."
There was a lot of rubbing and touching going on in that first lap which also saw Jan Magnussen touch wheels with Bobby Rahal and Jan got dumped into the gravel and out of the race. Jan had been the fastest car in the Sunday morning warm-up and had high hopes for a good finish.
"I canít help but be disappointed," Magnussen said, "We had a good starting position and the car was set up beautifully for the race. When Zanardi and de Ferran tangled (on the first lap),there was a lot of dust flying and I pulled out to go around. Someone ran over my right front wheel. There was a lot of action going into that turn. I guess I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I moved to avoid a problem and made a new one, I guess."
Rahal ended up finishing second in the Road America Melee. "That was exciting," David Letterman said, "I couldnít believe how hard the guys were driving today. The competition in IndyCar is incredible. It was fun to be here and see Bobby back on the podium. Iím also promoting Herta-mania. I think Bryan drove a tremendous race, too."
David Letterman is a "silent" partner/owner in the Rahal Racing organization.
After all the first-lap mess, Christian Fittipaldi found himself in the lead and Zanardi found himself in a brief off-track excursion and back to 9th, after the de Ferran incident.
We also saw two cars get upside down and Andre Ribeiro take out three cars during this bump-and-grind affair. Andre made no friends today and several of the drivers had less than happy comments for his driving style.
"The track is slippery and that made it very, very difficult," Andre said, "There was just no grip out there. At Canada Corner Mark (Blundell) overtook me and on the exit, I tried to get back in front of him. I didnít see Mauricio (Gugelmin), and our front wheels touched. (On the incident with Greg Moore) "He tried to put his car where there was no space. I didnít see him because he was behind me."
"Andre got by me on a restart," said Moore, of the incident, "but a few laps later I had a clear run at him and was completely beside him. He put me into the fence at 190 mph and thatís something that you just donít do. As soon as I hit the wall it ripped the whole right side of and I was just a passenger. I donít like that feeling and donít want to go through it again."
The drivers are much more gentle after the race is over and have time to think.
"He's driving like a madman out there," said Robby Gordon, who was an eye witness to the incident with Ribeiro and Greg Moore. Ribeiro drove Moore off the track and into the wall approaching Canada corner.
Moore's car rode the cement wall for 100 feet and also came close to going over when the nose of his car jumped up about 3-4 feet off the ground. Moore then crossed the track at the apex of Canada corner, just missing Ribeiro and Mark Blundell and then came to rest in the tires at the end of the gravel pit."Andre got by me on a restart," said Moore, "but a few laps later I had a clear run at him and was completely beside him. He put me into the fence at 190 mph and thatís something that you just donít do. As soon as I hit the wall it ripped the whole right side of and I was just a passenger. I donít like that feeling and donít want to go through it again."
Fortunately, no one was hurt today.
The worst accident is when Paul Tracy touched wheels with Parker Johnstone on the last lap going into turn 1. That incident sent Johnstone into the gravel trap sideways and his car flipped over 1-1/2 times.
Davy Jones also flipped upside-down in what at first look, appeared to be a terrible accident. "Itís really pretty silly," Davy said, "There was a full course yellow, and when Tracy went off the track, he kicked up a lot of dirt. I had a lot of wheel spin, and as I attempted to correct it, the car went off the track and into the inside grass. The nose went into the tire barrier head-on and caused me to flip over. It looked worse than it really was!"
Parker was also okay, but unavailable for comment, due to the fact that he was being checked out by the IndyCar Safety Team.
Most-Notable result of the weekend is from the Toyota-powered teams. AAR/Eagle driver, Juan Manuel Fangio II, finished a Toyota-record high, 8th place, while Max Papis finished 9th.
In addition to a couple of tons of bratwurst being barbequed today at Elkhart Lake, including Unser Jr.'s Mercedes engine, Christian Fittipaldi roasted a Ford/Cosworth while running in second late in the race. Robby Gordon had electrical problems the second half of the race and had absolutely nothing good to say about the Ford/Cosworth powerplant.
"It (the engine) runs like a pig on the straights," said a frustrated Gordon as he also has confirmed his plans to take over Kyle Petty's position with the NASCAR Sabco team. It is reported that Robby will sign a six-year contract with Sabco and also run the Indy 500 in 1997 with Coors sponsorship.
It is also rumored that Tony George influenced Robby's decision with an unconfirmed $1 million bonus.