VANCOUVER, B.C., Canada (September 1, 1996) - Michael Andretti kept the Andretti/Unser streak alive by winning his his third race at the 7th Annual Molson Indy Vancouver today. Al Unser Jr. has won the other four races held here at Concord Pacific Place.
Alex Zanardi, the pole sitter, held off Andretti and led the field into the hairpin at the start. Zanardi would lead every lap he raced.
Through the first 13 laps, the only major action on the track was lapping Hiro Matsushita every 4-laps or so, and the AAR-Toyota-powered machines, though much faster than Hiro's car, that would play into the end results in a big way -- more on that later.
By lap 13, Zanardi held a comfortable 3.24 second lead over Andretti and looked to be on his way to dominating this race flag-to-flag.
On lap 17-19, Zanardi had been trying to get around P.J. Jones in every which way but up. On lap 19, entering turn 10, Alex made a very strange move to the outside of P.J. Jones who was holding the normal race line and the two cars touched wheels. Zanardi's right-side was lifted up 75-degrees and looked to be going over but his left front caught the barrier-wall and his car slammed down safely on all-fours, but terminally damaged in the runoff area.
Alex scrambled from his Target-Ganassi/Honda-Reynard and the only injury he suffered was his pride and a lost-chance at the PPG Cup Championship. As he walked back to the pits he was visibly upset...or super-pissed off might be a better word.
He violently shook off the comforts offered by Target-Ganassi's Public Relations Director, Michael Knight, and went directly into the transporter. When interviewed by ESPN, after he had obviously calmed down, he was asked if he would confront P.J. Jones.
"It wouldn't make any difference," Alex replied simply. And the race goes on....
Green flag racing resumed on lap 25 with the top-six being; Andretti, Rahal, Unser, Vasser, Herta and Fittipaldi.
Canadian favorite, Greg Moore, retired on lap 38 due to a transmission related oil leak.
16 laps later (41) the next race-event would be a NASCAR-style, banzai pass by Robby Gordon upon Jan Magnussen -- The pass failed as Jan was speared by Robby. Gordon was able to continue, but it took 5 laps for the corner workers to push-start Magnussen. Jan would later retire due to a spectacular, but safe, oil fire.
At the mid-way point in the race (50 laps) the top-ten order was; Andretti, Rahal, Unser, Vasser, Herta, Fittipaldi, Pruett, Fernandez, Tracy and de Ferran.
Three laps later (Lap 53), Pruett pulls off into the turn-3 runoff area due to yet another fried Cosworth powerplant.
One lap later (Lap 54) the caution flag is thrown, courtesy of Andre Ribeiro's contact with the outside wall, entering the hairpin, where his car stopped in a very precarious position. As the IndyCar Safety Team attends to Ribeiro's stranded car, a stubborn oil-fire erupts on Jan Magnussen's Hogan-Penske machine and this caution flag is extended until lap 62 to attend to both cars.
But, on lap 61, Al Unser Jr. dives into the pits for a quick splash of methanol. And, Jimmy Vasser, who had been advised (speed violation) that he would be black-flagged for a "drive-though" penalty, sneaks into the pits for a methanol-top-off.
One-green-lap later (Lap 62), Vasser serves his drive-through penalty. Rumors abound that he ordered a taco-salad to go, rather than a burger and fries. Jimmy is relegated to the 12th position, but climbs quickly into the 8th position with 20 laps to go.
On lap 68, Robby Gordon, in desperation, attempts a no-brainer pass on Fangio in turn 5 and wins again. Fangio clearly had the line and was offered, maybe in practice for his new career, a NASCAR-style bump by Robby.
With the heavy fines being handed out readily since Road America, don't be surprised to see a few more $20k-$40k fines announced at Laguna Seca.
Lap 74 began the next green flag in which the field was bunched-up in a huge way. Tracy bit it by trying to go wide at the hair-pin and was out of the race.
In the late-race chase, Vasser was on Herta like white-on-rice, waving his fist more than once. Vasser had seen Unser go by Herta so easily and probably got frustrated a bit.
When questioned about why Herta had been passed so easily, Bryan replied, "I got 'Hiro'd'".
Coincendentally, Jimmy Vasser had the same answer when asked about Herta. "...I hope he feels like a hero...." (Hiro?).
26 laps later, Andretti wins the 1996 race at Vancouver, punts Unser from his long-held second place PPG Points standing and dumps him to third, with the last possible chance for the PPG Cup.
The PPG Championship has three drivers in its grasp. Jimmy Vasser; Michael Andretti; and Al Unser, Jr.
The final decision will be at Laguna Seca!