Race No. 1
Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami
Presented By Toyota
Homestead Motorsports Complex Homestead, Florida
February 28 March 2, 1997
1996 Pole Winner: Paul Tracy
1996 Race Winner: Jimmy Vasser
Andretti Claims First Victory For Swift
Historic Win For American-made Chassis
By Jim DeFord
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Homestead, Florida (March 2, 1997) Michael Andretti made history today in taking the American-made Swift 007.i chassis to a debut victory. He accomplished a similar feat in 1994 with the Target/Ganassi team when he won in Australia driving a Reynard to a debut victory.
The last American-made chassis to win an Indy car race was the Wildcat chassis piloted by Gordon Johncock at Atlanta in 1983.
Andretti was 4.202 seconds ahead of second-place finisher, Paul Tracy. Defending PPG Cup champion Jimmy Vasser was third.
There were three different chassis (Swift, Penske and Reynard) and three different engines (Ford-Cosworth, Mercedes-Benz and Honda) on the podium, showing how competitive these cars really are in 1997.
The weather today was hot and windy again and the drivers were having a pretty tough time in traffic. The smaller wings has reduced the downforce by 2000 lbs. and have made the cars a little "jumpy". The first example of that is when pole-sitter Alex Zanardi lost the lead in traffic to Gil de Ferran on lap 32 after dominating the race up to that point. Zanardi would never again mount a serious challenge for the lead and ended up finishing a lap down in 6th place.
In the meantime, Andretti was working his way steadily through the field. In the first 5 laps of the race, Andretti had worked his way from his 14th starting position up to 7th, and now was in the top-five.
De Ferran looked strong is his back-up car after crashing his primary car in qualifying yesterday. Walker Racing had to acquire their show-car from a shopping mall and get it into race-trim before today's race.
The first of two yellow flags came out on lap 46 when rookie Dario Franchitti went high in turn 2 and hit the wall very hard and climbed out of the car shaken, but not injured.
This brought all of the leaders in for their first pit stops and the Newman-Haas team ripped off an 11-second stop for Andretti which moved him up to second place behind de Ferran and ahead of Tracy who was now up to third. Parker Johnstone had just pitted one lap before the yellow and would find himself a lap down at the restart.
After a 14-lap clean-up, de Ferran lead Andretti, Zanardi, Tracy, Vasser, Gugelmin, Moore, Pruett, Boesel and Carpentier to the restart on lap 60. These were the only drivers on the lead lap at this point.
De Ferran again pulled a decent lead and looked to have race under control until lap 69 when he was cut-off by Dennis "The Menace" Vitolo in turn 3.
Coming down the backstretch, de Ferran had Max Papis and Vitolo in front of him. Papis went under Vitolo going into turn 3 and de Ferran followed. Max got by safely, but Vitolo clearly came down on de Ferran and it was obvious he had no clue that Gil was there. De Ferran was visibly upset as he sat in his crumpled Reynard and waved his hands at Vitolo in disgust.
"That was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen," Gil told his crew over the radio.
Vitolo later offered an explanation. He said that after Papis passed him that (Papis) had "checked up" (slowed down). That forced Vitolo to back out of the throttle and turn down to avoid nailing Max in the rear. In further looking at the video, this writer tends to agree with Dennis. You could see that Papis was starting to head high in the exit of the turn and was heading for the "gray" and probably did have to back out to avoid a similar fate that Franchitti suffered.
De Ferran fell fate to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This gave Andretti the lead for the restart on Lap 77 followed by Zanardi, Tracy, Gugelmin, Pruett, Moore, Carpentier, Boesel and Vasser. Only these nine drivers were on the lead lap and Andretti would never relinquish the lead except for pitstops. Vasser had been running higher but was forced to pit one lap before the restart to change a cut tire.
The leaders began final pit stops on lap 106 with leader Michael Andretti among the first to pit. Paul Tracy, Greg Moore and Jimmy Vasser stayed out on the track while the leaders pitted. A strategy that paid off when a yellow flag was shown for Max Papis who stalled in the pit lane entrance. Tracy, Moore and Vasser then made their final stops under caution and returned to the race track joining Andretti who had built a substantial lead prior to the yellow as the only four drivers on the lead lap.
It took a painfully long time to get the cars into position for the restart. There was quite a bit of confusion as the cars were shuffled back and forth by the CART officials. That shuffling placed Scott Pruett a lap down, who had previously been battling for third place with Paul Tracy.
In a post race interview a confused Pruett said that he had "no idea why I was placed a lap down" and he also said that he was "going to meet with the officials to find out what happened".
Dennis Swan, CART Chief Steward, said that "This was not a timing andscoring problem, rather a procedural problem with the realignment during ayellow."
There were 4 cars that should have been allowed to pass around to the tail-endof the lead cars. The cars that should have been passed around were ScottPruett, Greg Moore, Alex Zanardi and Mauricio Gugelmin.
Because of the portion of the track on which the alignment took place #&151; thestart/finish line #&151; and the fact that the cars that would normally be passed aroundwere not passed around, an extra lap at that time was credited to the three cars#&151; Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser.
The stewards then determined the official race distance at 147 laps on the1.517-mile oval.
In addition, after that lead-lap formation was in place, the No. 4 car passed the No. 17under the yellow and Zanardi was penalized 25 seconds for this infraction.
The restart (finally) came at lap 122 for a 26-lap dash to the finish and it was Andretti all the way to the checkered flags for the 36th win of his career.
Fangio out of race very early with engine problems.
Al Unser Jr. out of race on lap 27 with an apparently fried Mercedes.
Christian Fittipaldi black flagged for fluid. Out of race at lap 36 with broken oil line.
Bobby Rahal and Bryan Herta were having handling problems requiring extra stops for tires.
Mark Blundell also had handling problems and fell steadily back.
Next event: April 6, 1997: IndyCarnival Surfer's Paradise, Australia.