Race No. 1
Marlboro Grand Prix of MiamiAndretti Claims First Victory For Swift
Presented By Toyota
Homestead Motorsports Complex Homestead, Florida
February 28 March 2, 1997
Historic Win For American-made Chassis
By Jim DeFord
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Homestead, Florida (March 2, 1997) Michael Andretti madehistory today in taking the American-made Swift 007.i chassis to a debutvictory. He accomplished a similar feat in 1994 with the Target/Ganassiteam 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 Wildcatchassis 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) andthree different engines (Ford-Cosworth, Mercedes-Benz and Honda) on thepodium, showing how competitive these cars really are in 1997.
The weather today was hot and windy again and the drivers were having apretty tough time in traffic. The smaller wings has reduced the downforceby 2000 lbs. and have made the cars a little "jumpy". The first example ofthat is when pole-sitter Alex Zanardi lost the lead in traffic to Gil deFerran on lap 32 after dominating the race up to that point. Zanardi wouldnever again mount a serious challenge for the lead and ended up finishinga lap down in 6th place.
In the meantime, Andretti was working his way steadily through thefield. In the first 5 laps of the race, Andretti had worked his way fromhis 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 primarycar in qualifying yesterday. Walker Racing had to acquire their show-carfrom 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 DarioFranchitti went high in turn 2 and hit the wall very hard and climbed outof the car shaken, but not injured.
This brought all of the leaders in for their first pit stops and theNewman-Haas team ripped off an 11-second stop for Andretti which moved himup to second place behind de Ferran and ahead of Tracy who was now up tothird. Parker Johnstone had just pitted one lap before the yellow andwould 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 onlap 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 undercontrol until lap 69 when he was cut-off by Dennis "The Menace" Vitolo inturn 3.
Coming down the backstretch, de Ferran had Max Papis and Vitolo infront of him. Papis went under Vitolo going into turn 3 and de Ferranfollowed. Max got by safely, but Vitolo clearly came down on de Ferran whowas visibly upset as he sat in his crumpled Reynard and waved his hands atVitolo in disgust.
"That was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen," Gil told hiscrew over the radio.
Vitolo later offered an explanation. He said that after Papis passedhim that (Papis) had "checked up" (slowed down). That forced Vitolo toback 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 turnand was heading for the "gray" and probably did have to back out to avoida 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 byZanardi, Tracy, Gugelmin, Pruett, Moore, Carpentier, Boesel and Vasser.Only these nine drivers were on the lead lap and Andretti would neverrelinquish the lead except for pitstops. Vasser had been running higherbut 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 MichaelAndretti among the first to pit. Paul Tracy, Greg Moore and Jimmy Vasserstayed out on the track while the leaders pitted. A strategy that paid offwhen a yellow flag was shown for Max Papis who stalled in the pit laneentrance. Tracy, Moore and Vasser then made their final stops undercaution and returned to the race track joining Andretti who hadbuilt a substantial lead prior to the yellow as the only fourdrivers on the lead lap.
It took a painfully long time to get the cars into position for therestart. There was quite a bit of confusion as the cars were shuffled backand forth by the CART officials. That shuffling placed Scott Pruett a lapdown, who had previously been battling for third place with PaulTracy.
In a post race interview a confused Pruett said that he had "no ideawhy I was placed a lap down" and he also said that he was "going to meetwith 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 finishand it was Andretti all the way to the checkered flags for the 36th win ofhis 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.