Race No. 9
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Mark Blundell, 2nd year driver of the #18 PacWest Motorola ReynardMercedes-Benz, saw his chances of a first PPG CART World Series win goup in fumes at the Detroit Grand Prix only two weeks ago. Today, in theBudweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 at Portland International Raceway, Blundellscored that first victory in a final straightaway drag race with Gil deFerran in the Walker Racing Valvoline/Cummins Reynard Honda.
The race had started as a sloppy spin-fest with heavy showers coveringthe entire race course. At one point early in the race, Derrick Walkerhad gone so far as to lobby for the race to be red-flagged for overlydangerous race conditions. All drivers started on grooved rain tires,and some rode them out for the entire two-hour time-shortened event.Last year's embarassing showing by the Firestone rain-tire wasvindicated today, as there was no appearent domination by Firestone norGoodyear.
With about 60 laps to go, CART made the official announcement that therace would end in ten-minutes. Several drivers dove into the pits forslicks so that they could take advantage of a drying surface in theracing line of the track.
PacWest team owner Bruce McCaw had agreed with Blundell's wish to makethe switch to slicks at mid-race. When Mark returned to the track afterthe tire-switch pit stop, he made a charge to the front improving sixpositions in the final ten laps, with Raul Boesel (Brahma Reynard FordCosworth XD, also on slicks,) in close tow.
Paul Tracy, in the Marlboro Penske Mercedes-Benz, learned that slicksdon't fair well on the still damp parts of the track, as he spun twicein the ensuing laps after changing tires. Tracy was able to regaincomposure and pull off a seventh-place finish to retain his PPG Cuppoints lead with 100 points.
As the pit stops started for tire changes, Gil de Ferran in the WalkerRacing Reynard Honda and returning driver Christian Fittipaldi in theNewman/Haas Kmart/Budweiser Swift Ford-Cosworth (both on Goodyear raintires) decided to roll the dice and stayed on the wets, which put Giland Christian in first and second respectively.
They would maintain their positions until Blundell and Boesel were ableto catch and pass Fittipaldi with less than two laps to go. Then, timinghis turn and acceleration perfectly, Blundell rounded the last turn ofthe race and darted to the inside of de Ferran for a drag race thatwould result in the closest 1-2 and 1-2-3 finish in PPG CART WorldSeries history. The victorious Blundell had nosed out de Ferran by amere .027 seconds, and Boesel was only .055 seconds off the lead.
The race as a whole was slowed by seven caution periods for a total of24 laps. That was only possible due to the fact that the natural roadcourse offered grass and gravel run-off areas as the wet conditions sentseveral drivers off-track. In a street-course or oval-course condition,concrete walls would have made the attrition rate much higher, but thenatural road courses offer local yellow-flag conditions rather thanfull-course yellows. Unofficially, there were a total of seventy-eightlaps of the scheduled ninety-eight laps run with five different leadersand seven lead changes. The unofficial average speed of the race was76.344.
The chase for the PPG Cup now moves on to the season's tenth race atBurke Lakefront Airport for the Cleveland Grand Prix on July 13. Therace on the 2.369-mile, 10-turn temporary road course will air live onABC at 2:00pm EDT.