Race No. 1
Vasser Leaves No Doubt
In 1995, Jimmy Vasser was given a win at Portland due to the disqualification
of Al Unser Jr., and then had it taken back after the season was over, on
appeal. Jimmy left no doubt who won the opening 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series
race at Homestead.|
Between Mother Nature and a faux pas or two, it almost seemed as this race would need to be kick-started in the butt to run at speed for more than just a few laps.
At the start, on an unusually cold Florida day, Mark Blundell over-accelerated and spun out on the front straight. In an unrelated incident, Roberto Moreno hit the wall exiting turn four. Blundell recovers, but Moreno is out for the day.
On lap four the two-by-two restart is aborted due to Paul Tracy jumping the field and itís time for another 80 mph trip around Homestead.
The green flag is thrown on lap five and rookie Greg Moore and Robby Gordon immediately engage in battle, which is cut short when Andretti hits Gugelmin and loses his left-front wing. Yes. Another yellow.
Michael dove into the pits for a new wing and the crew goes to work. Unfortunately, they had problems removing the wing and the pace car is now exiting turn four. Frantically, Andretti attempts to exit his pit stall, sans front wing, to keep from going a lap down and stalls the car. Michael goes down one lap as the wing change is completed.
On lap nine the green flag drops and Paul Tracy leaves the field behind in gaining a second per lap on Gil deFerran. Greg Moore blows by Robby Gordon on lap 15, and then as if given a shot of life, Robby Gordon whips around Rahal in a daring move and on lap 16 the yellow is thrown again due to a persistent sprinkle. 17 yellow laps later the red flag is thrown and the race is stopped at lap 33.
Red Flag Interviews - Andretti, GugelminMichaelís response to the incident was: "He (Gugelmin) blocked me. He made a quick left-hand turn....by himself. When I was starting to pull out I hit him Ďcause I didnít expect him to do that quick of a movement."
At that point the live ABC-TV interview took a twist. Someone out of camera view obviously sympathetic to Gugelmin said, "......that is the biggest line of bullshit I have ever heard in my life." There was a look of fear in Andrettiís eyes for a bit, but he nervously chuckled off the event. ABCís Jack Arute coined it an "unknown problem," and it was back to the booth.
Mauricio responded in kind. When presented with the fact that Andretti had placed the blame of this incident on Big Mo, he said, "That does not surprise me because he has done that in the past." Gugelmin continued by saying, "Problem is, I came out of (turn) two and the next thing is I just feel a big bang on the back of my car. He (Andretti) just ran up on my back and I donít understand (as he) has the in-car camera and you can see that. He just hit me so hard and I am surprised that we still have four wheels on the car." When further questioned, Mauricio replied about Michael, "Maybe he (Andretti) canít see, probably."
Back To GreenOnce the race "really" began, it was intense!! The last 1/3 of the race was intensely battled between Gordon/Pruett/Rahal, who provided the real excitement in this event. Many fans are questioning the blocking rules regarding Rahal and Gordon.
Many times they would dive down coming out of the short chutes. Almost down to the grass in wild, darting movements to attempt a pass or break the draft.
But the real story was Paul Tracy who simply left the field in his wake and seemingly had this race in control until lap 82 when a yellow was thrown because of contact between Gordon and Ribiero. Andre lost part of his front wing.
As the leaders pitted Tracy fried the tires exiting his pit and then slowed. A small shot of fire was seen on the back of his car. The gearbox and Tracyís race was shot for the day as he immediately came back in the pits and climbed out of the car.
"Obviously I'm extremely disappointed with the way our race ended, since I really feel we were the class of the field all weekend," said Tracy. "The car was really hooked up, and we were looking strong, but we had a failure, plain and simple. When I was leaving the pits after my stop I lost my gearbox. It just went flat and we lost all our gears."
Then, in the most bizarre incident of the day, while still under yellow, Alex Zanardi lost a rear tire, which had not been properly secured and smacked the wall in turn three, ending his day and what had been a good first race.
The one and only MAJOR pass for the lead was when Gil de Ferran had a "Nigel Moment," at the last restart. Gil got trapped behind traffic, Vasser took advantage, and took it right to the finish line. Jimmy does not have to "accept" this win. He earned it out-right. Hands down. No question.
"This is a good win for all the guys on the team who put in all the time with testing during the winter," said Vasser. "We didn't really change much on the car from start to finish, the car was incredibly consistent today."
"It feels really great to get that monkey off my back," said Vasser. "It feels a lot better to win one in this way, to embrace my team and to enjoy the moment. But it'll be short lived because we have to get ready and get focused on Brazil. But I thought the best way to overcome all the political things that were going on in the off-season last year was to just come right out and win this race...and we did."
With two laps to go, the battling trio of Pruett, Rahal and Gordon intensified and they had caught up to de Ferran. Rahal got caught in traffic and Gordon flew by. On the white flag lap, coming right to the finish line Gordon edged his nose just by Pruett and earned a spot on the podium.
"Gil was in front of Scott and he checked up on him in Turn Four," said Gordon. "That allowed me to get a run on him. You had to time the back markers and the positioning, and I did not do a great with that today. That's what happened at the finish. Scott got held up, and that enabled me to get by him."
So, even though there was never much challenge for the lead spot, this was an exciting race, once it got off the ground, and the next event is the Rio 400 in Brazil on March 17th.
Notes:IndyCar is now allowing "spotters" for all the teams. In previous years it has been suspected that some of the teams had spotters high in the stands, but for 1996 thereís no need to hide.
Valvoline has evidently canceled its plans for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 and with it, Walker Racing's plans to enter the race, though they (Valvoline) will still be present regarding its IRL involvement. Though not yet "official" here are some quotes:
"They came to us with a promotional package in mid-November based on various deliverables, but those deliverables have changed. When those deliverables changed we were still willing to sit down and talk with them about 1996, but obviously the price has to change also."
"We waited for weeks and never had our phone calls returned. We gave them a time frame in which we had to hear back from them and we didn't hear back."