If anyone had any doubts that Vasser's win at Homestead was a "gimme," they were erased at Sunday's
IndyCar Australia. Jimmy totally dominated this race by leading 60 of the 65 laps on the 2.794-mile
temporary street circuit before 85,000 fans.|
This victory not only places Vasser in the PPG Cup points lead (47) but he also won an extra $75,000 bonus as part of the Marlboro Pole Award program.
In addition this is Honda and Firestoneís first pole and win on a road-course. The Honda/Firestone combination has now won all three events of the 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series. "That was the most beautiful race car I have ever had. It ran like clockwork all day," Vasser said. "I owe this win to the team. Honda put the power behind me and Firestone did a great job with tires. I'm very happy to have the best combination. It made my job easy."
Credit also has to go to the Vasser's pit crew who struggled with a fuel overflow problem. They were only able to fill Vasserís car half-way in his first two stops, causing an extra pit stop. After pitting on lap 36, Vasser came back in 4 laps later, under yellow, for his third and final stop.
"I'm not sure what happened on the first stop," Vasser said. "When the green came out after the pit stops, I started pulling away from Scott and I thought, 'Hey, I'm really hooked up.' I didn't know I was on half tanks."
Scott Pruett was the only driver to make a serious challenge on Vasser and took the lead on lap 37, but lost it 5 laps later under yellow due to radio problems. On lap 42 all the leaders pitted except for Pruett, who was forced to take another lap and then when exiting, he lost his track position.
"We'd been having radio problems and I could barely hear (team manager) Jim McGee," said Pruett. "I had every intention of pitting and then he said 'Stay out.' Why he did it I don't know."
Nevertheless, Pruett was able to hang on to second place, finishing 7.748 seconds behind Vasser, for his second consecutive podium appearance this season. He is second in the PPG Cup points with 42.
"We had a great car all weekend long," Pruett said. "The Ford was giving up a little power to the Honda and we were giving up some fuel mileage, so I had to start back-pedaling about 12 laps to 13 laps into the race. So we were disappointed about that. The crew are the ones who really worked hard."
Greg Moore finally produced his first podium finish after having various problems and penalties in the first two races. Moore now leads over Alex Zanardi in the Rookie of the Year standings. Zanardi had gearbox problems and did not score any points.
Greg Moore was elated. "I had never been here before, so what I really wanted was to finish in the top 10,'' Moore said. "I couldn't be more happy."
Mauricio Gugelmin finished fourth at the IndyCar Australia for the second consecutive year and Christian Fittipaldi had his third consecutive top-six finish of the season to move into third in the PPG Cup points battle.
Vasser had an interesting incident when he hit a marker cone in one of the chicanes and the cone got hung up in front of his on-board camera.
"I knew I was hitting some cones but I didn't know I had a passenger," joked Vasser. "Maybe it was a good luck piece...you may see it at Long Beach."
And then there is Michael Andretti. On lap 16 Michael passed Zanardi and then cold-cocked Tracy at the chicane. Tracy was not at all pleased with Andrettiís explanation.
"I wasn't attempting to pass Paul," said Andretti. "I'd been getting off the chicane better than him and I wanted to try that lane to see how slippery it was and maybe try to pass him the next lap. But the car bottomed badly on the front end, my brakes locked and I ran into him. Sorry, Paul."
"We were just pacing ourselves and trying to save the car," Tracy said. "We were getting good fuel mileage and everything was going great. Then all of a sudden Michael pulled a typical move - it was textbook Michael Andretti. He locks up his brakes, goes into a corner totally out of control, hits me from behind and then keeps going. It's unfortunate, but he's been doing this his whole career."
The scariest moment of the race, and one of the most bizarre pit incidents in recent memory, is when Herta was signaled away from his pit before the fuel line had been disconnected. Herta's car literally dragged the pit fuel tank over the pit wall. Methonal went everywhere, including all over Herta who then quickly stopped and jumped out of his car. Herta was uninjured.
Vent man Larry Ellert was hit by Herta's left rear tire as he began to accelerate away but, fortunately, only suffered bruises and cuts. Fellow crewman, Mike Hofmeister sustained a badly bruised leg when he rushed to right the fallen fuel tank.
And then there's Hiro Matsushita. Vasser had these comments: "I came up on Hiro and he was staying to the left so I moved to the right," said Vasser. "Then he drifted to the right and I thought, 'OK I'll pass him on the inside' and then he started coming back over to the left again. While I was watching him I went way past my braking point and had to lock up my brakes to make the corner. It flat spotted my tires and I had to live with that for the rest of the race."
And then there is Al Unser Jr. who took out de Ferran but, unlike Michael....Well, read for yourself:
"Al tried a move that was damn near impossible," said de Ferran. "He hit my rear wheel and off we went."
"I didn't get far enough alongside de Ferran into the corner and I hit him," Unser said. "It was my fault. My car was very competitive in the race and Roger put us up front with his pit strategy - then I put us back again."
But, for Vasser this win was sweet and the fact that he dominated the entire race with little challenge from anyone but Pruett, shows that Jimmy is a driver to contend with and not just a product of the Honda/Firestone package.
"I'm not tired of hearing how good the Firestones, Honda and Reynard are," he said. "It's the truth. I can't take all the credit. I play a role just like Firestone, Honda, Reynard and the team. In the past people could say the same thing about Penske, but you can't say that Al and Paul didn't deserve to win. And it's not like I was a wanker last year..."
"What does bother me is when people asked me on Saturday 'Where'd you pull that lap from?' Where it came from was all the work we did over the weekend, getting the car to be as fast as possible. You know when it comes to qualifying all you really need is one lap in two days. Sunday is when it all comes together. That is when it all means something."