Long Beach 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series

Race No. 4

Vasser Does It Again!
Honda/Firestone Makes It Four In A Row
by Jim DeFord
©1996 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing

LONG BEACH, Calif (April 14,1994) - Jimmy Vasser and the Ganassi Racing team showed their patience today and won their third race out of four in the 1996 PPG IndyCar World Series Championship before a record crowd of 88,000 fans.

Vasser inherited the lead after Gil de Ferran slowed dramatically with only four laps to go. Gil had totally dominated the race until that point and suffered a disconnected exhaust/turbo-driver hose which literally turned his 800-hp, Honda-powered IndyCar into an everyday Honda Accord.

"We had a good car," Jimmy said, "I feel bad for my teammate, Alex(Zanardi), who drove a great race, and obviously for de Ferran. They say sometimes youíd rather be lucky than good, and today, it seemed like we were lucky. We knew we couldnít catch Gil unless he had a problem. The championship was obviously a goal of ours at the start of the season, but youíve got to take it one race at a time. This is a great moment forTarget Chip Ganassi Racing. The Honda engine and Firestone tires are definitely the combination of choice."

Chip Ganassi had his own comments: "This was definitely Gilís race today. The result was just as big a surprise to me as it was to Jimmy, believe me. But weíll take it, and Jimmy by no means was out of it today. He did a stellar job."

Gil de Ferran had dominated the entire race until his unfortunate mechanical problem. Gil was teary-eyed after the race, but finished a respectable 5th place after being hobbled.

"It was a shame. I lost the turbocharger," de Ferran said. "I had no indication ahead in time. It was a sudden problem. The car was really good."

"What can I say...that's racing. There's more to come at Nazareth,"said de Ferran. "There was no indication of a problem. It was a sudden problem. The car was really good, 100% throughout the race. I was just controlling the gap to Jimmy. There was no point in pushing thingsbecause I had the measure of Jimmy."

Parker Johnstone came just short of peeing his driver's suit, he was so excited with second place!

"It wasnít lost on me on the closing laps that I had the 'Emperor of the Beach' (Unser) behind me and a Honda in front of me that I wasn't going to catch," Johnstone said. "I tried to make a run at Jimmy at the end, but he was too quick and I didn't want to lose second place by putting the car into the wall. Finishing second is a victory here for us. In fact, to finish in front of Al Jr. at Long Beach, well, if I never do anything else in racing....."

Much jumping, crying and hugging continued far after this statement.

Unser Jr., the two-time defending champion and record six-time winner at Long Beach, finished third for his second podium appearance in the past three races. Unser Jr., third in the PPG Cup with 39 points, was 4.409 seconds behind Vasser.

"We had a good run today," Unser Jr. said. "We started ninth and had to protect our position. We were consistent and didnít make any mistakes. Iíll tell you, the competition in the PPG Indy Car World Series is tough."

Second-place PPG Cup Points holder, Scott Pruett had a great day until an ignition coil gave him fits, forcing an un-scheduled pitstop, and putting him one-lap down. Pruett finished 11th but holds the second spot in the hunt for the cup behind Vasser.

Following behind Unser Jr. was his Marlboro Team Penske teammate, Paul Tracy. Tracy (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), who has battled bad luck all season, finished a season-best fourth.

Robby Gordon had a race-day from hell. In his first pitstop, he attempted a getaway just a tick too early and the fuel-hose got stuck. Stuck in a partially open position!

Enough fuel spilled to cause a small fire, but Robby jumped back in the car, in a wet driver's suit and was back out on the track in a very short time. Unfortunately, he spun several times and finally became a DNF after smacking the wall after confrontations with de Ferran, Herta, Rahal, just to name a few.

The incident of the race was between Christian Fittipaldi and Greg Moore when they both ended up in the tire-wall at Turn Seven. The incident began when Moore made a great outside pass on Christian in Turn Six. He held his line exiting the corner, putting Moore on the inside for Turn Seven, only to have Fittipaldi squeeze him into the wall. The cars touched and slammed into the opposite wall and then all hell broke loose.

Fittipaldi was livid as he jumped out of his car and ran over to Moore's car! Christian yanked open Greg's visor and then while holding onto the "mouth-guard" of Greg's helmet and shaking it, he verbally informed Moore that he was not happy with his actions, even though it was not all Greg's fault.

Christian was assessed a $5,000 penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

IndyCar Officials have also notified several other teams that they are assessing several other incidents that occured during the race and there may be more fines and penalties coming this week.

One driver who may be awarded a post-race penalty is Michael Andretti.

Andretti, on lap 62, lost most of his left front wing in an idiodic attempt to lap Teo Fabi in turn one. The incident also cut Fabi's rightrear tire.

"It was kind of a rough race," Michael said, "On the incident with Teo (Fabi), he was a lap down I think, and I was passing him. I thought he was letting me by, because a lot of others had let me by and that seemed to be what he was doing, then we connected. I lost most of my left front wing, which I reckon cost me about a second a lap because of the way the car was handling. The best I could have done though, might have been a fourth. We just didnít have the power to catch those other guys."

And then, ten laps later, Andretti banged into Mauricio Gugelmin atthe hairpin while trying to pass Fernandez, damaging the right frontsuspension of Mo's car.

"We were coming into the hairpin," said Gugelmin. "Michael chose togo inside to pass Fernandez and I chose the outside. Then Michael changes his mind and turns left! Right into me! And on a right hand corner!"

"I went to talk to him after the race and he told me 'I'm sorry, Ididn't see you.' But the problem is, he never sees anything."

But Michael offered this: "I came up behind Fernandez, who was slowed down by someone in front of him. I started to go around Fernandez on his right, and that was about when we decided to go to the right also. So to avoid him, I took to the left, and Gugelmin was right there in my blind spot. It was a no-win situation. I was either going to hit Fernandez or Gugelmin. After the race, Gugelmin came down to talk, which I wanted to do, but others butted in and things got out of hand."

Nevertheless, beyond the hockey fights, penalty boxes and such, it was Vasser that came out on top in glorious fashion and increases his lead for the PPG Cup dramatically over second-place contender, Scott Pruett.