US 500 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series

Race No. 6

Crash & Win

By Jim DeFord

©1996 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.

BROOKLYN (May 26, 1996) - Jimmy Vasser struck gold again today at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in spite of being forced to drive his backup car after a wild pace lap crash.

Coming out of Turn 4 and getting ready to take the green flag, Adrian Fernandez and Jimmy Vasser touched wheels. This caused Vasser's car to veer sharply to the right, up into the wall and the front row was wiped out.

9 other cars were collected the the melee and the race was immediately red-flagged.

All cars involved were allowed to prepare their backup cars for the restart, which came after a one-hour delay. Fernandez's crew was unable to get his car ready in time so he posted a DNS.

No one was injured in the low-speed crash.

"I don't know what happened," Vasser said, shortly after the incident. "The car just went violently right and I wasn't on the power. (It) just turned right so hard, it felt like I got hit in the back because it went so (far) right."

"I just feel bad for the entire Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team, but I'm glad we'll have a chance to go back on the track. I just don't know what happened. I'm dumbfounded."

Bryan Herta was equally confused. "I don't know what hit me," Bryan said. "After looking at the replay, it looks like Jimmy (Vasser) and Adrian (Fernandez) might have gotten together. It almost makes you think something broke with the angle he hit me. Luckily, everyone's O.K. I think our backup car will be fine."

When asked what he saw, Alex Zanardi had the (simple) answer, "It is simple what I saw. Adrian moved down to Jimmy, and Herta followed Fernandez, and they moved down. Jimmy must have gone about five inches and Fernandez had nowhere to go and neither did Herta."

Jim Hall's Pennzoil crew again worked wonders on Gil de Ferran's car similar to the situation earlier this year at Australia.

In 35 minutes, de Ferran's crew rebuilt the right rear suspension, changed the tires, added a little brake fluid and put the car back on the grid.

On the restart Vasser immediately took command and pulled away from the field until the first of, what would be 12 yellow flags was thrown when Scott Pruett's day was cut short by a fried Ford/Cosworth XD.

Pruett has been critical of his Ford powerplant this year and was visibly upset as he walked back to the pits.

"Obviously, I am extremely disappointed," Pruett said. "The car was really strong. The Patrick guys did an outstanding job preparing a great race car. The Firestone tires were working perfectly. I wasn't even pushing the car, and I was moving up through the field. Then the engine just let go. There was no warning. It just blew."

The Attrition List:

Parker Johnstone Gearbox Christian Fittipaldi Engine Greg Moore Engine Bryan Herta Engine Stefan Johansson Engine Alex Zanardi Engine Jeff Krosnoff Engine Bobby Rahal Contact Robby Gordon Engine Gary Bettenhausen Contact Juan Manuel Fangio II Engine Michael Andretti CV Joint Raul Boesel Electrical Fredrik Ekblom Engine Scott Pruett Engine

A total of 15 cars went out of the race, with the majority being engine failures. And that's with only 40-inches of boost! Everything from Honda, to Ford, to Mercedes, to Toyota.

No one was spared.

The U.S. 500 was pretty much Honda dominated, sans pitstops, until even a few Honda-powered cars expired.

There was some excellent racing today, in the form of various battles between Vasser and Zanardi, Gugelmin, Ribeiro, Moreno and Blundell.

Zanardi, a rookie in a Target Reynard Honda, led 134 of the first 163 laps, but fell out of the race when he toasted his Honda on Lap 175.

Four drivers were in contention for the $1 Million pot at the end of the rainbow, in the final 87 laps, but Vasser was the only one who did not fall victim to mechanical failure(s) of one type or another.

Parker Johnstone, using his primary car after having heavy damage repaired from the opening accident, led 35 of the next 42 laps, and looked poised for the win, his chances at victory went south on Lap 207 when he ran out of methonal.

Andre Ribeiro took over from there but he also suffered the same problem as Johnstone.

Andre had led the U.S. 500 for 33 laps, and was a mere 20 miles from victory, before his fuel-tank sucked Methonal-vapors.

Vasser, who was in second place and just .19 seconds behind Ribeiro, blew past him and out in front for the third time in the race. Vasser "turned it up," shifted into fifth-gear and "that was that."

Vasser opens a 36-point advantage over Al Unser Jr. in the 1996 PPG Cup Points battle, with his 4th victory of the year.