Race No. 6
Crash & Win
©1996 SpeedCenter Internet
By Jim DeFord
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
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
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
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
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.