Laguna Seca 1996 PPG Indy Car World Series

Race No. 16

Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey
Laguna Seca Raceway — Monterey, California
September 6-8, 1996

It's Down To Three
By Jim DeFord

©1996 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.

Jimmy Vasser (142 points & 4 wins). Michael Andretti (128points & 5 wins). Al Unser Jr (125 points & 0 wins).

These are the three drivers who will be on the PPGChampionship Podium this coming Sunday afternoon, though notnecessarily in that order.

As you can see, Vasser only leads Andretti, who bolted into2nd place after the win at Vancouver, by 14 points and Unser 17 points, so these drivers will be giving it all they haveat the final IndyCar race this weekend at Laguna Seca.

It will be an exciting finish to what has been a veryinteresting season.

At the beginning of the season it looked as though Vasserwould run away with the title. But a mid-season slump allowed AlUnser Jr. to stay right on Jimmy's heels and was as close as 1point. Consistent driving is what allowed Al to stay in the Huntfor the Cup.

"We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing," said Vasser,a four-time race and pole winner this season who has finishedevery race and scored points in all but one (Portland). "Everytime I close my visor, I’m trying to win and do the best Ipossibly can. That’s not going change at Laguna Seca."

"I think it would be a mistake for us to change our approach.I think when you start trying to do things differently,sometimes that can get you into trouble. In this case, at leastwe know what we have to do. If it’s near the end of the race andI’m where I need to be for the championship, maybe I’ll get alittle conservative."

Honda has clinched them manufacturer's title and Alex Zanardihas claimed the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the YearAward.

He has won three consecutive pole positions – at Mid-Ohio,Road America and Vancouver – and leads the series with five.(Only Vasser, with four poles, can tie his total.) The lastdriver to win four straight poles was Andretti in 1992, also inthe last four events of that campaign. Zanardi also has startedthe last seven races from the front row, meaning he can tie theCART record of eight straight (Bobby Unser, 1979-80; BobbyRahal, 1985) during Saturday (Sept. 7) qualifying.

In addition to assuring himself top rookie honors, Zanardialso will finish the season atop the laps-led category. He hasrun in front 569 laps, 288 more than Andretti’s total of281.

"I like this circuit very much," Zanardi said after his first"taste" of Laguna at last week’s test. "I think it ischallenging for the driver, but also fun. We have a goodcombination with the Reynard chassis, Honda engine and Firestonetires and that was working very well during the test."

As for his two victories and Rookie of the Year title,Zanardi said: "It is good for me and the team. We do not havesomething like Rookie of the Year in Europe, so it is a littledifferent for me. However, I am very happy because it is anaward you can win only once. I cannot come back next year andsay I want to be Rookie of the Year. So, it makes me very happyfor myself and also for the team."

The drivers will be racing on a recently revised and newlypaved track at Laguna Seca. The front straight was lengthened toprovide more room in the pits and turns 10 and 11 have changedslightly. The course is now 2.238 miles from a previous 2.214miles and in a recent open-practice session, before Vancouver,the track record was being smashed readily.

So, race fans, it all comes down to this one last race, withthree first-class drivers fighting for the PPG Cup and$1,000,000.00. What could be more exciting?