Race No. 2
IndyCarnivalPruett Triumphs in Accident-Filled Race
Surfer's Paradise Gold Coast, Australia
April 4 April 6, 1997
Fittipaldi Injured before Taking green Flag
By SpeedCenter Staff
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.After days of slipping and sliding on sandy streets, the track at Surfer's Paradise was finally coming together with enough rubber on the pavement as the28-car field approached the the second lap of the race for round number two of the PPG CART World Series.But before the show could really get underway, Christian Fittipaldi'sSwift was contacted by Gil de Ferran from behind and lost control.
"I remember everything. De Ferran hit me from behind and I hit the wall in front of the pit. The second hit was completely unbelievable, I went in head-on. I couldn't feel anything in my right leg, so I was pretty worried."Fittipaldi's car was severely damaged, with tires and parts flying offin all directions, dissipating the energy of the violent impact.Tires came close to clearing the safety fence, after being separated from a carthat was traveling at 150mph before impact. It took the safety crews10 minutes to extract the injured driver from the car. Fittipaldi wasconscious and alert. According to Dr. Olvey, Fittipaldi sustained afracture to his lower right leg. He was scheduled for surgery onSunday evening.
After the incident, the race was red flagged to allow some of theother involved drivers to switch to their backup cars. At the secondstart, Tracy and de Ferran started their backup cars.
The second start was successful, and after lap one, Zanardi led Tracy,Moore and Blundell across the line. In the following laps, several cars wereinvolved in collisions on the track. Drivers forced to retire as a result of these contacts include Brian Herta and Gualter Salles. Other driverscould continue in spite of contact.
Al Unser Jr. was not so lucky - he lost a rear tire and stalled on the track during one of the many yellows which would slow the race to a crawl. Later, technical defects knocked the two All American Racer's pilots out of the race as fires erupted from their cars. The only Toyota to see the end of the race was Max Papis, who was exuberant about the performance of the car.
In lap 18, Paul Tracy took the lead from Alex Zanardi. Tracy waspretty confident after Saturday's qualifying session that he wouldhave a good chance at passing Zanardi thanks to his betterpreserved qualifying tires. CART rules prescribe that drivers startthe race on the same tire they ran their final qualifying laps on. ApparentlyTracy did have more grip.
He went on to lead the most laps of the race, but not to win. On lap 42, Tracy and Zanardi made contact while running up on the slower car of rookieArnd Meier. Tracy had to retire, while Zanardi continued on. This incident allowed Scott Pruett to move into the lead, which he would hold until the end of theshortened race. Pruett had been fastest in the morning warmup already, and once inthe lead was too tough to be passed. He pointed at his team's efforts as the key to his success:
"My hat is off to the guys. If you had seen them in the pits, they were pretty much working on my transmission all of the past three days. My car was tremendous all day, and the crew deserves all the credit."Greg Moore finished second in a car that barely had 100 miles on it. The Players team had taken delivery of their '97 Reynard just before the event at Surfer's Paradise. Moorewas overjoyed with his podium finish:
"Finishing second here today is about like a dream come true for us. We had only 100 miles on the car when we came here, and the guys just worked so hard to get the car ready. Without their effort, I wouldn't be here."Michael Andretti, starting from a disappointing 12th position on the grid, was very satisfied with histhird place finish, putting him into the PPG Cup points lead by 5 points over Scott Pruett after two rounds.
"The car performed pretty good today. What hurt us was our starting position more than anything else. Had we started higher up, I think we would have been in contention."Zanardi finished 4th after getting back up to speed following the incident with Tracy. Gil de Ferranfinished 5th in his backup car. Dario Franchitti was the highest finishing rookie in 9th position, whilePPG Cup Champion Jimmy Vasser salvaged just one point with a disappointing 12th place finish.
Andre Ribeiro recorded the top finish for Lola this season in 6th place. The Lola teams are more optimistic after this race, although they feel they are behind in testing and will need afew more weeks before they can hope to run at the front of the field again.
The tire war appeared to be pretty balanced during the consistently dryconditions in Australia. Long Beach promises a similar environmentfor the coming venue, probably leaving the rain tire debate openuntil the road courses in the midwest.
Apparently the engines in CARTare also very evenly matched at this point, as trap speeds and lap speedsat the Gold Coast confirmed.
Reynard and Swift have been the toppoints scoring chassis so far, but Penske has shown to becompetitive, yet the results have not materialized. Al Unser Jr. iscurrently listed in the last position in the PPG Cup standings -definitely an unusual beginning for a team and driver used to competingat the top of the pack.