Race No. 5
Rio 400Rahal Dominates - Tracy Wins!
Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway Rio de Janiero, Brazil
May 9-11, 1997
Fuel Gamble Decides Rio 400
By Ray Sprouse
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Rio de Janiero, Brazil (May 11, 1997) Bobby Rahal, driving the Miller Lite Reynard Ford, which he drives asthe only owner/driver in the '97 PPG Cup chase, led one-hundred two ofone-hundred thirty-three laps in today's Hollywood Rio 400. His hopeswere high to take home his first win in seventy races, only to run outof fuel on the one-hundred thirty-second lap. The fate of Rahal handed asecond consecutive victory to Paul Tracy and Team Penske in the MarlboroPenske Mercedes Benz.
The race began with a melee of cautions, the first of which wasdisplayed even before the green flag flew. As the field acceleratedbetween turns three and four approaching the front straight-away tostart the race, a slinky-like reaction caused the back of the field toapproach too quickly. As the front runners slowed to re-align, ParkerJohnstone, in the Kool Reynard Mercedes Benz spun through the middle ofthe field to avoid contact with cars in front of him. In doing so,several drivers were effected. Dario Franchetti, Adrian Fernandez,Patrick Carpentier, and Andre Ribeiro were all involved in the incident.
The green flag was finally displayed on the fourth lap, only to have theyellow wave again on lap six for an incident involving the secondfastest qualifier and fastest car in the morning warm-up, RobertoMoreno, in the Budweiser Swift Ford Cosworth. Moreno and Paul Tracy apparently made contact in turn one. Moreno spun, but was ableto pit and make repairs to his rear wing that was slightly damaged after touching the tire barrier. Hequickly returned to the race. Bryan Herta was caught up in this incident, plowing with his Reynard/Ford through the grass inside of the turn's apex. He continued without any damage to his car, just as paul Tracy did.
As the field approached the front straight-away to take the green flag for the restart after the incident in turn 1,Paul Tracy was taken by surprise and spun as he laid into theaccelerator on cold tires. Tracy and Team Penske had thought there wouldbe one more lap to allow tire warming before the green flag, but whenthe cars rounded turn four, the green was in the air. When Tracyrealized too late what was happening, he applied the pedal and spunwildly with tires smoking, but was able to bring the car under controland continue, albeit losing valuable track position.
Alex Zanardi, in the Ganassi Target Reynard Honda, suffered the worststart of his PPG CART World Series career when engine troubles plaguedhis qualifying effort on Saturday. His inability to make a qualifyingrun forced him to start in twenty-eighth position. By lap twenty five,though, Zanardi had worked his way to ninth, and by the end of the racehe'd made his way to finish in a very respectable fourth place. Inchampion fashion, Zanardi made no bones about his qualifying misfortunesin a post-race quote:
"This was more or less the kind of position I was hoping to get lastnight. I believe I could have finished in second place today. Greg Moorewas in trouble with gas (fuel). If I could have stayed close with him, Ithink I could have passed Moore at the end. Unfortunately for me, DEFERRAN ran out of fuel right in the middle of the corner. I almost hithim. I had to brake very hard and Pruett had good momentum and passed meon the outside. That was very bad luck."
The Brazilian crowd was thrilled when, on lap forty-two, leader BobbyRahal headed for a scheduled green flag pit stop, relinquishing the leadto Mauricio Gugelmin, only to see "Big Mo" follow suit on the next lap.This left Michael Andretti to lead the field for his only three leadinglaps on the day, before he too pitted on lap forty-six.
Andretti, in the Newman-Haas Texaco Havoline Swift Ford Cosworth, hadcome to the race a favorite, having won the season opener at Homesteadand placing second in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth, Pa.Michael had complained of troubles with the electronically controlledpop-off valve through the entire Rio excursion. He was able to qualifysixth, and had maintained a top ten position until the problem finallyforced the #6 to retire on lap sixty-four.
Newman-Haas team mate, and Brazilian countryman, Roberto Moreno, hadrecovered from his early race contact with Bryan Herta and was making astrong showing. But on lap fifty-seven, while Moreno was running hardand low into turn one to overtake fellow Brazilian Mauricio Gugelmin,Moreno was temporarily taken out of the race when Mo spun in the marbleshigh on the track. As Gugelmin's car slid down the track, Moreno wasunable to avoid running over the nose of Mo's car. Gugelmin's car wasdamaged beyond repair, while Moreno was able to make repairs andcontinue until losing power and retiring on lap ninety-nine.
At mid-race, Bobby Rahal maintained his lead, having only relinquishedthe front spot during scheduled pit stops. At this point in the race,the top ten order was; Rahal, Gil De Ferran, Paul Tracy, Bryan Herta, AlUnser, Jr. Greg Moore, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Scott Pruett, andRaul Boesel.
This order would hold until lap eighty-four, when Bobby Rahal made thesecond of his scheduled pit stops. The team had made extremely fast workof pit stops all day, after having lost eight seconds in a stop theprevious race in Nazareth. This stop turned out to be the telling factorin the final race result, pitting only one lap ahead of eventual racewinner Paul Tracy, who made his final pit stop under green on lapeighty-five. Rahal would return to the lead of the race on lapeighty-nine when then race leader Scott Pruett made his final pit stop.
The yellow had waived on lap eighty-six when rookie Gaulter Salles lostpower in the #77 Davis Racing Reynard Ford. Salles' resulting spinspread fluids through turn four, causing the sixth and longest (13 laps)of the seven yellows on the day.
One last yellow flew on lap ninety-nine when Payton-Coyne rookie MichaelJourdain, Jr., driving the Herdez Lola Ford made contact with theoutside tire barrier. The method used to secure the tire barrier in Riomay well prove to set the standard for safety walls. The tiresthemselves were secured with a rubber membrane causing the tires to notonly absorb the shock of impact, but also cause deflection of theimpacting cars. Even the hardest impacts of the day left driversuninjured. Read more about this barrier concept in SpeedCenter's latest news.
At lap one-hundred, while under the final yellow, the top five positionswere Rahal, Tracy, Moore, de Ferran, and Boesel. The order remainedthrough the display of the green flag on lap one-hundred four, but bylap one-hundred ten, de Ferran had made his way past Boesel to take overthe fourth spot.
By the one-hundred twentieth lap, Alex Zanardi had also passed Boesel,and was challenging de Ferran for fourth. Zanardi's team mate JimmyVasser, in the mean time, had been reported several times to be trailingsmoke from the rear of his car, and corner workers had also reportedthat he was trailing fluid.
Only three laps from the end of the race, on lap one-hundred thirty, theorder was Rahal, Tracy, Moore, de Ferran, and Zanardi. This is when fuelmileage began to take it's toll. Gil de Ferran was forced to the pitswith no fuel in his tank on lap one-hundred thirty-one. When de Ferranslowed, it allowed Greg Moore to move to second place, while ScottPruett charged ahead of Alex Zanardi.
On the next-to-last lap of the race, Bobby Rahal's hopes to end hisseventy-race dry spell came to an end. Rahal coasted to the pits and wasonly able to salvage a tenth place finish. With great disappointment,after having led 77% of the race, Rahal commented "I'm numb."