Race No. 11
Toronto Ontario, Canada
July 18 July 20, 1997
Blundell Scores Second Win in '97 at Toronto
No Drag Race in Flag-to-Flag Win
By Ray Sprouse
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
The power of a Mercedes-Benz and the skills of driver Mark Blundell(PacWest Motorola Reynard Mercedes-Benz) proved to be the difference intoday's Molson Indy at Toronto's Exhibition Place temporary streetcourse. The victory was the third time that the race in Toronto hasbeen won with a flag-to-flag effort.
Both Blundell and second-place finisher Alex Zanardi (Target ChipGanassi Reynard Honda) were riding Reynard chassis shod with Firestonetires, but the Mercedes provided the necessary force to hold off thecharging Zanardi by a margin of .659 seconds. The two battled during thefinal laps of the race, and backmarker Hiro Matsushita (PanasonicReynard Toyota) held-up Blundell long enough to allow Zanardi to closethe gap with only five laps remaining.
The race began with a first turn spin by pole-sitter Dario Franchitti(Hogan Racing Reynard Mercedes) as contact was made in an aggressivemove by Bobby Rahal diving to the inside of turn one. Franchitti turneddown just enough to make contact between his right-rear tire and Rahal’sleft-front. The entire field was able to avoid the incident, with the exception ofChristian Fittipaldi who stalled when he was forced to come to acomplete stop to avoid contact. A full-course yellow was displayed, but thegreen flag waved after only one lap as Franchitti and Fittipaldi wereboth able to re-start and resume the race, although far back in the pack.
Blundell led the 28 car field to the re-start, and would only relinquishthe lead a total of two laps for the remainder of the race.
Another big story of the day was the podium finish of Andre Ribeiro(Tasman LCI Reynard Honda,) giving the Tasman Motorsports Group anuplifting third-place finish in their recently acquired Reynard chassis,replacing their struggling Lola chassis. The woes of the Lola arecertainly evident after the greatly improved performance of Andre overthe past two races. It was also announced briefly during today's ABC TVcoverage that Lola will soon be purchased by a consortium of theexisting management of the company. SpeedCenter will provide an extendedstory on the matter as we are able to uncover the details of thepurchase.
Michael Andretti (Newman-Haas KMart Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) finishedfourth after starting fourth in the grid, and after dropping back as faras seventh during the race. The Swift Ford, on Goodyear tires, was oneof only three Goodyear shod cars to finish in the top ten.
Rounding-out the top ten were fifth-place Scott Pruett (Brahma ReynardFord,) sixth-place Mauricio Gugelmin (PacWest Hollywood ReynardMercedes,) seventh-place Jimmy Vasser (Target Chip Ganassi ReynardHonda,) eighth-place Raul Boesel (Brahma Reynard Ford,) ninth-placeBobby Rahal (Rahal Miller Lite Reynard Ford,) and tenth-place Paul Tracy(Marlboro Penske Mercedes-Benz.)
Christian Fittipaldi (Newman-Haas KMart Budweiser Swift Ford) fought hisway back from the first lap incident to finish eleventh in his thirdrace after returning from his early season crash at Surfer's Paradise,and Parker Johnstone (Team Kool Green Reynard Honda) rounds out the toptwelve.
Next weeks race takes us back to Superspeedway action to the secondshowing of the US 500 at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway.Jimmy Vasser won the inaugural event in 1996, and carried away awinner's prize of $1 million.
Gaulter Salles (INDUSVAL-Marlboro Reynard-Ford Cosworth) is the onlycurrent rookie to have competed on the Michigan oval previously. TheBrazilian driver finished sixth in the 1996 Firestone Indy Lights racesupporting the inaugural U.S. 500.
Davis Racing completed a two-day test at Michigan over the Fourth ofJuly weekend to let Salles experience the speeds he will experience inthe July 27 race.
Let's hope that the pace lap jitters that plagued the start of lastyear's US 500 can be curbed for this year's race. (No pun intended!)