CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland report

Villeneuve Takes Surprise Win At Cleveland Competitive Race Includes Much Controversy By Jim DeFord Jacques Villeneuve was poised and ready to strike when it happened and picked up his 4th win of the season in the most competitive ...

Villeneuve Takes Surprise Win At Cleveland Competitive Race Includes Much Controversy

By Jim DeFord

Jacques Villeneuve was poised and ready to strike when it happened and picked up his 4th win of the season in the most competitive and controversial race of the season. Villeneuve extended his points lead over Bobby Rahal, but must still remain consistent in the five remaining races for the PPG Cup.

As the cars were coming around the final turn to take the green flag, Paul Tracy got into Andre Ribiero and they both went sliding off the track. Scott Pruett slowed for the incident and was nailed in the rear by Raul Boesel, spinning Pruett out.

Both Tracy and Boesel continued on, but Tracy got out of the car several laps later because the car was not handling properly from the damaged right-front suspension. Ribiero was out from a damaged radiator. The IndyCar safety crew finally got Pruett going but he was out of the hunt, though Scott would end up having a dramatic effect on the turnout of this race. More on that later.

With all that behind him de Ferran was running his race. He was not being contested by second place Villeneuve at all, and eventually extended the lead up to 13 seconds. Gil was driving the race of his life!

Fabi was pressuring Villeneuve hard for the second position and ended up taking it with the help of a fantastic pitstop. His pit crew was in fine form today.

After the first pitstops were completed, de Ferran held a 9 second lead over Fabi, Villeneuve, Gordon, Herta, Andretti and Boesel, all fighting hard behind him.

On the 45th lap Gordon had caught Villeneuve. Gordon was on the outside of Jacques and kept coming over on Villeneuve. At this point it was evident that neither one of them had any hope of the making the apex of the next turn and they both went off the track into the grass. They both cranked it into 4-wheel drive and eventually got back onto the track, though losing two positions. Robby ended up making a successful, non-agricultural pass a lap later.

de Ferran made his second pitstop on lap 50, but Fabi stayed out and took the lead. Teo ran an extra two laps before coming in. The strategy works and Fabi holds the lead over Gil, but Teo ends up going out shortly thereafter with a broken exhaust header.

de Ferran is now back in the lead with Andretti, Gordon, Herta and Villenueve now much closer and more aggressive as the race begins to wind down.

Eric Bachelart then spins into the tire barriers in turn 9, and brings out the one and only full course yellow. The cars will restart with de Ferran first, followed by Pruett, who is two laps down, Andretti, Gordon, Herta and Villeneuve. The Newman-Haas crew has a discussion with the Patrick crew and Scott agrees to give Andretti some space on the restart.

Taking the green flag and going into turn one, Pruett swings wide and lets the leaders by. Gordon has momentum into the turn and Andretti also dives under de Ferran. Mike and Gil have contact causing de Ferran to get a little loose, but Gil brilliantly collects the car back, nails it, and holds off both Mike and Robby, as Gordon goes wide and is into the dirt The move by de Ferran was beautiful and really shows how aggressive this rookie driver is.

The very next lap, again going into turn one, was almost an instant replay of the previous lap. But this time Michael clips Robby's left rear as de Ferran goes wide letting both Andretti and Pruett go by. Gordon was not as lucky as de Ferran was with his contact with Michael and limps to the pits, cussing and swearing at Michael over the radio. Most of the discussion cannot be mentioned here, but one thing Robby said as he entered the pits was, "I'm getting sick of Michael!"

For several laps the order was Andretti, followed by an aggressive two-laps down Pruett, de Ferran, Herta and Villeneuve. Andretti and Pruett were beginning to pull away slightly but then Michael was finally falling victim to his multi-contact passes as his handling began to go away. But Andretti was not done yet!

Pruett made a clean pass on the inside of Andretti and at the same turn de Ferran thought he saw his chance. Gil stuck a nose under the Patrick Racing driver, but Pruett held his line. de Ferran ended up running out of room and ran into Scott, taking them both out of the race.

Gil's hopes were dashed. What would have been the perfect 60th birthday present for team-owner Jim Hall, ended up being yet another DNF for the young driver. Pruett and de Ferran had a heated, arm-waving discussion after the incident.

With three laps to go and Andretti still in the lead, Herta and Villeneuve are battling wheel to wheel, two cars wide through several turns, but Herta holds off Villeneuve. This was a hold-your-breath, hang-it-all-out battle!

With less than two laps to go, and a local yellow still waving, Andretti begins to slow dramatically entering the esses. Herta whips by Michael taking the lead as the white flag waves, but then Bryan begins to slow exiting turn one and Villeneuve lurches past them both for the lead. What looked like a missed shift by Herta was actually him slowing down, thinking he had passed Andretti under yellow.

The order now was Villeneuve, Andretti, Herta and Vasser going into turn one. Andretti, still fighting his ill handling car, makes a dive under Villeneuve. Yet again Michael has contact and the front of his car jumps in the air, but Jacques' car doesn't miss a beat as he takes the checkers, followed by Herta and Vasser.

And you thought the race was over? On what is supposed to the "cool-down lap", a hot-headed Robby Gordon came up along side Michael Andretti. In a surprise, Friday Night At the Races move, Robby turns his car right and hits Andretti, causing damage to both cars.

Although Robby said afterwards that he and Mike were waving fists at each other, and mentioned the "heavy steering" caused the cars to touch, the in-car camera replay clearly shows Gordon with two hands on the wheel and then obviously turning right, into Andretti. For more on this story, see Gordon Gives Andretti Finger

I expect that there will be at least one, if not more, updates via the IndyCar officials concerning this race. Stay tuned to the Mobil1 Web Site for the latest breaking news.

Fin Car       Driver         Year/Chassis/Engine/Tires  Laps  Status      
--- --- -------------------- -------------------------- ---- --------     
 1  27  Jacques Villeneuve   95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    90               
 2   4  Bryan Herta          95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    90   -1.16       
 3  12  Jimmy Vasser         95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    90   -3.57       
 4   9  Bobby Rahal          95/Lola/M-Benz/Goodyear     90   -3.88       
 5  17  Danny Sullivan       95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    90   -9.32       
 6   5  Robby Gordon         95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    90   -18.9       
 7   6  Michael Andretti     95/Lola/Ford/Goodyear       90   -20.55      
 8  16  Stefan Johansson     94/Penske/M-Benz/Goodyear   89   -1 lap      
 9  34  Ales Zampedri        94/Lola/Ford/Firestone      89   -1 lap      
10   7  Eliseo Salazar       95/Lola/Ford/Goodyear       88   -2 lap      
11  49  Parker Johnstone     95/Reynard/Honda/Firestone  88   -2 lap      
12  10  Adrian Fernandez     95/Lola/M-Benz/Goodyear     87   Engine      
13  25  Hiro Matsushita      95/Reynard/Ford/Firestone   86   -4 lap      
14   8  Gil de Ferran        95/Reynard/M-Benz/Goodyear  85   Contact     
15  55  Marco Greco          95/Lola/M-Benz/Goodyear     84   -6 lap      
16  20  Scott Pruett         95/Lola/Ford/Firestone      83   Contact     
17  22  Carlos Guerrero      95/Lola/Ford/Goodyear       82   -8 lap      
18   1  Al Unser Jr.         95/Penske/M-Benz/Goodyear   70   Gearbox     
19  33  Teo Fabi             95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    67   Header      
20  11  Raul Boesel          95/Lola/M-Benz/Goodyear     65   Electrical  
21  19  Eric Bachelart       94/Lola/Ford/Firestone      63   Contact     
22  14  Eddie Cheever        95/Lola/Ford/Goodyear       49   Engine      
23  18  Maurico Gugelmin     95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    35   Fuel Problem
24  15  Christian Fittipaldi 95/Reynard/Ford/Goodyear    22   Engine      
25   2  Emerson Fittipaldi   95/Penske/M-Benz/Goodyear   22   Water       
26   3  Paul Tracy           95/Lola/Ford/Goodyear       17   Handling    
27  31  Andre Ribeiro        95/Reynard/Honda/Firestone   0   Contact     

Margin of Victory: 1.157 Seconds

Driver Update! By Jim DeFord

The Mobil1 sponsored Penske drivers, yet again, had a rough weekend. Al Unser Jr. struggled through the race with an electrical problem, but ended up going out when the gearbox went toast on lap 70, and finished 18th.

Emerson Fittipaldi, celebrating his 25th anniversary as a racecar driver went out on lap 22 with a broken water hose and finished in a "curious" 25th position.

As predicted by this writer, Eliseo Salazar finished in the points with a 10th place finish! And with Christian Fittipaldi finishing out of the points, Salazar will make a huge gain in the hunt for the PPG Rookie of the Year honors.

For Mobil 1 Live coverage, add this link to your hotlist: Mobil 1 Live

Jim DeFord jdeford@pacifier.com

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Stefan Johansson , Robby Gordon , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Eliseo Salazar , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Raul Boesel , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Danny Sullivan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Teo Fabi , Andre Ribeiro