Welcome Return Stateside The long, wandering road leads home this week for Marlboro Team Penske. Over the past month and a half the cars, crew and carriage have covered more than 27,400 miles, from team headquarters in Reading, Pa. to...
Welcome Return Stateside
The long, wandering road leads home this week for Marlboro Team Penske. Over the past month and a half the cars, crew and carriage have covered more than 27,400 miles, from team headquarters in Reading, Pa. to Vancouver, B.C., to Monterey, Calif., to Houston, Tex. and finally to Queensland, Australia. It's been an expedition to new and challenging territories with three of the past four races on temporary city street courses. The logistics have been daunting and the results frustrating.
On the horizon, the friendly confines of California Speedway, home of the Nov. 1 Marlboro 500, presented by Toyota. It's the finale in CART's longest season and holds promise for two 500-mile winners, Al Unser Jr. and Andre Ribeiro. The two teammates have won a total of four 500s.
Unser Jr. won his first 500-miler in the Marlboro 500 at Michigan in 1990. He averaged 189.727 mph during the race, still a motorsports record for a 500-mile event. Al went on to win twice at Indianapolis, in 1992 and 1994. Ribeiro captured the Marlboro 500 at Michigan in 1996.
Both drivers have also tested extensively at the two-year old, two-mile oval near Fontana, Calif. There is a comfort level with the equipment as well. Both the Mercedes engine and Goodyear tires have tested competitively and speeds have been up as crews and drivers become more familiar with the Handford Device.
TOP 10 STREAK ENDS AT THREE
Unser Jr. was working on a three-race top 10 streak heading into last weekend's race in Australia. Beginning with a fifth place at Vancouver, Sept. 6, Al took sixth at Monterey and seventh in Houston, adding 24 PPG Cup points to his total over the period. Unfortunately, a crash Friday, an uncooperative back-up car Saturday and a broken suspension Sunday left him 22nd in final standings. He still finished the race, his 10th of the year.
"We broke the wishbone Friday during qualifying. The crash punched a hole in the tub so we had to bring out the back-up car. We picked up some time Saturday with the back-up but still were only 19th on the grid. Australia is a tough track, especially when you're back in the pack. When we settled down after the start, the Marlboro Penske Mercedes went loose (lap 7) so we had to stop early (lap 13) which cost us track position. On lap 19, Richie (Hearn) and I got together going into the hairpin so we had to come in again and replace the top left front A-arm which cost us three laps. Then on the restart on lap 45 I got hit from behind and the toe track bar broke so it was back to the pits for another lengthy stop. The crew hung in there and did a great job keeping me going."
Ribeiro Moves Up to Challenge Leaders
Andre Ribeiro drove effectively on a difficult course in Australia, moving up from a 22nd spot on the grid to finish 13th. Before an early flag due to the two-hour limit, Ribeiro was running near the front.
"Mechanically, the Marlboro Penske Mercedes ran well. We struggled with a lack of grip all day but we had good pit strategy and it felt good to run in the front (fourth) for part of the race. Our plan was working perfectly but unfortunately our strategy was lost with the timed race and the late yellows."
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