Texaco Grand Prix of Houston - FedEx CART race October 4, 1998 - Houston, Texas Mike Stucker - Motorsport News International Twenty minutes before the start of the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston for the FedEx CART Champcars, the track...
Texaco Grand Prix of Houston - FedEx CART race October 4, 1998 - Houston, Texas Mike Stucker - Motorsport News International
Twenty minutes before the start of the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston for the FedEx CART Champcars, the track is drenched by a heavy downpour. CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach declares a "Wet Start" for the race, which means that all teams must start on rain tires. Dallenbach also puts the start of the race on hold.
At 3:10 PM the track workers are able to begin removing standing water from the track. At 3:35, 30 minutes past the intended start time, the command "Gentlemen, start your engines!" is given. Because the front straight is not long enough, the cars will start on the back straight. The cars will also start single-file after three pace laps. Michael Andretti pits on the first pace lap and rejoins the field at the back. He again pits on the second pace lap.
The 100 lap race finally starts at 3:42 with air temperature at 81 degrees F and track temperature at 81 degrees F. Pole sitter Greg Moore grabs the lead going into the first turn (turn 5) but is soon passed by both Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy. First yellow of the day is brought out by Gil de Ferran and Bryan Herta spinning. De Ferran restarts on his own and CART safety workers restart Herta. Andretti pulls back into the pits and retires with suspension problems. Franchitti leads the first lap of the day, under yellow, by .490 seconds over his teammate Tracy, followed by Christian Fittipaldi, and Jimmy Vasser.
Green flag is waved on lap 3. Almost immediately, the yellow is waved again as Moore spins at turn 10 (pit in) and collects Fittipaldi. Both cars are out of the race.
Track is back green on lap 9 with Franchitti leading Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Vasser, and Bobby Rahal. Andre Ribeiro spins in turn 2A and the area is put under local yellow until he restarts, losing two laps to the leaders.
Robbie Gordon tags Michael Jourdain Jr. on lap 13. Jourdain is spun around and blocks the track with Gordon stuck behind him. Several cars back up behind them, so the race is red flagged and all cars are ordered to the pits.
At 4:20, the cars are lined up in pit row, the lap count is backed up to lap 12, as not everyone in the field had completed lap 13, and the race is resumed under yellow. Final yellow flag lap is run without the pace car so Franchitti, the leader, uses this to his advantage and he has a 1.94 second lead over Tracy when the green flag reappears.
By lap 18 the track is drying out, and 16th place Mark Blundell is the first to pit for slicks. Blundell comes out in 21st place and starts running 8 to 10 seconds slower than the leaders. On lap 20, the order is still Franchitti, Tracy, Zanardi, Vasser, Rahal.
On lap 26 both Tony Kanaan and Andre Fernandez pass Rahal. On the next lap Zanardi and Fernandez pit for slicks, even though a light drizzle has begun. On lap 30, the order is Franchitti leading Tracy by 9.440 seconds, followed by Kanaan, Vasser, and Rahal.
Tracy, Kanaan, and Vasser all pit for slick tires on lap 31. Tracy clips some cones at the pit entrance, but is not penalized as the cones were there to protect the Fittipaldi pit and he is out of the race. The drizzle has stopped and large portions of the track are beginning to dry out. Lap 32 finally sees the leader, Franchitti, and Rahal take on slicks.
On lap 36 Vasser, Max Papis, and de Ferran, all pass Fernandez, who had been in fifth. Rahal pits with damage from contact and withdraws from the race. Yellow is out on lap 38 as Patrick Carpentier slides into the tire barriers at turn 10. His Reynard is damged too much to continue.
De Ferran retires with mechanical problems on lap 39. Also on that lap, Ribeiro goes down the run-off in turn 5. He's restarted and continues on to the pits. Franchitti continues to lead on lap 40, but his pursuers are back close to him as the course is under yellow.
Track is green on lap 43 but goes yellow again two laps later when Dennis Vitolo slides into the tires at turn 3, taking himself out of the race. Race is back green on lap 46.
On lap 48, Tracy attempts to pass Franchitti entering turn 5. Tracy's right front tires rides over Franchitti's left rear, and Tracy is vaulted into the air and hits the wall inside turn 5. Franchitti's car is undamaged but Tracy crawls back to his pit with damaged front wing and left front tire, which is askew. Tracy exits the car and is confronted by his team owner Barry Green who starts pointing at Tracy's head. Tracy shoves Green, who shoves him back. Tracy then jumps on his scooter and leaves the pits.
The lap 50 running order is Franchitti 3.648 seconds ahead of Zanardi, Kanaan, Vasser, and Max Papis, who has his Toyota powered Reynard up to fifth.
On lap 52, rain is again reported in turns 8 and 10. The rain lets up on lap 58 with no drivers having pitted for rain tires. On lap 63, with the top five remaining unchanged, the rain begins pouring from turn 5 to turn 10. Lightning is also being reported. Laps time slow tremendously as the cars lose traction in the wet. The race is yellow flagged and then the checker is thrown on lap 70, 30 laps short of the intended race distance, as conditions had become too dangerous for both the fans and the drivers, and the race could not be finished in the allotted time.
So, the winner of the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston is Team KOOL Green's Dario Franchitti. Second place went to 1998 FedEx CART champion Alex Zanardi, third to Tony Kanaan, who clinched CART Rookie of the Year honors, and fourth to Jimmy Vasser. All four drivers drove Firestone shod Reynards with Honda motors. Fifth place went to Alex Papis, making a terrific run for Toyota.
Winner's margin of victory was 3.648 seconds (under yellow). Time of the race was 1:11:32.826 with the winners average speed being 64.028 mph. Franchitti led every lap.
The victory was the 16th in a row for Firestone tires.
Alex Zanardi now has 250 points after 17 races, which breaks the old record of 234 set by Michael Andretti, over a full season of 17 races.
Race day attendance was a capacity 62,455 with a three day total of over 150,000. During the post-race press conference, Franchitti made note that even during and after the downpours, the fans never left, they stuck it out to the end, something the drivers appreciated.
All-in-all, the inaugural Houston race weekend appears to be a success with the drivers and the fans being quite pleased with the effort, despite a few minor problems over the weekend.