Laguna in Review: In the IndyCar season finale, Maurcio Gugelmin and PacWest Racing finished the season the same way they started: On the podium. However, Gugelmin's impressive third-place finish at Laguna did not come easy as he and the Hollywood crew overcame some challenging circumstances to close the 1995 season in strong fashion.
The weekend started well for "Big Mo" and company on Friday as his provisional qualifying time of 70.585 was surpassed only by Teo Fabi who edged out Gugelmin by just three hundredths of a second. Unfortunately, Gugelmin was unable to defend his front row position in Saturday qualifying due to the extensive damage his car received during the Saturday morning practice session.
In the last few minutes of the hour-long practice, Gugelmin suffered a component failure in his right rear suspension which sent the Hollywood car off course after exiting turn five. Upon leaving the track, Gugelmin's undertray dug into the ground and through the gravel area between the track and the wall. Half of the undertray section was ripped off, exposing the wiring and leaving many of the cables severed or severely damaged. The incident forced the Hollywood team to the sidelines for the afternoon qualifying session.
The crew then focused on preparing the #18 backup car in preparation for Sunday's race. As the track improved, four cars bettered Gugelmin's time in his absence, forcing Mauricio to start the race from 6th position.
The switch to his backup car did not slow Gugelmin on Sunday as the Brazilian ran in the top three a majority of the race. Following Gugelmin's pass of Fabi on lap 41, he remained in the top-three the remaining 43 laps. Mauricio also led laps 55 and 56, making this the sixth time this season Gugelmin has been a race leader.
When Gugelmin rejoined the field after a lap 57 pit stop, he started to reel in second-place Paul Tracy, who once held a ten second lead over Gugelmin. At the same time Gugelmin was being pursued by a relentless Michael Andretti who similarly closed the gap on Gugelmin.
Despite the trios' hot pursuit of one another, no driver was able to pass for position, although Gugelmin was just a few tenths of a second behind Tracy as the checkered flag fell.
Gugelmin's third-place finish gave the team their first podium since the inaugural race of the season at Miami while securing Gugelmin's top-ten status in the final PPG Cup standings. His 82 PPG Cup points also gave Gugelmin the honor of finishing the season with the most championship points of any of the seven native Brazilian drivers in the series.
"Well, it looks like we've got a pretty good handle on season openers and finales.....we just need to work a little on the races in between," Gugelmin joked to the media in the post-race press conference. "The crew did a great job getting the backup to the same standards as our primary car. It was pretty consistent all day. I think we might have been able to catch Paul if we had a few more laps."
Laguna Seca also marked the fourth and final drive of Juan Fangio II as a substitute driver for the injured Danny Sullivan. Fangio once again proved to be more than capable in the role, driving the VISA / Bank of America car in the Bank of America 300.
Fangio II, who won at Laguna three years ago in the IMSA GTP series, provisionally qualified in 20th (72.605) position between Robby Gordon and Emerson Fittipaldi, respectively. His time during Saturday's second and final qualifying session improved to 71.836 but the Argentinean was able to climb just one position (19th) on the grid.
Although starting well back in the field, Fangio moved steadily forward, running as high as tenth before finishing 13th. During the race, Juan ran a steady pace with many laps consistent to those of the race leaders. He was able to outrun veterans such as Stefan Johansson, Robby Gordon and Emerson Fittipaldi, who finished immediately behind him, and narrowly missed overtaking Raul Boesel for a 12th place finish.
Following the race, PacWest CEO Bruce R. McCaw commented on Fangio's efforts the last four races.
"When we made the decision to put Juan in the VISA car, we knew he would perform well, and we weren't disappointed. He was very impressive as an Indy car rookie and his talent became immediately obvious to all. It was an honor to have Juan as part of the PacWest team and a pleasure to work with him. I'd like to thank Dan Gurney and All American Racers for providing us with the opportunity."
Hollywood To Extend Sponsorship with PacWest: The PacWest Racing Group announced on Saturday the signing of a multi-year agreement with Brazilian-based Hollywood for primary sponsorship on Mauricio Gugelmin's Indy car. Hollywood has been the primary sponsor on Gugelmin's PacWest Reynard since the second race of the 1995 season in Australia. Prior to this season, Hollywood had sponsored Gugelmin's previous 19 Indy car races dating back to 1993.
"We're very pleased to continue and expand our relationship with Souza Cruz and Hollywood for the 1996 season and beyond," said McCaw. "Souza Cruz is a quality organization which has an extremely aggressive approach to racing. They are also committed to winning and we value them highly as a major partner in our racing effort."
Reality Check Off-Season Issues: During the off-season, PacWest's Reality Check newsletter will be distributed on a bi-weekly basis with the next issue released on Monday, September 26th. In two weeks, Reality Check will review the 1995 Indy car season from a PacWest perspective.
Miscellaneous: Although on crutches, PacWest's Danny Sullivan was nevertheless busy during the Laguna Seca weekend. On Thursday, Sullivan was the guest of honor at the La Gala Seca charity dinner/auction. Friday and Saturday, Sullivan signed autographs for Bank of America at their trackside display booth. Other Sullivan activities included meetings and cocktail functions with sponsor and team representatives. To cap off the weekend, Sullivan gave the command of "Gentlemen, start your engines" at Sunday's Bank of America 300.... PacWest is scheduled to move into their new 20,100 square foot facility at the end of this month. The new address and contact numbers will be in a forthcoming issue of Reality Check.
Next Up - Off-Season Testing: Now that the 1995 PPG Indy Car World Series is completed, PacWest will now focus on an extensive testing program that commences on October 8th. The off-season testing program will be highlighted by IndyCar's Spring Training Session at Homestead Florida on February 5th. The five-day test session will be attended by a majority of the IndyCar teams and will be open to the public. Mark your calendar to get a sneak preview of the 1996 season.
PacWest is scheduled to receive their first '96 chassis in late November and will use their current '95 Reynards for their earlier test dates.