David Reininger - motorsport.com Monterey, Calif. (September 12, 1999) - Bryan Herta led the entire 83 laps from the pole position to capture his second consecutive victory at the Shell 300, the feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey...
David Reininger - motorsport.com
Monterey, Calif. (September 12, 1999) - Bryan Herta led the entire 83 laps from the pole position to capture his second consecutive victory at the Shell 300, the feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway. One year ago, Herta captured his first career win in a drive from the pole at this 2.238-mile road course.
"I don't know what it is about this place," said Herta, who, in his very first visit to Laguna Seca, won his Barber Saab race. I'm just happy that I have a place like this. It's never easy in this series. But it's good to run so well."
Herta steadily pulled away from outside polesitter Tony Kanaan at the start of the race. By the end of the first stint Herta led by nearly three seconds. With fuel stops approaching at one-third distance, the yellow flag was displayed around the course to retrieve the stalled car of Helio Castro-Neves. Perfect timing for the Laguna Seca fuel window. All the leaders pitted with the top-six positions remaining unchanged.
During the second stint, Herta resumed his steady drive at the point with Kanaan the only driver able to stay close to the front. As Herta slowly added to his lead, Kanaan's transmission failed on lap 44, ending his day early.
"I'm really disappointed," said Kanaan. "I don't think we had the car to pass Bryan (Herta) on the race track. I was saving a lot of fuel and the car was very good after the first pit stop. I think we would have finished well."
Herta's lead over second place, inherited by Max Papis, was extended to eight seconds. Papis, who was being pushed by Michael Andretti, narrowed the gap to the leader by two seconds in just nine laps. However, the second full course yellow of day, which happened to occur just as the second Laguna Seca fuel window opened, erased the gap completely.
Originally to retrieve Robby Gordon's car after a spin at turn eight, the caution period was extended four laps later when Gordon spun again in turn six.
During the second round of pit stops, Herta pitted without losing the lead but Papis had problems with his car allowing Andretti to take second place behind Herta and the pace car.
"On the second pit stop, I was pumping the clutch but the car stalled," Papis said. "The crew was quick to get the starter plugged in," and Papis only lost one position.
With 22 laps to the finish, Herta had to make a good restart. Andretti would surely take advantage of a late race opportunity to challenge for the lead.
"I knew Michael was right there," said Herta. "I really wanted to try and get a good gap on him. I just went a little too deep into the last corner leading up to the front straight. I locked up the front brakes, and for a second, thought I was actually going to miss the corner."
Herta managed to escape unscathed from the incident but Andretti didn't fare as well. Following Herta deep into the turn, Andretti was balked when the leader locked up his brakes. Papis and Roberto Moreno, whose crew gained him three positions during the second round of pit stops, got a run on Andretti, passing him easily down the front straight.
"Bryan just didn't stand on it at the start," Andretti said. "I got in too tight and had to back off."
Moreno, who exited turn two in full possession of second place, said, "For some reason, they came out of the last corner slow. I saw two cars going really slow so I got a run on them. I had to come on the very inside, there were two cars side by side, so I went as a third car all the way up the pit straight and down the hill. I just got underneath the both of them and got the best out of it."
Relegated to fourth, Andretti was squeezed to the outside of the track through turn two, allowing Vasser to gain an advantage off the corner. Andretti tried to regain his position from Vasser at the next turn, but the pair collided with Vasser continuing for the moment . Andretti spun, dropping him to 13th place.
Two bends later, Vasser spun in water leaking from his damaged radiator. He was not able to continue. Andretti regained his composure to finish in tenth position, 18 seconds behind the leader. Vasser was credited with 18th.
"I'm not sure exactly what happened, but the trouble seemed to start in turn two," said Vasser. "It was really hectic there and I got away clean. But when we came into turn three, Michael t-boned me and that killed my radiator. We had water all over the tires and our day was done. I'm not going to place any blame because it seemed like a racing incident."
Moreno stayed with Herta until the checkered flag fell, finishing in second place, just 1.825 seconds behind the leader. "I settled for second," said Moreno, "just staying behind hoping he'd make a mistake."
Moreno, who has substituted for Mark Blundell and Christian Fittipaldi this season was delighted by his best career finish this afternoon. Fittipaldi is slated to attempt a return to the cockpit at the next race. Despite the fact he may be looking for work after this race, Moreno was upbeat.
"It's just been a great day for us. It was my best result in CART and want to thank everybody that helped me. Today our pit crew did a great job to get me three positions on our last stop. We did a strategy of saving fuel which allowed us to make a short fuel stop at the end. We gained quite a few positions that way and it was a key to being up there to take advantage of the situation on the restart."
"The next race, Christian (Fittipaldi) is trying to come back so it's great to be able to finish with a golden key. If he has to come back the next race, I'm happy that I was able to come up with a good result, a podium finish which was my best result. If he doesn't come back, I'll chase for a podium finish again"
Herta's teammate, Papis, passed Andretti on the last restart too, bringing the Miller Lite car home in third place. "On that restart, Bryan and Michael were fighting for first position," said Papis. "We went into turn one and we all locked (our wheels), second, third and fourth, but Roberto did a great job. He made a lesser mistake than anyone."
Papis was extremely pleased with his first podium finish, but was quick to reflect upon the death of rookie driver, Gonzalo Rodriguez, in Saturday's practice session. "It's a great weekend for all us, but unfortunately it's very sad at the same time because of what happened to Gonzalo."
Paul Tracy finished fourth today, clinching the Manufacturers Championship for Honda. Tracy made an incredible start gaining four positions on the first lap. "In the race, I had a good start. From then on, I paced myself," said Tracy, "picking up points where they came. We moved up to third in the championship, so it was a good day all-in-all."
Championship points leader, Juan Montoya struggled all weekend. He qualified a dismal 16th, yet still managed to gain five championship points for his eighth place finish. "All weekend we had difficulties trying to get the setup right," said Montoya. "In the race, I didn't want to push too hard and make a mistake." Montoya heads to the next race in Houston with a 28 point lead over Dario Franchitti.
Franchitti failed to gain points today after an incident with Greg Moore. While attempting a pass at the entrance to turn two, Franchitti collided with Moore, sending the Scotsman's car into the gravel trap outside the turn. Moore continued only to have his transmission fail one lap later.
The traditional spraying of the champagne would not place at Laguna Seca on this weekend. Instead, the celebration on the victory podium was subdued as Herta, Moreno and Papis raised their champagne high in the air in a toast to the memory of Gonzalo Rodriguez.