CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach: Race report

Andretti extends CART record with 42nd career CART FedEx Championship victory in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 2002) - Team Motorola driver Michael Andretti ( ...

Andretti extends CART record with 42nd career CART FedEx Championship victory in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 2002) - Team Motorola driver Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone)-who collected his first career victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 1986-ended a 16-year drought at the venue and picked up his 42nd career victory in Long Beach today.

Andretti beat polesitter Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Rahal to the stripe by 0.466 seconds-the second closest margin of victory in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach history behind Andretti's maiden 0.38-second win over Al Unser Jr. in 1986. In the process, Andretti managed to bring Honda its seventh consecutive victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach dating to a victory by Vasser in 1996.

Under overcast skies, Newman/Haas Racing driver Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who came into the race looking to become the third driver in CART history to win four consecutive races, rocketed around the outside of Vasser going into Turn 1 to take the lead on the first lap. It marked the first time that a Champ Car driver led the last lap of the season-opener and the first lap of the second race of the season since Rick Mears led the final lap in the season opening race at Phoenix and the opening lap of Round Two in Atlanta in 1982.

Da Matta remained on the point for essentially the first 31 laps, only losing the lead to Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) for one lap when he made his first stop on Lap 18 due to the fact that Brack crossed the start/finish stripe on the way to his pit while da Matta stopped shy of the line. The Brazilian beat Brack and everybody else off pit lane following the round of stops on Lap 18.

However, da Matta's chances for the victory were ruined when he exited his pit on Lap 31 and collided with Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) The contact sent da Matta's car into a tire that was laid out for a Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) pit stop, and the tire knocked Nakano's Chief Mechanic Steve Ragan down. Fortunately, Ragan was not injured in the incident.

While da Matta's car was not terminally damaged in the incident, he did lose power and several positions, and his chances for the victory were over. Da Matta went on to finish eighth, but retained the CART FedEx Championship Series points lead after the second of 20 rounds on the 2002 schedule.

Andretti, who started the race from the 15th position and was working a different pit stop strategy than the leaders, made his first appearance at the head of the field following that exchange on Lap 33, and remained out front until he made his second pit stop of the day on Lap 47. When Andretti stopped for tires and fuel, Vasser made his first appearance at the head of the field and led the next 14 circuits, which was two more laps than Vasser led during the entire 2001 season.

Vasser and the other top ten drivers in the field made pit stops on Lap 61,and with CART rules requiring a maximum of 29 laps between pit stops and with 29 laps remaining, those eleven drivers were not required to stop again. However, Andretti and Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) stayed out and took the first and second spots, but both drivers were also required to return to pit lane one last time to fulfill their requirements.

The key to the race came on Lap 63, when Herdez Competition rookie Mario Dominguez (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) got crossed-up in Turn 1 and made contact with the tire barrier, bringing out the full-course caution flag. At that point, Andretti was holding a two-second lead over Papis, who was 34 seconds ahead of Vasser, and the top two drivers hustled onto pit lane for their final stops and returned to the track before Vasser and the rest of the field made it back around.

As a result, Andretti managed to retain the lead with Papis second and Vasser third. When the race was restarted, Andretti quickly broke out to a sizable lead over Papis, with Vasser breathing down the back of Papis' machine. The Californian fought his way past Papis on Lap 73 and set out after Andretti. Vasser's best chance to overtake Andretti appeared to come when the full-course caution flag flew for the sixth and final time due to Oriol Servia's (#17 PWR Championship Racing Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) machine experiencing a mechanical failure on course on Lap 81, but the veteran Andretti timed the Lap 83 restart perfectly and got away without being challenged.

From there Andretti managed to keep his fellow American at bay and he sped off to the victory. Andretti and Vasser became the first American drivers to finish 1-2 since Andretti finished first and Bobby Rahal finished second at Vancouver in 1996. It was also the first 1-2 finish for Americans at Long Beach since Vasser finished first and Parker Johnstone finished second, also in 1996.

Papis went on to finish third, scoring the first podium finish in the history of Sigma Autosport, which began operation in 2001. Brack finished fourth, scoring his first championship points of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series, and Michel Jourdain Jr. finished fifth.

On the strength of a fourth place finish in the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix and his fifth place finish today, Jourdain is tied for second place in the point standings with Andretti. Each driver has compiled 22 points through the first two rounds of competition, trailing da Matta by five points. It is the highest Jourdain has been in the point standings at any point in his seven-year Champ Car career.

The CART FedEx Championship Series now moves on to Twin Ring Motegi in Japan for Round Three of the 2002 championship, the Bridgestone Potenza 500, which is scheduled for Saturday, April 27. SPEED Channel will provide extensive television coverage throughout the weekend in Japan, culminating in tape-delayed coverage of the Bridgestone Potenza 500 at 12:00 Noon ET on Saturday, April 27.

Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (#39 Motorola/Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone): "It's such a big win. This place is very special to me because this is where I got my first win. It's a big win for us because we kept Honda's win streak going as well. When you start at the back of the pack you have to do some gambling, and that's just what we did. This weekend was horrendous for us to this point, with me hitting the wall yesterday and everything. People may not believe me, but I still think we had a great car before that happened yesterday. Jimmy started to get close, maybe a half second each lap. But I didn't change the way I was driving too much. I just kept going as hard as I could and it just worked out. I was focused on the last lap and didn't really even think about it. What goes around comes around as far as luck goes. And you have to believe that. Finally, I think luck went our way today and we'll take it."

JIMMY VASSER (#8 Shell/Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "In the beginning of the race Cristiano [da Matta] got a good jump on me around the outside and checked out. I think da Matta had the car to beat today, but oh well - that's the way it goes I guess. All weekend, since the car came off the truck, it has been running strong. If we continue to put ourselves in a position to win, it will eventually come. We did the best we could today with the car we had."

MAX PAPIS (#22 Rockwell First Point/Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "This is much more than just a good race for us today. I lost my voice out there because I was cheering so much after I got out of the car. We came to Long Beach with no testing after Mexico, and with no back up car. So to give the team its first career podium finish is great. I tried to pressure Michael after the restarts, but we didn't have the speed. Hopefully we can get that first win shortly."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Prior to the race, Jeff Prokop, vice president of administration and automotive services for the Automobile Club of Southern California presented a $4,000 check to Bharat Naran, crew chief of the pole-winning #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Team Rahal. Naran received the award in recognition of the professionalism and teamwork demonstrated in the team's qualifying performance on Saturday.

* Although attendance figures were not made available to the public, a large and enthusiastic crowd was in attendance throughout the three-day Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. "It was an excellent crowd today," said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. "We were delighted with the size of the crowd all three days, and it looked like our fans had a good time."

* In pre-race ceremonies CART President and CEO Christopher R. Pook, the founder and former president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, was named Grand Marshal of this year's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and was presented with the key to the city of Long Beach by Mayor Beverly O'Neil. In addition, Pook presented long-time CART officials Bob and Barbara Funk with a special appreciation award for their years of service and dedication to CART and the FedEx Championship Series.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Oriol Servia , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Rick Mears , Jim Michaelian , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain