CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach report (1 of 2)

>From IndyCar media relations Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Race Story -- Vasser Wins! VASSER GRABS THIRD VICTORY OF SEASON AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 1996) -- Jimmy Vasser and the Target/Chip Ganassi...

>From IndyCar media relations

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Race Story -- Vasser Wins!

VASSER GRABS THIRD VICTORY OF SEASON AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 14, 1996) -- Jimmy Vasser and the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team have exhibited the poise and talent, and their Target Reynard Honda the power for a dominating start in the PPG Indy Car World Series season.

On Sunday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach before a record paid crowd of 88,000, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing utilized another trait that is critical to a racing team's success -- luck.

With four laps remaining, Gil de Ferran's dominating run up front all afternoon in his Pennzoil Reynard Honda came to a stunning end when an exhaust hose disconnected from the turbocharger and stripped his car of a majority of its power. As de Ferran faded, Vasser bolted from his second-place position and captured the lead on Lap 102 of 105.

Vasser then held off Parker Johnstone (Motorola Reynard Honda) for his third PPG Indy Car World Series victory in four events this season. The triumph extended his PPG Cup lead over Scott Pruett (Firestone Patrick Racing Lola Ford), who finished 11th, to 23 points, 67-44. Vasser also gave the Honda engine/Firestone tire combination a victory in every race this season.

"They say sometimes you'd rather be lucky than good and today, it seemed like we were lucky," Vasser said. "We knew we couldn't catch Gil unless he had a problem. The championship was obviously a goal of ours at the start of the season, but you've got to take it one race at a time. This is a great moment for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. The Honda engine and Firestone tires are definitely the combination of choice."

De Ferran, chasing his second career victory, led 100 laps before trouble struck and dropped him to fifth place. It was his second top-five finish of the season and moved him to fourth in the PPG Cup standings. He also gained a point Saturday when he earned the Marlboro Pole Award with a course-record speed of 109.639 miles per hour.

"It was a shame. I lost the turbocharger,'' De Ferran said. "I had no indication ahead of time. It was a sudden problem. The car was really good."

Johnstone's runner-up finish was the best in his three-year career. He topped his previous best of 11th, which he accomplished at Cleveland and Vancouver last season.

"It wasn't lost on me on the closing laps that I had the 'Emperor of the Beach' [Al Unser Jr.] behind me and a Honda in front of me that I wasn't going to catch," Johnstone said. "I tried to make a run at Jimmy at the end, but he was too quick and I didn't want to lose second place by putting the car into the wall. Finishing second is a victory here for us. In fact, to finish in front of Al Jr. at Long Beach, well, if I never do anything else in racing. …"

Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), the two-time defending champion and record six-time winner at Long Beach, finished third for his second podium appearance in the past three races. Unser Jr., third in the PPG Cup with 39 points, was 4.409 seconds behind Vasser.

"We had a good run today,'' Unser Jr. said. "We started ninth and had to protect our position. We were consistent and didn't make any mistakes. I'll tell you, the competition in the PPG Indy Car World Series is tough."

Following behind Unser Jr. was his Marlboro Team Penske teammate, Paul Tracy. Tracy (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), who has battled bad luck all season, finished a season-best fourth. Tracy, however, was not the only driver among the top-10 who enjoyed a stellar outing.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate Beer/Quaker State Lola Honda), Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford), Roberto Moreno (Data Control/Mi-Jack Lola Ford) and rookie Richie Hearn (Ralphs/Food 4 Less Reynard Ford) all posted season bests at Long Beach. Fernandez was sixth, Andretti seventh, Moreno eighth and Hearn, making his debut in the PPG Indy Car World Series, 10th.

The other top-10 finisher was rookie Eddie Lawson (Delco Electronics High Tech Team Galles Lola Mercedes), who finished ninth for his second consecutive top-10 showing.

Pruett took 11th and Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Mercedes) grabbed the final PPG Cup point position by finishing 12th.

While de Ferran was rolling up front for all but one of the first 100 laps, there was plenty of action unfolding behind him. He led the first 38 laps before pitting on the ensuing lap and relinquishing the lead to rookie Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda). Zanardi's lead was brief as he and Bobby Rahal (Miller Reynard Mercedes) were involved in an incident that knocked the Italian out of the race.

De Ferran regained the lead on Lap 40 and eight laps later the second of three cautions came out that evolved into a confrontation between Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Budweiser Lola Ford) and rookie Greg Moore (Player's Ltd./Indeck Reynard Mercedes). Fittipaldi and Moore made contact and when the cars came to a halt, Fittipaldi took exception to the mishap. Fittipaldi went over to Moore and pulled him out of the car by the visor, resulting in a $5,000 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct.

De Ferran, who endured one final caution on Lap 71 while holding the lead because of Robby Gordon's brush with the tire barrier in the Valvoline/Cummins/Craftsman Reynard Ford, began to increase his lead over Vasser. With 13 laps remaining, he owned an 8.31-second lead over Vasser before trouble eventually struck and ended his victory bid.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which attracted a record three-day paid crowd of 211,500, will be replayed by ESPN on Monday, beginning at 1 p.m. EST.

The PPG Indy Car World Series returns to the ovals for round five as the teams head to the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway on April 28.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn , Eddie Lawson , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing