Michael Andretti won the Grand Prix of Long Beach after holding off a charging Jimmy Vasser. Andretti's Team Green used pit strategy and luck to get him in front and a canny restart by Michael with 10 laps to go prevented a pass from an...
Michael Andretti won the Grand Prix of Long Beach after holding off a charging Jimmy Vasser. Andretti's Team Green used pit strategy and luck to get him in front and a canny restart by Michael with 10 laps to go prevented a pass from an obviously faster Vasser. Max Papis was third followed by Kenny Brack and Michel Jourdain.
The green flag was delayed for a lap when Patrick Carpentier spun his Forsythe Racing Reynard in turn 10. Da Matta took an early lead with an aggressive move into turn 1, outbraking polesitter Vasser from the outside. Similarly, Kenny Brack, Paul Tracy, and Tony Kanaan advanced at the race's start. Da Matta quickly pulled away to a large lead, followed by Vasser, Brack, Tracy, Kanaan and Bruno Junqueira.
On lap 4, some teams began working on their pit strategy, with Alex Tagliani and Dario Franchitti and coming in for fuel and tires and Scott Dixon following a lap later. Dixon came out directly ahead of race leader da Matta.
On the race's 17th lap, Tony Kanaan's car coasted to a stop in turn 2 with engine trouble, causing the first caution period. After the resulting pit stops, the order remained much as before: da Matta leading from Vasser, Brack, Tracy, Junqueira, Adrian Fernandez, Christian Fittipaldi, and Michel Jourdain. Shortly after the restart, Junqueira fell from this order by first overcooking into the turn 8 runoff area, then serving a black flag penalty (for running over Shinji Nakano's pit air hose) after getting back on course. Carpentier's frustrating day ended as he parked his car in the runoff at turn 8 with gearbox failure.
When Scott Dixon's smoking PWR Lola coasted to a stop with engine failure just past pit exit, the full course yellow was again displayed on lap 31 and all the leaders dove into the pits. Michael Andretti and Max Papis stayed out and assumed the first two positions. Previous leader da Matta fell to the end of the order after being hit by Adrian Fernandez while leaving his pit box. His pit crew was forced to push him back into his pit and restart his Lola. This left Vasser, Brack, Tracy, Fittipaldi, Jourdain, Fernandez, Toranosuke Takagi and Tagliani lined up behind Andretti and Papis. As the green flag waved for the restart, Tagliani spun in the hairpin (turn 11), promoting Townsend Bell into the top ten.
Once Papis and Andretti made their stops, the top three drivers, Vasser, Brack and Fittipaldi, raced in tight formation behind the almost-a-lap-down car of Tagliani until Junqueira parked his car into the tires at turn 1. On the restart, Townsend Bell's Lola was hit while he was lapping Tagliani in turn 3. Bell drove around to the pits and retired with suspension damage and Tagliani was out of the race on the spot.
Once the cars restarted, the leaders only had one green lap before they had to pit due to the mandatory pit window, putting Andretti and Papis in front again. Fernandez spun in turn three to lose a few positions when he got back on course, then Mario Dominguez put his car into the tires at turn 1. When the full course caution was called to remove it from the tires, Andretti and Papis ducked into the pits for their final mandatory stops and kept the front two spots when they came out. Once the cars restarted, Fittipaldi was called in to serve a penalty for running over his teammate's air hose on his last pit stop, and the transmission broke on his car as he tried to return. Andretti took off to build a 4 second lead, while Vasser, Brack, Jourdain, Tagaki and Oriol Servia were held up behind Papis. On lap 72 (of 90), Papis tapped the wall in the chicane, slowing him just enough for Vasser to make it by. Vasser then charged after Andretti, making up over 0.5 seconds each lap while Brack and those behind were still stacked up behind Papis' Lola. With 10 laps remaining, Servia's engine expired and he came to a stop between turns 7 and 8, bringing out the sixth and final caution. Andretti used a good jump to pull away on the restart, so Vasser could not pull off a pass in turn one. Vasser was back on Andretti's tail within a lap but could not make a pass.