Ribeiro Storms Back From Early Penalty To Win The Marlboro 500
BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 28, 1996) -- Andre Ribeiro found himself screaming in frustration at the outset of the Marlboro 500, but by the conclusion of Sunday's race those screams changed into those of jubilation.
Ribeiro overcame the early sting of a blend violation penalty with a dramatic run from the rear of the pack in the LCI International Lola Honda to capture the Marlboro 500 at Michigan International Speedway. Ribeiro, who averaged 152.627 miles per hour, earned a 1.378-second win over runner-up Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Mercedes) for his second victory of the PPG Indy Car World Series season.
Ribeiro, who started eighth, watched his positioning completely disappear after 15 laps following an unscheduled pit stop for flat-spotted tires caused by locking up his brakes to avoid an accident on the first lap. He was penalized for incorrectly blending into the field when he exited the pits, sending him to the rear of the pack in 24th place. The setback upset the second-year Brazilian driver, but it did not unnerve him as he stormed back among the top five within 31 laps of the penalty and then sat in position to strike when the contenders encountered misfortune.
With challengers such as rookie Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) and defending Marlboro 500 champion Scott Pruett (Firestone Patrick Racing Lola Ford) having impressive runs end prematurely, Ribeiro took complete control with 15 laps remaining in the 250-lap event and secured the second consecutive victory for Tasman Motorsports. Ribeiro followed the lead of Adrian Fernandez, who won the previous PPG Indy Car World Series event at Toronto, and helped Tasman become only the second team -- Penske Racing was the other -- since last season to have teammates win back-to-back races.
"I was screaming inside the car because I had to go to the end of the line. I didn't like it," said Ribeiro, whose previous victory this season came at the Rio 400 in March. "I had a fantastic race. The car was strong and fast for 500 miles. It was a very good and very reliable car."
The excitement of Ribeiro's triumph back in his homeland was tempered by the opening-lap accident involving the country's legendary driver, Emerson Fittipaldi (Marlboro Hogan Penske Mercedes). Fittipaldi and rookie Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) had contact in Turn 2, causing an accident that sent Fittipaldi into the wall. Fittipaldi sustained a fracture to a cervical vertebra and his left shoulder blade as well as a partially collapsed and bruised left lung. He is in serious but stable condition at St. Joseph's Hospital in Ann Arbor. He is scheduled for surgery for the vertebra injury later this week.
Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), who won the Marlboro Pole Award with a track record speed of 234.665 miles per hour, held the lead through the caution period and one lap thereafter before his Target/Chip Ganassi rookie teammate Alex Zanardi seized the lead on Lap 16. Zanardi exchanged the lead with Moore and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford) through the next 56 laps before taking control.
Zanardi, chasing his second victory, stayed in front for 56 laps, but he made contact with the wall in Turn 4 on Lap 128 and was forced to retire after leading 74 laps. The accident also had a major effect on Gil de Ferran (Pennzoil Special Reynard Honda), who was running third at the time of the incident. An airborne tire off Zanardi's car clipped de Ferran's rear wing and broke a side plate, robbing him of the aerodynamics to stay up front. He later retired with suspension damage.
Ribeiro moved into the lead, but found Fernandez (Tecate Beer/Quaker State Lola Honda) in his rear-view mirrors. The Tasman duo was running in the top two slots, but the shootout between teammates never materialized after the leaders went in for a routine pit on Lap 169. Fernandez incurred a clutch problem during the stop and never returned. That left Ribeiro to deal with Pruett, who engaged in some thrilling wheel-to-wheel racing with the leader in the late stages. Pruett overtook Ribeiro for the lead with a high pass in Turn 2 with 20 laps left, but Ribeiro returned the favor five laps later and regained the lead with a strong pass heading into Turn 3.
A caution flag came out on Lap 235 for a single-car accident involving Parker Johnstone (Motorola Reynard Honda), who sustained bruised knees from the incident and spent the evening at Foote Hospital in Jackson. Pruett had the advantage of the field being bunched and reducing Ribeiro's lead with a restart, but he had engine problems during the caution period and retired with nine laps remaining. The race went green on the ensuing lap and Ribeiro had Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood/PacWest Reynard Ford), Herta and Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), respectively, in pursuit.
Herta overtook Gugelmin with seven laps left, but did not have enough to reel in Ribeiro. The second-place finish for Herta, however, equaled his career-best performance which came at Cleveland last season. It also gave him his third consecutive showing among the top six.
"The draft is so important here. I got in Mo's [Gugelmin's] draft and I zigged the right way and moved into second place," Herta said. "At the end of the race, we took out a lot of drag, which we had put in the middle, when we put in the Gurney flap. It was Andre Ribeiro's day to win. I'm happy."
Gugelmin finished third on the 2-mile oval, which quickly may become his favorite venue on the circuit. He previously matched his career-best performance of second during The Inaugural U.S. 500 in May, making this the site of his only podium appearances of the season.
"I probably had one of the best cars I've ever had in terms of balance," Gugelmin said. "It was a decent day. I was pressing the throttle so hard today that my right leg fell asleep, and I had to switch to my left foot sometimes because I kept so much pressure on my right foot. But I think we got about as much out of this package as we're going to get."
Unser Jr. used a fourth-place to edge the closest he has been this season to Vasser, the PPG Cup points leader. Unser Jr. trails Vasser, who finished ninth, by a point, 112-111, in the PPG Cup championship. It was Unser Jr.'s seventh top-four showing of the season and third time in the past four events he has finished in that exact position.
Stefan Johansson (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) registered a season-best fifth-place showing. It was Johansson's best performance on an oval since taking third at Nazareth last season. Rookie Mark Blundell (VISA/PacWest Reynard Ford) continued to enjoy success in the state of Michigan. Blundell, who finished a season-best fifth at the U.S. 500 and a strong sixth at Detroit, added another sixth-place showing in the state.
Raul Boesel (Brahma Sports Team Reynard Ford), who had finished ninth or better in four of his last five Marlboro 500 appearances, matched his season-best outing by taking seventh. It was his best effort since finishing in the same slot at Rio in March. Robby Gordon (Valvoline/Cummins/Craftsman Reynard Ford) continued to bounce back from a disappointing first half. Gordon finished eighth for his second consecutive top-nine showing and a performance second only to his third at the season opener in Miami.
Vasser was able to maintain the PPG Cup points lead by virtue of a ninth-place finish that earned him four points. The showing was his third consecutive among the top 10. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart/Budweiser Lola Ford) increased a impressive streak of consecutive top-10 finishes. With a 10th-place finish, Fittipaldi earned his sixth in a row and 10th in 12 races.
Eliseo Salazar (Cristal/Copec/Mobil 1 Lola Ford) made a strong return after bypassing the past two events with a season-best 11th-place finish. Davy Jones (Delco Electronics Lola Mercedes), making his PPG Indy Car World Series season debut in place of rookie Eddie Lawson, took the final points position with a 12th-place showing.
The Michigan 500 will be re-aired by ESPN on Monday, July 29, beginning at 1 p.m. ET. The PPG Indy Car World Series will return to the road course circuits next when it travels to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Miller 200 on Aug. 11.