Motorsport News International Toronto Canada July 19 1998 In the end, the 1998 Molson Indy went horribly wrong for Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard-Honda). The weekend had been a dream, complete with a pole position, a lead from the first...
Motorsport News International Toronto Canada July 19 1998
In the end, the 1998 Molson Indy went horribly wrong for Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard-Honda). The weekend had been a dream, complete with a pole position, a lead from the first chequered flag, now up to over 12 seconds over Michael Andretti (K-Mart Swift-Ford) in second - and a CBR600 for the weekend, courtesy of Honda Canada, to tool around in.
On lap 80, though, it all fell apart. As he rounded the first corner of the street circuit, his brake pedal went all the way to the floor, with the brake fluid spreading on the track. Trying to stay away from the tyre barriers, he spun the his car, ending up perpendicular to the racing line, and blocking most of the track. "He was in a class of his own," conceded Andretti.
The marshals brought out the yellow flags at the corner, but the drivers felt that a greater effort should have been made to warn them of the blocked track. "There was no sense of urgency to the flags," said Paul Tracy, who ended up T-boning the stranded Reynard. Vasser added that "they were just waving the flag non-chalantly."
Andretti squeezed past the nose of Franchitti's car, barely touching the car with his rear tire, but as Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard-Honda) tried to follow, he tapped the nose with his rear tyres. "Someone told me it was in Turn 3 ... and I had too much speed, I was on the concrete patch when I saw Dario and I couldn't control the car." He ended up just clipping Franchitti's nose, taking off a four-inch piece of the nosecone. This allowed Vasser's team-mate and championship leader, Alex Zanardi, to move past Vasser into what was now second place.
Zanardi had spent some time before the race giving tips to Vasser on making full use of the track - not counting on ending up behind him. But despite Zanardi starting second, Vasser had claimed that place on lap 26 when Zanardi was trapped behind Al Unser Jr (Marlboro Penske-Mercedes) in the aftermath of a Michael Jourdain Jr - Adrian Fernandez collision.
Now Zanardi was having to deal with his own advice: "I was trying to put pressure on Jimmy ... Jimmy was an obstacle ... I felt I was a touch faster then Jimmy." But the lessons had obviously been memorable: "I know I did everything I could ... I tried my hardest and it just wasn't enough. I was laughing ... [Vasser was] all over the place."
Vasser had been unable to make an impression on Andretti, with the veteran Newman-Haas pilot being able to easily maintain a gap of 2-3 seconds, but by the time Zanardi took over from Vasser, the race was on, as Andretti's rear Goodyears began to give up the ghost. As the two drivers kept pushing the limits, a vibration held Vasser back. He fell behind by a second, two and was quickly almost ten seconds off the leaders.
The final ten laps ended up containing most of the excitement of the race, with Zanardi hounding Andretti relentlessly around the circuit. The Newman-Haas driver's tyres were deteriorating quickly towards the end of the race. "I was good until the last five or six laps ... and then I was a sitting duck," said Andretti.
Finally, on the third last lap, Zanardi made a decisive move on the inside of Andretti at the end of the Lakeshore straight. Andretti's choices at this point were limited to yielding the corner or to taking out both cars. He correctly decided that in this case discretion was the better part of valour, and conceded the lead to Zanardi. "I was all locked up. I thought I was going to spin. I was not about to hit him. [..] And that was the race."
The Italian continued to press, and at chequered flag was 1.921 seconds clear of Andretti. And after his fourth victory in a row, it was time to do his now traditional "doughnuts" in front of the pits. And he certainly had cause to celebrate - he now holds an unprecedented 67-point lead over his team-mate in the championship race.
As it turned out, he had won the race with a spare Honda engine - one otherwise destined for Franchitti - after his own had expired in the morning warmup. And this after winning Mid-Ohio with Parker Johnstone's spare engine...
Now it's on to Michigan, a high-speed oval where all the cards will be reshuffled. Will Zanardi be able to set a record with five consecutive victories? Will he be able to help Italy catch the US in the Nations' Cup? Will Goodyear have the tyres to match Firestone on the ovals? Only time will tell.
Bring on Michigan and the Handford Wing!
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