FERNANDEZ CAPTURES FIRST CAREER VICTORY IN TRAGIC MOLSON INDY TORONTO
TORONTO (July 14, 1996) -- Triumph and tragedy described the closing of the Molson Indy Toronto on Sunday as the overall emotion of Adrian Fernandez's first career IndyCar victory was tempered by the deaths of rookie driver Jeff Krosnoff and a track marshal.
Fernandez, in his fourth IndyCar season, completed his run for his inaugural victory under red-flag conditions as a result of the tragic multi-car accident involving Krosnoff, Stefan Johansson and polesitter Andre Ribeiro. The incident on the 1.784-mile temporary road course at Exhibition Place occurred in Turn 3 with three laps remaining in the 95-lap event.
"I went to brake for Turn 3 and, suddenly, I saw an engine and transmission deposited in my right suspension," said Emerson Fittipaldi, who got caught up in the debris from the incident. "It was Krosnoff's car, which was upside down in the barrier. I pulled into the escape road and retired there. The scene at Turn 3 was chaotic. It is very sad."
Krosnoff, 31, was extracted from the car by the IndyCar safety team and rushed by ambulance to Western Hospital in Toronto. According to Dr. Steve Olvey, IndyCar's director of medical affairs, Krosnoff was pronounced dead at 4:20 p.m. ET, the result of massive head injuries and other multiple fractures. An airway was established at the scene, but all attempts at resuscitation failed. He was in full traumatic arrest at the time the IndyCar safety crew arrived at the scene.
"It's a tragic loss for the entire Arciero-Wells organization," said Cal Wells III, co-owner of Arciero-Wells Racing. "Jeff was an outstanding person as well as a race-car driver. He will be sorely missed."
Track marshal Gary Avrin also was killed in the incident and another marshal, Barbara Johnston, was injured and transported to St. Michael's Hospital for medical treatment. She was released Sunday evening.
Neither Johansson, Ribeiro nor Fittipaldi was injured in the incident.
"Everyone within the IndyCar community is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Jeff Krosnoff and Gary Avrin during the Molson Indy Toronto," said Andrew Craig, IndyCar president and chief executive officer. "Jeff was an immensely talented race driver, respected and liked by everyone who knew him. He will be greatly missed by us all. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Jeff's wife, Tracy, to his parents, Jack and Jeanne, and to his family and many friends. Additionally, our thoughts are with the Avrin family on the tragic loss of Gary."
Krosnoff was the second fatality in Indy Car racing this season, following Scott Brayton's death from a May 17 practice accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first driver death in IndyCar/CART-sanctioned competition since Jim Hickman died during practice at The Milwaukee Mile in June of 1982.
The multi-car accident covered the track with debris and caused the race to be red-flagged and cut short by two laps with Fernandez in front. Fernandez, driving the Tecate Beer/Quaker State Lola Honda for Tasman Motorsports, had been prepared for a late-race, multi-car battle when engine problems left Michael Andretti's Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford idle on the course and brought a caution flag on Lap 84.
The caution bunched the field, leaving 10 cars within six seconds of the lead that Fernandez was protecting. Fernandez was able to fend off the trio of rookie Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), Bobby Rahal (Miller Reynard Mercedes) and Paul Tracy (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) that was situated directly behind him during the restart on Lap 89.
Fernandez held a 1.98-second advantage over Zanardi and 2.14-edge over Rahal on Lap 91, and the accident occurred on the ensuing lap. With the course going to red-flag conditions, Fernandez was credited with a 1.950-second victory over Zanardi. Fernandez, who averaged 97.598 miles per hour in a race that had three caution periods for 10 laps, became the first Mexican to win a PPG Indy Car World Series event since Hector Rebaque won at Elkhart Lake, Wis. in 1982.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time. I owe it to the guys," Fernandez said afterward. "They did a great job. I love the guys from Tasman. Without I wouldn't be here. I just hope everybody's fine. I just pray for everybody on the track."
Zanardi, who started second, was dominant in the early going as he led all but two of the first 65 laps. He relinquished the lead on Lap 66 when he pitted for fuel and tires and his closest pursuers exchanged the lead over the next several laps.
Rahal took over the lead for the first time this season, and held it for one lap before he needed to pit. Fernandez grabbed the lead, marking only the second time in his career that he had led, and also maintained it for just one lap before needing to pit.
Canadian rookie Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) moved into the top position, but he also would be forced to relinquish it for a pit stop. Moore held the advantage for 10 laps before pitting and handing it over to Fernandez. Fernandez, who led for one lap at the Molson Indy Vancouver in 1994, gained control and held on for his first victory in 48 starts.
Zanardi earned his second consecutive runner-up finish and third podium appearance in a row to vault into a tie in the Rookie of the Year points race. Zanardi, who led a race-high 63 laps, is tied with Moore with 72 points each.
"Second place is great," Zanardi said. "We led the most laps and scored 17 points, so I'm happy."
Rahal captured his season-best finish with a third-place showing. It was his first podium finish since taking second here at Toronto a year ago.
"It's been a long season. For us, it's our best finish of the year so we're pretty happy," Rahal said. "This track has always been very, very good to me. Good things always seem to happen to us here. I want to thank my crew for a great day."
Moore, bidding for his first victory with the backing of his home country, had a strong performance and finished fourth. He led 12 laps en route to his fifth top-five showing of the season. Moore was followed by another Canadian as Tracy took fifth place. It was his fourth finish among the top five this season.
Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Mercedes) followed his season-best fifth-place effort at Cleveland with a sixth-place performance on Sunday. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart/Budweiser Lola Ford) was seventh to give him eight finishes of seventh or better in 11 races this season.
Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) was able to extend his PPG Cup points lead with an eighth-place finish. With his closest competitors in the race failing to gain any PPG Cup points, Vasser pushed his lead to eight,107-99, over Al Unser Jr. (13th, Marlboro Penske Mercedes) and Gil de Ferran (18th, Pennzoil Special Reynard Honda).
Robby Gordon (Valvoline/Cummins/Craftsman Reynard Ford) took ninth for his second-best effort of the season. It is bettered only by a third-place finish at the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami. Scott Pruett (Firestone Patrick Racing Lola Ford) earned his third top-10 showing in the past four races and seventh overall on the season. The PacWest tandem of rookie Mark Blundell (VISA/PacWest Reynard Ford) and Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood/PacWest Reynard Ford) captured the final two PPG Cup points positions. Blundell finished 11th for the second consecutive race and Gugelmin had his best performance (12th) since finishing runner-up at the U.S. 500.
A replay of the Molson Indy Toronto will be shown by ESPN on Monday, July 15, at 1 p.m. The PPG Indy Car World Series will return to Michigan International Speedway for Round 12 on July 28 with the Marlboro 500.