CHAMPCAR/CART: Andretti, Fittipaldi Michigan race notes

July 23, 2000 --- Brooklyn, Michigan - Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti narrowly missed scoring his third win in a 500-mile race and finished second to Juan Montoya after officially leading 58 laps (second most) in the...

July 23, 2000 --- Brooklyn, Michigan - Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti narrowly missed scoring his third win in a 500-mile race and finished second to Juan Montoya after officially leading 58 laps (second most) in the Michigan 500, a Championship Auto Racing Teams race that saw 52 lead changes by 11 different drivers.

Although Andretti was only credited with leading 58 laps, he actually led a considerable number more since he took the lead in turn one but swapped positions with many drivers before the start/finish line where the lap leader is officially recorded in a race that was unquestionably one of the most competitive in the history of CART.

On the start, Andretti challenged seventh place starter Juan Montoya for first place after both passed polesitter Paul Tracy. He and Montoya swapped positions until Andretti officially took the lead for laps 17 and 18 before handing it back to Montoya who then handed the lead to Helio Castroneves after a few laps. Andretti ran in the top two positions until lap 20 when he dropped back to sixth place to conserve fuel. All teams and drivers knew that it would be costly to lead too many laps, as it would take more fuel to do so. Andretti reported to the crew that he needed more downforce on the first stop and dropped to eighth place before making his first stop on lap 38. He returned to the race in eighth place but was back up to third by lap 58 and was again challenging Montoya and teammate Fittipaldi for second place. He again took the lead from laps 62-67 before being passed by Castroneves, who ultimately led a race high 85 laps but had to make an extra stop at the end of the race for a splash of fuel. He regained the lead for 10 laps from 69 to 78 and made his second pit stop on lap 79.

His vent and airjack men became tangled and slid as the car approached but the stop was completed without a problem. He returned to the track but the crew immediately informed him that he might have a tire deflating and would need to come back in. The issue became a false alarm as the tire pressure came back up to a safe range. During the temporary crisis, Andretti backed off of the throttle and dropped to 16th place but was back into 10th by lap 82. On lap 90, he dropped back to 16th place while conserving fuel but moved back into seventh place on lap 100 and into 10th place from laps 101-108. He moved into second place on lap 121 and into the lead on lap 127 for three laps. Until lap 140, he ran no lower than second place and occasionally led. He made his third pit stop on lap 142 and returned to the race in 11th place and began working his way back up to second place by lap 144 while challenging Fittipaldi, Montoya, Castroneves and Max Papis for position. He led laps 145 to 154 before turning over the lead to Alex Tagliani, who crashed a few laps later.

He ran between positions two through nine for the following 51 laps through his fifth pit stop on lap 164 before regaining the lead on lap 207. He made his sixth stop on lap 210 and returned to the track to maintain a position within the lead pack while conserving enough fuel to finish the race without another stop. He ran in eighth place until lap 219 when he moved up to sixth place after passing Paul Tracy and Max Papis. He moved into fourth place on lap 225 and into third place on lap 227 behind temporary race leader Adrian Fernandez and Patrick Carpentier. He regained the lead on lap 230 and held it until lap 237 when he was passed by Juan Montoya, who had been racing side-by-side with Andretti. For the remaining 13 laps, Andretti and Montoya raced side-by-side on every lap.

Andretti was leading when the white flag came out to signify the start of the final lap. He let Montoya take the lead into turn one so that he could use the draft caused by his car to retake the lead heading into turn three. Andretti came out of turn three with a slight lead but the two were approaching the lapped car of Tarso Marques. Andretti was running the high line on the race track and came up behind Marques but was not lined up enough with him to get a powerful draft that would push him ahead of Montoya. Montoya took the checkered flag 0.04-seconds ahead of Andretti, who scored 16 points toward the championship and moved 14 points ahead of previous points leader Roberto Moreno to take over first place. It was Andretti's first podium at Michigan since winning in 1989.

Following are his post race comments:

"The race came down to a lapped car," said Andretti, who drove the second fastest race lap. "Tarso had a choice of whether he was going to help me or Juan and he chose Juan. He went high and gave the tow to Juan. We were both fighting for his draft. I knew that if Juan and I could separate from the pack it would be a shootout between the two of us. Everything was working out the way we had planned. We were keeping up with the pack for most of the race and conserving a lot of fuel to be in the hunt in the end and we were. I wanted Juan to lead through one and I would get back by in three. I came off of turn four really strong. Everything was going as planned until we came upon Tarso. He had been running low all day so I thought he was going to go low but he went high. I thought he would go to the middle and we would win. Instead, he stayed up really high to stay out of our way but by doing that he allowed Juan to get a tow and that was the difference. If he would have just gone down one half of a car width on the track we could have won. Juan and I were racing clean and giving each other room. I tried to take care of him and give him room and he did the same. It was a fun finish for the fans. I'm very happy to bring the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline car home today in the points and take the Championship lead. I said that finishing this race was going to be instrumental for the Championship and I am so happy to have a strong race today. What a disappointment to be so close and not win."

- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi led the Michigan 500 four times for a total of 13 laps although no one wanted to lead the race except for the final lap in order to conserve fuel and be the recipient of the air draft. Ultimately Fittipaldi went off track to avoid hitting the cars that were closely running together in a draft on the 221st lap of 250 when those ahead of him lifted off of the throttle and cut the gap between cars dangerously close. At the beginning of the race, Fittipaldi dropped from his third place start into seventh place after Montoya, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti and Kenny Brack passed him. Patrick Carpentier passed Fititpaldi on lap two and he dropped to eighth place. By lap six, he moved into sixth place and into fourth on lap nine. He ran in the top five for the next 24 laps when he moved into second place on lap 34 and into the lead for laps 35-37. For the following 13 laps, he ran in the top five before taking the lead again from 51 to 56. He ran in the top-five for the next 22 laps and steadily worked his way back into the lead for laps 79-81 before his second pit stop on lap 82. For the next 15 laps, he ran mostly in the top-four positions and began racing side-by-side with Kenny Brack. On lap 98, Brack and Fittipaldi made side-to-side contact with Brack hitting the wall on the backstretch. Fittipaldi immediately reported to the crew that he had a punctured tire from debris. As is standard procedure, the caution flag came out and the pits were closed. Fittipaldi had no choice but to enter the closed pits for new tires and did so on lap 98. When the pits opened on lap 100, Fittipaldi pitted with the field for fuel. He returned to the race in 14th place but had to go to the back of the field (16th place) for the restart but remained on the lead lap. He ran in 16th place for nine laps before he started to move up the field. By lap 119, he had worked his way into 10th place. He moved between 10th and 11th place for the following 12 laps and into eighth place for five laps before moving up to fifth place by lap 140, led lap 142 and made his fifth pit stop on lap 143. He returned to the race in fifth place, which he held for the following 16 laps while frequently racing Max Papis wheel to wheel. On lap 161, race leader Alex Tagliani crashed which brought out the yellow flag. Fittipaldi made his sixth pit stop on lap 164 and topped off his fuel tank. He returned to the race in sixth place but temporarily dropped to eighth place on the restart on lap 170. He moved up to seventh place after passing Dario Franchitti on lap 174. He ran in the top-seven for the next 22 laps and jumped into second place on laps 196 and 197. As the team encouraged him to save fuel, he moved back down and ran between fourth and sixth place until his seventh pit stop on lap 209. He returned to the race and drove between fifth and seventh place before briefly jumping into the lead on laps 219 and 219 although he was not credited for leading them since he did not cross the start/finish line in the lead. The crew immediately radioed Fittipaldi to remind him that it was not good to lead the race since he would use more fuel and not be able to complete the race without pitting again. He lifted off of the throttle so that others could pass him for the lead and he dropped back to third place. He dropped back a few more positions and was running in a close pack of cars when he pulled out of the pack on the inside and the lost control of the car and flew across the infield grass before he came to a stop at the bottom of turn three. Due to the violent nature of sliding across the grass at high speeds, Fittipaldi sustained minor bruising to the inside of both legs and was taken to the CART Medical Center for precautionary reasons but was released soon thereafter. Following are his post race comments:

"They started shouting 'don't lead, don't lead' so I backed off and gave up the lead," said Fittipaldi who drove the fourth fastest race lap. "You would burn too much fuel when you led so I lifted to let everyone by. When I went off, the whole pack had lifted cause no one wanted to be in front. I've never seen anything like it before in racing. Imagine a race where you lift because you don't want to lead. I was running close to Michael so I had to get on the brakes or I would have hit him. I stood on the brakes and pulled out from behind the pack and then went off. I don't know why I went off. I spun very easily though. I was very lucky. Other than the accident, this was another race that we were competitive in but have nothing to show for it in terms of points. The Big Kmart car was very good on the first stint and we kept changing it. After dropping to 16th, we came back up and were back in contention. The car was very good. It's a shame how it turned out."

- Next on the Schedule Round 12 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship series takes place next week at Chicago Motor Speedway. Andretti charged from 18th place into fourth and was attempting a pass on Paul Tracy for third place in the inaugural running before the two collided. The 2000 race will be the first for Fittipaldi in Chicago as last year's event was one of five he missed while recovering from a subdural hemitoma from a crash caused by transmission failure while testing.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Tarso Marques , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack