Cleveland, Ohio, July 2, 2000 - Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti drove as high as second place from his fourth place start to finish fourth despite a header failure that caused him to lose engine boost and barely make it to the...
Cleveland, Ohio, July 2, 2000 - Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti drove as high as second place from his fourth place start to finish fourth despite a header failure that caused him to lose engine boost and barely make it to the end of the 100-lap Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. Andretti started the race in fourth place and narrowly missed being included in a massive pileup in the first turn of the first lap of the race. (Note: CART officials, for the first time, narrowed the course with cones at Turn 1 for only the first turn of the first lap in an effort to prevent cars from going through six- and seven-wide.) Andretti was in second place heading into turn one when second place starter Gil de Ferran and third place starter Mauricio Gugelmin caught back up with him and they went into the corner three wide. Gugelmin and Andretti came into contact but continued. Seventh place starter Bryan Herta reportedly hit the rear of Cristiano da Matta and the rest of the field behind them were forced to take evasive action, which caused a huge pileup.
The caution flag came out and Andretti remained in fourth place. The race was restarted on lap six and Andretti was able to pass Gugelmin for third place in turn eight. He held third place until he moved into second when race leader and polesitter Roberto Moreno made his stop on lap 34. Andretti pitted on the next lap and returned to the race in eighth place behind four drivers who were out of pit sequence or fourth place of those in regular pit sequence. Paul Tracy was able to pass Andretti during the pit stops but on lap 41, he pulled off course and Andretti moved up to seventh place. Andretti moved into third place by lap 44 after Jimmy Vasser, Herta, Norberto Fontana and Max Papis made their stops out of sequence. He was four seconds behind second place runner Gil de Ferran and began to move in on him for position and closed the gap to one second a few laps later to pass him on lap 54 for second place. He held second place while conserving fuel in order to complete the race in two stops. He held a three-second lead on third place runner Kenny Brack but was running lean on fuel and Brack caught up to him by lap 61 to successfully pass him when Andretti went over a bump and got slightly off line. Andretti held third place until Brack pitted on lap 66.
He held the lead for a few seconds when race leader Roberto Moreno pit on lap 67 but Andretti also pitted. Andretti returned to the track on cold tires but made a pass on Montoya although the Colombian was able to get back by on his hot tires. Andretti was in fourth place with Dario Franchitti immediately behind him in hot pursuit. He held his position until the yellow flag briefly came out on lap 78 after Alex Tagliani stalled on course and had to be restarted. Second place Juan Montoya pit for a splash of fuel before the race was restarted on lap 81 with Andretti in third place. On lap 82, Andretti attempted to pass second place runner Kenny Brack and was alongside him on the outside of turn one when Brack failed to leave him room and squeezed him off the course, into the grass and ultimately off the podium. Because of the fact that Andretti had no traction on the grass, Franchitti and da Matta were also able to pass him and drop him to fifth place. He held fifth place until lap 93 when he passed third place runner Franchitti, who later returned with an unspecified mechanical problem. He was holding his position when CART officials reported smoke coming from the rear of his car with a few laps to go. Meanwhile, in the pits, the telemetry indicated that Andretti was losing engine boost. Andretti was able to take the checkered flag in fourth place behind first time CART winner Roberto Moreno, Brack and da Matta and drove his smoking car back to the pits. He collected 12 (of 22 maximum) points and moved into second place in the Championship to first time race winner and pole sitter Roberto Moreno. Following are his post race comments:
"We had an oil pump problem this morning and had to rush to change the engine for the race," said Andretti. "The guys in the pits knew I was losing power about eight or nine laps to go. The (exhaust) header went and caused the engine to lose power and the car was not handling well. I didn't know what the problem was until they told me. I was lucky how it ended up. At least the car worked long enough to finish the race. It was close though. At the start, Mo (Gugelmin) drove right into me. Brack did the same thing on the last restart and pushed me off onto the grass. I would have given him more room. I had no traction and it allowed Dario and (Cristiano) da Matta to get by.
(On Moreno's victory:) "Roberto is young at heart. You wouldn't think he is 41. It doesn't surprise me that he won. He drove a good race and has most of the season. He is the most consistent guy right now and that's how you win championships. Right now the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline team is only 22 points out of first place and that is much better than where we would have been if we did not make it to the checkered flag."
- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi charged from 13th place start into third but his hopes of a back-to-back podium finish came to and end when smoke began coming from the back of his car on lap 58 of the 100-lap Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. Fittipaldi was second fastest in the Friday morning practice session behind teammate Andretti but the team struggled to find a good balance in the race car in the qualifying session on Friday and final qualifying on Saturday with Fittipaldi ultimately qualifying 13th fastest. In the race, he was able to masterfully avoid the accident in turn one at the start and moved up five positions into eighth place. When the race was restarted on the sixth lap, he held his position as well as held off drivers such as Juan Montoya while saving fuel in order to complete the race in two pit stops. He moved into seventh place when previous seventh place runner Jimmy Vasser (and three others) pit during a caution period on lap 13.
On the restart, Fittipaldi passed Mauricio Gugelmin for sixth place. He held his position and held off charges by Montoya while trying to gain on Paul Tracy. By lap 22, he gained on Tracy and pulled beside him on the inside of turn one but Tracy was able to pull ahead again. He held sixth place until he moved into fifth on lap 31 when fourth place runner Adrian Fernandez ran off course. He made his first pit stop on lap 35 and returned to the race in ninth place overall and fifth of those on the regular pit sequence. He moved into eighth place when sixth place runner Paul Tracy went off course on lap 42. After the other made their stops out of sequence, Fittipaldi moved into fourth place behind race leader Moreno, Gil de Ferran and teammate Michael Andretti. He ran as close as three-tenths of a second behind Andretti at times and passed previous second place runner de Ferran on lap 54 for third place. He was maintaining his two-second lead on ultimate second place finisher Kenny Brack on lap 58 when CART officials reported smoke coming from the rear of the No. 11 Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford. Fittipaldi subsequently pulled off course at turn eight and ultimately finished in 17th place and without valuable points toward the championship. Following are his comments:
"Both cars had an oil pump problem this morning so we started the race with new engines that hadn't even ran a lap," said Fittipaldi. "At one point in the race, it looked like Newman/Haas was going to bounce back and have two cars on the podium and be looking good for the Championship points but that was ultimately not the case. It was a different problem than this morning but we aren't totally sure what it was but it was a top-end failure. I knew it was going to break because I heard the valves vibrating about two laps before it went. It started to lose power and then it went. Considering where we qualified - which was a nightmare - we were running strong and got up to third place. On some stages of the track, we were quicker than Michael was but we were trying to save fuel. It's a huge disappointment because of the amount of points we were capable of getting toward the Championship. We lost a lot of ground today."
- Next on the Schedule: Round 10 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship series takes place in two weeks at the Molson Indy Toronto. A win in Toronto would break a personal tie for Andretti who has five victories each at the Milwaukee oval and Toronto street course. Fittipaldi scored a third place podium finish in Toronto last year.