ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix Notebook Detroit, MI (June 3, 1998) -- While Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) drove to victory in last year's ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on The Raceway at Belle Isle, the real story of the...
ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix Notebook
Detroit, MI (June 3, 1998) -- While Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) drove to victory in last year's ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on The Raceway at Belle Isle, the real story of the race was the PacWest Racing Group driving tandem of Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes).
PacWest had been without a victory in a combined 112 FedEx Championship Series starts spread over five seasons, but as the last of 77 laps began at Detroit, Gugelmin was leading and Blundell was running second.
Both drivers had pitted for fuel on Lap 34 and were trying to complete the race on a one-stop strategy. Each of the other 15 drivers on the lead lap had pitted at least twice.
But a race which saw five full-course caution flags fly in the first 52 laps suddenly went caution-free and PacWest's strategy failed in heartbreaking fashion when Gugelmin ran out of fuel on the backstretch, yielding the lead to Blundell, who ran out a few moments later, coasting to a stop a few hundred feet from the checkered flag.
"One more pint of fuel and we would have been in the winner's circle," Blundell remembered. "It was a tremendous disappointment, especially getting so close. I saw Mauricio stop, but I honestly thought we would make it to the end."
Even though they didn't, Gugelmin pointed to the race as a turning point for the team. "Detroit 1997 was definitely the race that put the team on the map," he said. "It was the first time people looked at PacWest and said, 'Hey, these guys can really win.' And we proved it throughout the rest of the season.
"We took a big chance and it very nearly paid off. The competition in CART is so tough, you have to look for those small advantages anywhere you can. Even if you take a gamble and it fails, it still send a message to the competition."
For his part, Moore still finds last year's finish incredible. "The last lap was unbelievable," he said. "[When it began] I thought, 'Okay, I'm on the podium.' Then Mo [Gugelmin] ran out of fuel, then Mark did. Suddenly, the race was mine. I was already thrilled about my first CART victory the weekend before at Milwaukee, but to win the Detroit Grand Prix, my second straight win, was special."
Following the disappointment of Detroit, PacWest proved to be one of CART's dominant teams over the remainder of the '97 season, winning four of the final nine events. Blundell won at Portland, Toronto and California Speedway while Gugelmin was victorious at Vancouver.
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