CHAMPCAR/CART: Gold Coast Mercedes Race Report

Lehto Scores Top-Five Finish In Gold Coast Indy Australia Mercedes-Benz Powers Five of Top 12 JJ Lehto posted the first top-five finish of his Champ Car career at the Gold Coast Indy in Surfers Paradise, Australia. Capitalizing on the ...

Lehto Scores Top-Five Finish In Gold Coast Indy Australia Mercedes-Benz Powers Five of Top 12

JJ Lehto posted the first top-five finish of his Champ Car career at the Gold Coast Indy in Surfers Paradise, Australia. Capitalizing on the fuel efficiency of the Mercedes-Benz IC108E engine, the CART rookie combined a strong, clean drive with good pit stop strategy to lead the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Team on the 2.795-mile street circuit.

Lehto's Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes was the first of three Mercedes-powered cars among the top 10 and the first of five among the top 12. Alex Zanardi won the race, which was shortened from 65 to 62 laps as seven yellow flag caution periods threatened to extend the event beyond the CART-mandated two-hour time limit.

Player's/Forsythe Racing driver Greg Moore overcame adversity to finish eighth. Early in the race, the brake pedal on his Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes broke off, lodging itself underneath the accelerator. Moore pitted under caution on lap 22 to allow his crew to remove the piece, then clawed his way back through the field, despite the handicap of the broken pedal.

Moore's teammate Patrick Carpentier also enjoyed a top 10 finish. Choosing not to pit when most of the rest of the field did during the first caution period, Carpentier moved up from 16th on the starting grid to run sixth. After several close battles, one of them with his teammate Moore, Carpentier finished ninth.

PacWest Racing also employed the Mercedes V8's fuel efficiency, combating handling problems with good pit stop strategy. Motorola driver Mark Blundell, who started 17th, finished 11th, and Mauricio Gugelmin, who started the Hollywood car 21st, finished 12th. A similar plan helped Marlboro Team Penske's Andre Ribeiro move up from 22nd on the starting grid to 13th at the finish.

After running among the top 10, surviving a close call with Jimmy Vasser and nearly being black flagged by CART when his car began inexplicably smoking, Team Alumax rookie Helio Castro-Neves crashed out of the race on lap 54. He was ranked 21st at the end.

Al Unser Jr. and his Marlboro Team Penske crew persevered through two incidents, with Unser returning to the race after lengthy pit stops to repair suspension damage. He finished 22nd.

Mercedes Quotes

JJ Lehto, No. 9, Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Fifth

"I'm very happy. We stayed out of trouble, and we were quite competitive. We weren't losing to anybody today. I was really happy with the car in the morning and during the race. It was really hard to pass anybody on the track, but we had very good pit stops and made no mistakes. We were a bit tight on fuel at the end, but we made our decision to run lean and gamble. It's a good boost for the team. Every time we've had a good race going this season, we'd have bad luck. But this time, everything went okay."

Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Eighth

"The pad on the brake pedal broke off and got stuck behind the accelerator. I was just worried it would come loose and get behind the brake. Once we made that extra pit stop to pull the pad out, we were just playing catch-up. We were running really lean to conserve fuel, but we were quick through the corners, and I was catching guys under braking. We just didn't have enough today."

Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Ninth

"I had some good battles today, including with Greg (Moore). The team made no mistakes, and the engine was great. I actually enjoyed the engine on a leaner calibration. For me, it was easier and faster to drive. We had a good run -- no mistakes. At the end we were hoping for no more yellow flags. Twice I was about to pass, and the yellow came out."

Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 11th

"We finished in the points, which is good. The guys did good pit stops, and we had good strategy, running lean all day. We were looking good until that last yellow flag. That's just one of those things; it's racing. At least we got a couple of points in the bag."

Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 12th

"We had a car that was pushing a lot today. We finally got the rear end working, but the front was pushing so much that I was really slow from mid-corner out. And it was affecting my exit speed out of the corners. The team decided to conserve fuel right from the start, and the strategy was right on. The team worked really well. We just didn't have the car to do it. It was a long day."

Andre Ribeiro, No. 3 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 13th

"Mechanically, the car ran well. We struggled all day with a lack of grip but had good strategy, and it felt good to run in front. Our plan worked perfectly, but unfortunately, our strategy was lost with the timed race and late yellows."

Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 21st

"I was just trying to finish the race and, hopefully, get some points. Unfortunately, I clipped the wall and broke the left wishbone. When I went to the brakes for the next corner, the car pulled right and into the wall. It was a terrible weekend for Bettenhausen Motorsports. We just have to keep going and be positive for the next race."

Al Unser Jr., No. 2 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 22nd

"When we settled down after the start, the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes went loose, so we had to stop early, which cost us track position. Richie (Hearn) and I got together going into the hairpin (lap 19), so we had to come in and replace the top front left A-arm, which cost us three laps. Then, on the lap 45 re-start, I got hit from behind, and the track bar broke, so it was back to the pits for another lengthy stop. The crew hung in their and did a great job of keeping me going today."

------------------------ Internet Access Australia------------------------ --- IAA is MNI's ISP of choice at the '98 Gold Coast Indy --- ---- Melbourne -- Tel. 03 9686 6677 -- Fax 03 9686 6644 ----- ------------------ ---------------------

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , JJ Lehto
Teams Team Penske