John Francis - Motorsport News International In the early-morning practice before the race pole-sitter Bryan Herta managed no better than fourth fastest, behind Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi, and JJ Lehto. Greg Moore had been the fastest driver...
John Francis - Motorsport News International
In the early-morning practice before the race pole-sitter Bryan Herta managed no better than fourth fastest, behind Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi, and JJ Lehto. Greg Moore had been the fastest driver in the early part of the session, but brought out the only red flag of the session when he spun off and hit the wall on the outside of turn three. He had finished the qualifying session sitting on the track wall up at the corkscrew with a smoking engine, and now he had also failed to finish the pre-race practice session. Maybe it would all come right in the race?
At just after twelve o'clock on a clear warm Monterey day it was time to find out. The green flag dropped, and the race was under way. Almost immediately JJ Lehto was out of the running - he collided with his fellow sixth-row starter Michael Andretti in the first corner, and sustained damage to the front right quarter of the car. Lehto managed to crawl around the track back to his pits, but despite a valiant effort by his pit crew the car proved unrepairable. Andretti, meanwhile, had also made a quick trip in to the pits, but was able to rejoin the race without going a lap down to the leaders. These were Bryan Herta, building on his pole position, followed by Jimmy Vasser (who had got around Dario Franchitti).
Not to be outdone, on the second lap Richie Hearn banged wheels with Bobby Rahal in turn six, and two turns later did much the same with Robby Gordon. All three cars continued racing, with no significant damage immediately evident.
Bryan Herta continued to run strongly at the head of the field, gradually pulling away from Vasser, Franchitti, Moore and Zanardi. After twenty laps the lead was up to almost eight seconds. Then Dennis Vitolo went off in turn three, bringing out a yellow flag. Everybody dashed in to the pits for fuel and fresh tires. When the pitstops were over and the green flag came out again Alex Zanardi slipped by Greg Moore into third place, while Al Unser Jr. got past Adrian Fernandez and up into sixth place.
Two laps later Bobby Rahal's "last trip through the corkscrew" almost came to an abrupt end when he and Max Papis came together on the entry to the turn. Bobby spun and highsided his car on the curb. By the time the CART safety crew got him back onto the track the field had already gone by, putting Bobby a lap down. Richie Hearn had also lost several places when he was forced to brake heavily to avoid running into Rahal.
Herta continued to run strongly at the head of the field, gradually building the lead up once more to a little under three seconds. On lap 51 Jimmy Vasser was the first of the front runners to make a pit stop under the green. Over the next few laps everybody else did the same, and when all the pit stops were complete Alex Zanardi had got past his teammate and up into second place, while Jimmy had dropped back to sixth spot. Tony Kanaan had shot up from tenth place all the way into fourth. Not satisfied with that, a couple of laps later he found his way past Dario Franchitti and up into third behind Zanardi and Herta.
With sixteen laps to go Vincenzo Sospiri, at the wheel of a Gurney Eagle in his first CART race, brought out the yellow flag when he spun off at turn two. While cleanup from this was still taking place Greg Moore pulled off in turn four with no power. Apparently his race was going to be no different from his practice and qualifying woes. When the lights eventually went off on the pace car, Alex Barron put the other Eagle into the wall at turn six, necessitating four further laps of yellow flag running.
After only one lap of green flag running the yellow flag was out again when Scott Pruett and Gil de Ferran got together in turn two, and slid down the track to collect Patrick Carpentier, putting all three cars out of the race. By the time the cars had been pulled off-track and the green flag flew for the last time there were only two laps to go, and everybody was on cold tires.
Before the race Bryan Herta had suggested that having his mirrors full of Alex Zanardi as he entered the corkscrew with half a lap to go would be an ideal scenario. By now he was probably beginning to have second thoughts - Zanardi almost got past him a couple of times on those last two laps.
Almost, but not quite; this year he managed to keep Zanardi behind him, and Bryan Herta took his first ever Champ Car win here at Laguna Seca. Zanardi took second, while Tony Kanaan held on for third place.