CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes Houston notes

Jimmy Vasser claimed his first race win in nearly two years with his triumph Sunday at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston. Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, bested teammate Juan Montoya by 1.914 seconds in the 100-lap contest on Houston's...

Jimmy Vasser claimed his first race win in nearly two years with his triumph Sunday at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston. Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, bested teammate Juan Montoya by 1.914 seconds in the 100-lap contest on Houston's 1.527-mile temporary street circuit. The American driver is the 10th pilot to win a CART race this season, tying the FedEx Championship Series record set last year. Polesitter Gil de Ferran finished third, and holds a 19-point lead in the drivers' championship standings with two races (44 possible points) remaining.

The race was expected to be tough on both drivers and their race cars, and it lived up to its billing for the five-car Mercedes-Benz contingent. Tony Kanaan, who turned quick laps throughout the weekend -- including a second-quick performance in the morning warm-up -- started the race in 10th position. Upon re-entry to the race track following his first scheduled pit stop on Lap 43, Kanaan's car made side-to-side contact with the Nextel PacWest entry of fellow Mercedes driver Mauricio Gugelmin. Kanaan was able to continue, but Gugelmin was forced to retire with suspension damage and he finished 23rd.

With an early pit-stop strategy, Kanaan improved to sixth position by Lap 58, and his on-track pass of Paul Tracy put Kanaan in fourth place with 32 laps remaining. On Lap 74, Kanaan pitted for fuel and fresh tires during a caution period and returned to the track in 13th position. He improved to eighth place before losing two spots in the closing laps. Kanaan's top-10 performance gave his rookie team its best qualifying and race results on a temporary street circuit this season. He also recorded the third-quickest lap of the contest.

"I was having fun when I was running up front," said Kanaan. "That's the best part of racing. The frustrating part is having your strategy not quite work out. We had to gamble, and we just got caught out on a yellow during the first round of stops. We made up ground and decided to pit early for the second stop. We had our moments. Once again, we proved that this car and this team have the potential to win."

Michel Jourdain Jr.'s Herdez/Bettenhausen Motorsports entry overheated in the hot Texas sun and Jourdain Jr. finished 18th. Mark Blundell's day ended at the halfway point in the race after his Motorola PacWest Mercedes pit crew attempted unsuccessfully to fix a clutch-oil leak that soaked his shoes and footwell. He retired in 20th place. Luiz Garcia Jr. (Hollywood/Arciero Project Racing Group) finished 22nd with transmission problems.

The FedEx Championship Series heads to Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia for the Indy 300 on Oct. 15, and concludes with the California 500 on Oct. 29 at Fontana, Calif.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Michel Jourdain , Luiz Garcia Jr.