CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes Houston Race Notes

Race: Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Houston, Texas Date/Session: Oct. 4, 1998 Race Report Unser Leads Mercedes in Rainy Houston Race Lehto Scores Fourth Top-10 Finish of the Season Dario Franchitti and Mother Nature shared...

Race:           Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Houston, Texas
Date/Session:   Oct. 4, 1998    Race Report

Unser Leads Mercedes in Rainy Houston Race Lehto Scores Fourth Top-10 Finish of the Season

Dario Franchitti and Mother Nature shared victory at the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, a race that was first delayed by rain, started then stopped by more rain and, finally, ended early because of lightening and rain.

The green flag waved approximately 40 minutes late thanks to a downpour as the cars were moving out to the grid. The red flag came out on lap 13 for a weather-induced, multi-car accident, and ultimately, the checkered flag was shown on lap 70 of a scheduled 100, when the lightening and heavy rain returned.

Al Unser Jr.'s years of experience paid dividends in the dismal conditions. A cautious drive, which included being the final car to change from rain tires to slicks on lap 32, helped him avoid trouble and move from 16th on the starting grid to seventh at the end. For the third consecutive event, Unser's Marlboro Team Penske entry was the highest finishing Mercedes-powered car.

Rookie JJ Lehto's Formula One experience served him well. He finished in the top 10 for the fourth time this year, slipping and sliding his way to 10th and collecting three points for the Hogan Racing Team.

PacWest Racing teammates Mark Blundell and Mauricio Gugelmin finished 14th and 18th, respectively. After the wet start, Blundell gambled, bringing his Motorola-sponsored car into the pit lane to change to slick tires before anyone else as the track showed signs of drying on lap 18. Unfortunately, however, his heroic efforts on the still-slippery track were wasted as the rains began again about 10 laps later. Gugelmin endured several problems before a faulty electronic popoff valve finished his day.

Andre Ribeiro finished just ahead of Gugelmin, in 17th place, having survived several spins on the slippery 1.527-mile track. The Player's/Forsythe Racing duo of Greg Moore and Patrick Carpentier also succumbed to the conditions. Carpentier crashed on lap 36 and was credited with 22nd place, while Moore, who qualified on the pole, lost his lead to Franchitti at the start and spun out of contention on lap three. He was listed 26th.

Rookie Helio Castro-Neves suffered suspension damage early in the race, retiring on lap 35 to be listed 24th.

Mercedes Quotes

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

"It's really disappointing that it rained during the inaugural event, but it was great to see the fans stick with us all day. I drove the Marlboro Penske Mercedes hard all day, and I was just trying to keep the car between the fences and work my way up through the field. We had quick pit stops--I think my guys passed more cars than I did."

JJ Lehto, No. 9, Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 10th

"We were just hanging in there.  We didn't have a special car.  We had
wheelspin so much.  The tires were completely destroyed.  We had no
mechanical grip.  But, we made no mistakes and scored a couple of points." 

Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 14th

"I've been in worse races, but they were stopped sooner than this one. It's intolerable this race wasn't stopped earlier. We tried to gamble, going to slicks earlier than everyone else. But we didn't have the driveability on slicks. I had my hands full the entire race."

Andre Ribeiro, No. 3 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 17th

"Today started with a lot of promise. We had qualified the Marlboro Penske Mercedes tenth and were sixth fastest after this morning's warmup. However, once the race started things changed. The track was very slippery with all the rain. We managed to avoid the first few incidents, but unfortunately, on lap 10, we spun in turn two. By the time I got re-started, I was two laps down."

Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 18th

"That was a tough day in a lot of respects. The weather was always uncertain, so it was important to stop for dry tires at the right time. I think we got the timing right, but then I was having some problems with the brakes locking up. It was inconsistent from side to side, and I badly flat-spotted my front tires on the first set of slicks. Then the engine lost power, like it was firing on seven cylinders. It turned out to be the electronic popoff valve. I feel bad for the guys because they put in a great effort. We just can't seem to get a break."

Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 22nd

"I went in to the corner too hot and went off line. I couldn't stop. It was just a mistake. I put a wheel off line where it was wet, and with slicks, I just couldn't turn"

Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 24th

"We made slight contact early on, and it was my mistake. It damaged the right front, and we were two laps down right away. Then there was nothing we could do."

Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 26th

"I just got on the power there and the horsepower of the Mercedes engine just spun me right around. I almost saved it, but then I got into Christian (Fittipaldi). We were real confident. We could have had a great race. We should have won today."

Grand Prix of Houston Race Report Houston, Texas Oct. 4, 1998

Pos.    Driver                  Chassis/Engine/Tires            Laps
1       Dario Franchitti        Reynard/Honda/Firestone         70
2       Alex Zanardi            Reynard/Honda/Firestone         70
3       Tony Kanaan             Reynard/Honda/Firestone         70
4       Jimmy Vasser            Reynard/Honda/Firestone         70
5       Max Papis               Reynard/Toyota/Firestone        70
6       Adrian Fernandez        Reynard/Ford/Firestone          70
7       Al Unser Jr.            Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear        70
8       Bryan Herta             Reynard/Ford/Firestone          70
9       Richie Hearn            Swift/Ford/Goodyear             70
10      JJ Lehto                Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone      70
14      Mark Blundell           Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone      68
17      Andre Ribeiro           Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear        66
18      Mauricio Gugelmin       Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone      52
22      Patrick Carpentier      Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone      36
24      Helio Castro-Neves      Reynard/Mercedes/Goodyear       35
26      Greg Moore              Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone      3

Driver's Points:

Alex Zanardi       250     
Jimmy Vasser       148
Dario Franchitti   143  
Adrian Fernandez   134

Manufacturer's Points:

Honda           322
Ford            266
Mercedes        199                  
Toyota           37

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , JJ Lehto
Teams Team Penske