CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan race report

Who needs a gurney strip anyway? Tom Haapanen, Tony Kanaan took his first CART victory today at the Michigan Speedway, overcoming an extra pitstop to snatch the win at the final turn of the 250-lap U.S. 500 as Max Papis coasted...

Who needs a gurney strip anyway? Tom Haapanen,

Tony Kanaan took his first CART victory today at the Michigan Speedway, overcoming an extra pitstop to snatch the win at the final turn of the 250-lap U.S. 500 as Max Papis coasted slowly to a halt on the apron. While there were only eleven finishers, none of the contenders failed to take the chequered flag.

The young Brazilian was not only happy to have won: he was relieved, too. Recounting the phone call he had received from his mother after his last crash - "Again? Crashed again?" - he now felt confident that he could dish it back on his next phone call home. "So? Now?"

He had gradually worked his way into third place, but at the one-third point of the race, the left side of the rear gurney strip on his McDonald's Reynard-Honda came loose, with the thin carbon fibre wing flapping in the airflow behind his car. Kanaan was shown the black flag, and had to make an additional pit stop to repair his wing. Now one lap down to Papis, then-current leader, he gradually fought his way back onto the lead lap and into contention.

Papis, had taken the lead just before Kanaan's gurney strip problem, and held it nearly without interruption from that point until the final turn of the race. As the stunned crowd stood up, the Miller Reynard-Honda slowed down and pulled onto the apron, its fuel tank completely dry. Whether caused by a miscalculation or a fueling problem, the incident robbed the Italian of a victory - which would have been the first one for him, too.

The race had started with a ten-lap-long duel between Juan Montoya and Michael Andretti. The rookie Colombian had blasted into the lead from the start, but Andretti was quickly hanging on his gearbox. For lap after lap, the two would come through corners side by side, and switch positions several times a lap.

Andretti would draft Montoya by positioning his Kmart Swift-Ford on the gearbox of Montoya, and pull past at the end of the straight. Montoya would, in turn, retaliate by slinging his Target Reynard-Honda past Andretti, alternating between high and low lines on the wide superspeedway. "It was a nightmare," exaggerated Montoya, "Even if you are faster, you pass someone, they pass you back, you pass them, they pass you back ..."

Eventually Montoya gained the upper hand, and built a lead he would hold until the third set of pit stops. While his lack of experience showed in his hesitation in traffic in the early part of the race, he gained confidence as the race went on, and was his usual decisive self by the time the race reached its final moments.

And decisiveness he needed, as he lost his rear brakes halfway through the race. While brakes may not seem to be critical on a superspeedway where the drivers don't need to brake for corners, they are still needed to stop for one thing: a pit stop. And one doesn't discover their real performance until one tries them ... so when Montoya came in for his second-to-last stop, he was naturally surprised to discover that his brakes took rather longer to stop his car, and overshot the pit.

He lost six positions at each of the last two pit stops, but, in the end, fought back to challenge Kanaan for second position on the final lap. As Papis slowed on the apron, elevating the fight to one for the lead, Montoya was making a final attempt at sliding past Kanaan. In the event, it wasn't quite enough, and Kanaan held on by 0.032 seconds - less than half a car length.

In third place was Paul Tracy, the veteran Canadian continuing to show consistency in recent races. He diced with Andretti as well as his KOOL Reynard-Honda teammate, Dario Franchitti, throughout the race, and managed to fight off a late challenge by Andretti. "We never got the push completely out," said Tracy, explaining the several near-contacts he had with the wall.

As Tracy pulled ahead of Andretti on the inside of the final turn, though, he was confronted by the sight of Papis crawling to a halt. In a few heart-stopping moments, Tracy found to his relief that Andretti had moved up, giving him the chance to move up and avoid the crippled Reynard. In the end, Tracy took third place by half a car length, with 0.056s separating the two cars.

Behind Kanaan, Montoya, Tracy and Andretti followed Franchitti, Adrian Fernandez, the unfortunate Max Papis, and, in eighth place, Andretti's teammate, Christian Fittipaldi. The net result of all this excitement is an increase in Montoya's championship lead, now at 129 to 116 points over Franchitti. Andretti, Fittipaldi, Adrian Fernandez and Tracy are also all still in contention for the title.

With the ninth CART race winner this year, there appears to be no lack of excitement in the offing. As the series moves some sixty miles east to Detroit, one can only hope that the Belle Isle track can produce some of the excitement seen at Michigan Speedway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan