CHAMPCAR/CART: Mid-Ohio report

After some delay, I've finally managed to put together my report on Mid Ohio. A fairly uneventful race for the most part, until the last lap added plenty of excitement and action. Here is how it went: At the start, the order was: ...

After some delay, I've finally managed to put together my report on Mid Ohio. A fairly uneventful race for the most part, until the last lap added plenty of excitement and action.

Here is how it went:

At the start, the order was:

Zanardi, Vasser, Herta, Andretti, C. Fittipaldi, Pruett, Moore, Fernandez

As the streamed toward the start, Zanardi got a huge jump on Vasser. Apparently Vasser was screaming on the radio that Zanardi wasn't giving him any room, but I didn't see any evidence of that.

As they headed into the first turn, de Ferran came in too hot, locked up all four wheels, but still managed to give Gugelmin a very hard whack. de Ferran went straight off the corner, sending up clouds of dust. Sitting in the sand "trap", he put the car in reverse and started to back out! He eventually gave up, but not to worry, they towed him out and he rejoined the field a few laps down. A quick pit stop to replace his nose (completely crushed, which is no easy thing to do), and he was back on the track.

Big Mo, on the other hand, continued on and limped back to the pits. Turns out that de Ferran had left a yellow calling card in his rear tire (a very large chunk off the front of his nose cone), and had hit him hard enough to bend his suspension and end his race. To quote Mo "he missed his braking point by 200 yards or something".

Meanwhile, Moore was suffering from electrical gremlins, causing him to drop all the way back to 21st. One claim (from Bill Adams, TSN pit reporter) was that they clipped off the connection to the shift light during a pit stop, believing that it may have been the cause.

Unser, who started way back in the pack, had clawed his way up to 9th by lap six.

Rahal was all over Fernandez early in the race, trying to take 7th. Fernandez was aggressively holding his line (blocking, per chance?), and Rahal was diving all over the course trying to find a way past.

Meanwhile, Andretti was showing Herta some clear indications that he wasn't going to settle for fourth, trying to outbrake him, go around the outside, whatever he could do to get past him.

In what was to be the beginning of a long day for Toyota, PJ Jones pulled off track with an oil fire, flames dancing away on his left rear suspension arms.

Other drivers were also suffering problems. The Patrick pits had lost all telemetry from Pruett's car (you mean they would have to just let him drive it?), and apparently his dash had gone dead on the first lap. ABC pit boys claimed that he had "changed the battery" and now it worked. He's lucky he carries spare Duracells for just such an occasion. Me, I can never actually get the batteries in the right way when I'm sitting in my easy chair, I can't imagine trying to do it at 180 mph.

Max Papis, stepping into the Arciero/Wells Toyota was into the pits early. Electrical problems seemed to be the order of the day. He actually took his belts off and was getting ready to climb out when they decided to send him back out. Unfortunately, when they went to restart the car, he'd forgotten to put the clutch in, causing it to lurch forward about three feet. Direct drive is cool.

Zanardi, meanwhile, had staked himself to a massive lead over his teammate. Vasser had also stretched it out over Herta, and everyone had basically settled into a rhythm.

As the leaders started lapping the backmarkers (do I need to name names?), Vasser managed to get by Hiro. Unfortunately, Salazar lurked in the weeds just a bit further up the track. Vasser closed in on the back straight, went to the inside, but Salazar, apparently confusing him for Hiro, slammed the door in his face. Gentle tire smoke probably masked the smoke coming from Vasser's ears, but he managed to slip past Salazar on the next curve.

Unser and Magnussen (driving Tracy's #3) both came in early, in an attempt to juggle the pit stops and move up through the field. Christian Fittipaldi was in next, followed closely by Zanardi, who was apparently stuck in some backmarker hell.

On lap 40, everyone had stopped, and the order was now:

Zanardi, Vasser, Andretti, Pruett, Herta, Fittipaldi, Unser, Fernandez, Ribiero, Gordon.

Herta was the clear loser on the stops. ABC, meanwhile, had hooked up a phone connection with Emerson, who was recovering from his Michigan accident down in Florida. He said he won't make a decision on his future for another four or five weeks, but I got the distinct impression that he would return to racing if he could.

Whatever they did to Rahal's car during the stops must have been magical, because he quickly whipped past Fernandez (must have already got by Ribiero and Gordon) and closed rapidly on a faltering Unser. You'll recall that Unser had made his stops way out of sequence, and he was now paying the price as his Goodyears quickly headed south. Rahal made quick work of him, and Fernandez, sensing the weak prey ahead, made a quick move on Unser as well on lap 47.

Gordon had now closed on Unser, with Ribiero hot on his heels. Boesel picked this moment to end his race (I hadn't even noticed he was in it). ABC switched back to the battle to show Ribiero take advantage of Gordon looking at Unser, diving inside in a wicked outbraking manouever. He carried too much speed into the corner, however, and forced Gordon waaaaayyyyyy wide, out onto the grass. Hitting him with his left rear probably didn't help much either. Gordon, never one to fear an off road excursion, kept the pedal down as he dove back off the grass, only to have a close encounter of the damaging kind as Magnussen was now occupying his space. Robbie limped back to the pits where a crew member gave his front right steering arm a quick punch to knock it back into alignment(!?!).

Rahal, meanwhile, had closed on Fittipaldi, and tried to outbrake him to the inside. Fittipaldi forcibly slammed the door, causing Rahal to get a little squirrely. Seeing the he was now blocked behind slower traffic, Rahal chose to hit the pits, the first one in for the second set of stops. Michael chose to join him, but upon leaving stalled his car.

Zanardi, now catching up to position paying points, hit the pits as well for another clean stop. Pruett was also in the pits, but his engine didn't like the chance to idle, because it failed immediately after he left the pits.

Fangio, apparently not aware of the oil fire on his rear suspension (and probably dripping into his tires) went off at high speed at the end of the back straight (a la de Ferran).

After the stops the order was now (lap 64): Zanardi, Vasser, Andretti, Herta, Rahal, Fittipaldi, Fernandez, Moore, Ribiero, Gordon, Magnussen, Blundell

Max Papis then decided to end another day of testing for Toyota by pulling into the pits with more electrical problems.

With less than 20 laps to go, everyone began to pull out the stops. Fernandez made a great outbraking manouever on Fittipaldi, and Moore went around Fittipaldi at the end of the next straight on the outside! (best pass of the day).

Magnussen and Blundell decided to give each other a love tap at the end of the straight, causing Magnussen to hit the sand trap. He was towed out and headed back to the pits for fresh rubber, where he joined Gordon, who was in the pits for unknown reasons.

Full course yellow found the field now:

Zanardi, Vasser, Andretti, Herta, Rahal, Fernandez, Moore, Fittipaldi, Ribiero, Gordon, Blundell, Johnstone, Unser, Johansson

With 14 laps left, Herta tried to take Andretti on the restart. Fittipaldi got the jump on Moore on the restart, and Gordon whipped past Moore and Ribiero.

Nine to go:

Zanardi, Vasser, Andretti, Herta, Rahal, Fernandez, Fittipaldi, Gordon, Moore, Ribiero, Blundell, Johnstone, Unser, Johansson

Gordon and Hiro both chose this moment to go out of the race, with Gordon thoughfully parking his car near a safety crew. Hiro, on the other hand, forced a full course yellow so they could retrieve him. Gordon hopped out of his car, stood on the sidepod, and gave the engine cover a good kick.

Herta and Michael kept up their battle on the restart, with them battling side by side through "madness(?)". This, of course, is the same corner where Rahal and Villenueve had their coming together last year. Perhaps they've widened the track since then.

With two laps left, Ribiero shot by Moore on the outside.

With a lap to go, Moore tried to repeat the Ribiero move, but he had too much speed and Ribiero slammed the door, causing a collosal coming together. Moore flew into the sand trap, Ribiero spun and stalled.

Unser, apparently overjoyed at finding himself in the points, made a similar move at the end of the next straight, predictably coming together with Johnstone, who had chosen that moment to turn into the corner. Unser, looking every bit the bull eyeing the matador, started towards Johnstone, who thrust out his hand to shake and make up.

At the finish (such as it was), the order was:

Zanardi, Vasser, Andretti, Herta, Rahal, Fernandez, Fittipaldi, Ribiero(!), Moore(!), Blundell, Johansson, Johnstone(!).

Unser finished out of the points and now finds himself in big trouble to finish the season.

The rest of the season brings two road courses (Target should do well) and a street course (maybe Unser can bring it off). Trailing by 17 points, however, he'll need some real help to grab the championship.

John jclarke@nortel.ca

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Bill Adams