CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland race report #2

>From IndyCar media relations Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 -- Zanardi Wins! PORTLAND, Ore. (June 23, 1996) -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has been a stubborn bunch when it comes to relinquishing the top position it worked so hard to achieve during...

>From IndyCar media relations

Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 -- Zanardi Wins!

PORTLAND, Ore. (June 23, 1996) -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has been a stubborn bunch when it comes to relinquishing the top position it worked so hard to achieve during qualifying.

Rookie Alex Zanardi celebrated his first career IndyCar triumph by delivering Target/Chip Ganassi Racing its third victory from the pole this season in Sunday's Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200, presented by Texaco/Havoline, at Portland International Raceway. Jimmy Vasser, the PPG Cup points leader, landed the first two for the team at Australia and The Inaugural U.S. 500 and Zanardi matched the feat on Portland's 1.95-mile permanent road course.

Zanardi, driving a Target Reynard Honda, posted a 9.137-second victory over Gil de Ferran (Pennzoil Special Reynard Honda) to earn a $65,000 rollover bonus from the Marlboro Pole Award. He became the first Italian to win in the PPG Indy Car World Series since Teo Fabi in 1989 and fourth European in the past decade.

"The car was running like a violin. Everything was perfect," said Zanardi, who also won the pole at Rio in March, but settled for fourth place. "I just had to drive from beginning to end. It feels like a dream. It tastes great. I want to get used to the taste."

Zanardi was dominant in his victory as he led all but three of the 98 laps, and his only concern was if his tire selection would stay true during an afternoon of intermittent rain. He opted for Firestone slicks throughout and managed to survive the wet portions of the track.

"I think the real gamble was changing to the wet [tires]," Zanardi said. "Ours was not a gamble. It was the most sensible thing to do at the time."

Zanardi, who won the Marlboro pole Saturday with a speed of 117.209 miles per hour, wasted little time establishing himself in the lead position. He led the first 33 laps and had jumped to a 17-second lead over the field before pitting. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart/Budweiser Lola Ford) opted to stay out and held the lead for a lap before pitting and relinquishing it to Zanardi.

Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), who changed to Goodyear rain tires, overtook him on the front straight on Lap 39 and held the lead for one more lap before Zanardi regained his lead. He quickly opened a 26-second advantage over de Ferran, who was in second, by Lap 61, but lost the majority of that cushion when a caution came out on the next lap when Michel Jourdain Jr. spun off course into a gravel pit.

The lead shrunk to 1.7 seconds when the course went green on Lap 67, but Zanardi proved to be too strong once again. He consistently expanded his lead over de Ferran and was never challenged in giving Honda its sixth victory of the season.

De Ferran's runner-up showing matched his season-best performance at the season opener in Miami.

"I was trying hard in case Alex had a problem or a mistake, but it became clear I was not fast enough to stay with Alex," de Ferran said. "I'm happy with today. It is a good position and it puts us in a much better position for the championship."

De Ferran's finish, coupled with the efforts of Fittipaldi and Unser . Jr., tightened up the PPG Cup points race Vasser, who finished 13th and. out of the points, now has four drivers within 27 points of his lead .

With a fourth-place performance, Unser Jr. trails Vasser by only eight points. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford), who gained two points for 11th, retained third but has Fittipaldi and de Ferran closely behind. With both registering podium finishes for the second consecutive race, Fittipaldi is one point back and de Ferran two behind of Andretti.

"It's good to stay in the points with a second consecutive podium," Fittipaldi said. "My team did a great job on my stops and everything. It's good to be on the podium for Budweiser at their race."

Parker Johnstone (Motorola Reynard Honda), a resident of Redmond, Ore., gave the home state fans a thrilling experience by recording the second-best finish of his career. Johnstone finished fifth, second only to his runner-up position at Long Beach earlier this season.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Reynard Mercedes) ended his decade-long, odd-even streak at PIR. Rahal, who was extremely strong in the odd years and never a top-10 finisher in the even since 1986, took care of the struggling side Sunday with a sixth-place showing. It was his third top-six performance of the season.

Andre Ribeiro (LCI International Lola Honda) and rookie Mark Blundell (VISA/PacWest Reynard Ford) gained their third top-eight efforts in the past four events. Ribeiro finished seventh and Blundell was eighth. Stefan Johansson (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) showed continued strength on road courses with a ninth-place effort. All three of his top-10 finishes this season have come on road courses.

Robby Gordon (Valvoline/Cummins/Craftsman Reynard Ford) earned his first top-10 finish since taking third in the season opener in Miami. Andretti made an impressive run from early mechanical problems and being a lap down to finishing 11th and gaining two PPG Cup points. Adrian Fernandez (Tecate Beer/Quaker State Lola Honda) captured the final PPG Cup points position by finishing 12th.

ESPN will air a replay of the Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200, presented by Texaco/Havoline, on Monday, June 24, at 1 p.m. ET. The PPG Indy Car World Series season will stage round 10 on June 30 for the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront Airport.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Alex Zanardi , Mark Blundell , Chip Ganassi , Teo Fabi , Andre Ribeiro , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing