CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland report

Well, for the second straight race, rain played a factor in the outcome. This time, however, the Firestone rain tires weren't a factor! Confused? Let me try to explain... The start was clean, with Zanardi quickly dashing out in ...

Well, for the second straight race, rain played a factor in the outcome. This time, however, the Firestone rain tires weren't a factor! Confused? Let me try to explain...

The start was clean, with Zanardi quickly dashing out in front. Ribeiro got a little squirrelly, almost taking out Blundell or Gugelmin in the chicane. Tracy used this opportunity to rocket past him into 4th.

Andretti, having won three of the last four races, was not to repeat his good fortune, coming in with electrical gremlins on lap two. Many teams seemed to be having electrical trouble, probably a result of the morning warmup, which took place in heavy rain.

Herta, running in seventh, was producing a trail of blue smoke and probably dropping oil on the track. Perhaps as a result of this, Tracy lost it in a fast corner, sliding just slightly off the track. It was enough, however, to give him a wild ride in the rain soaked grass, with Tracy having the presence of mind to pull a 180 just before he hit a very deep tire barrier. The car was driveable, but he dropped out a few laps later with a broken wishbone.

On the restart, Pruett, who was running in second, took a cue from Tracy and spun it in the same corner. This was to be just the beginning of an awful day for Scott, who had wrecked his car in practice.

Moore joined the crowd in the pits on lap 11, with a dead car suffering from electrical troubles. Up front, the rest of the young guns were happily in the lead:

Zanardi Vasser Ribeiro de Ferran Pruett Unser Jr.

While the cameras stayed on the leaders, Christian, Robby, Parker and Emmo were having a fine battle for 8th through 11th, all nose to tail around the course.

de Ferran, meanwhile, was all over Ribeiro, trying to force a mistake. Slightly further back, Pruett was being hounded by Unser, who was looking to move closer to Vasser, who he was chasing in the points.

Zanardi, all alone up front, was ripping off fast lap after fast lap, pulling out to a ten second lead over his teammate.

Gugelmin started to drop back from 7th, and was quickly picked off by the battle behind him. Clearly suffering some sort of problem, he was in the pits on the next lap. Everyone closed up, and 7th through 15th were all in contact at one point!

Salazar, desperately trying to show that his drive at Indy was no fluke, got in front of the Pruett/Unser Jr. battle. Never one to let being a lap down get in the way of a good block, he proceeded to weave all over the track on the back straight. Pruett tried to get past on one side, got blocked, whipped across the track to the other side, with Salazar desperately trying to force him into the wall. Unser, stunned silly by all of this, eventually tried the other side of Salazar, but it was clear that he feared getting knocked out of the race. Pruett managed to keep Unser behind him (for now).

Lap 31 seemed to be the pivotal lap of the race. Unser managed to get past Pruett, de Ferran blazed past a troubled Vasser, and the light sprinkle turned into rain.

If its raining, then the Firestone teams must have dropped waaaayyy back, right? Well, not really. All the Firestone teams decided that slicks were better than rain tires.

Unser Jr. lead the rain tire crowd, with Emmo, Robby, Blundell, Johansson and Fernandez all electing to go with rain tires. The downpour really started, providing some entertainingly slow off track excursions. de Ferran was the first driver on slicks to test the grass, but he was quickly joined by Pruett, Christian, Vasser. Many others were probably off course, but the cameramen were too busy to show them all.

Christian Fittipaldi took the lead after the stops, but quickly lost it while spinning his tires in the grass.

Zanardi was tiptoeing around the track on slicks (and I really mean slow). The rain tire crowd were now turning laps more than twenty seconds faster than the slick group (Zanardi was lapping in the 94-100 seconds range, Unser in the 74-80 second range).

Vasser, deciding to make the points race as exciting as the Portland race, stalled during his off-course excursion, dropping him a couple of laps down by the time the busy course workers could get him restarted.

Unser, meanwhile, was using his rain tires to good advantage, making quick work of Gordon and quickly catching Zanardi. The rain had stopped however, so Zanardi was now able to turn laps in the 82 second range, still six seconds slower than Unser. On lap 39, Unser got the jump he needed on the entrance to the pit straight, and pulled into the lead.

It was to be short-lived, however, as the drying track allowed Zanardi to quickly repass on lap 40. Unser was trying to find puddles on the main straight to keep his tires from cooking, but the track was now clearly too dry for rain tires. Zanardi is now back down to the 67 second range. Everyone on rain tires is back into the pits to switch to slicks, ending the chances of almost everyone who didn't gamble on slicks in the last stop.

P.J. Jones went off track hard, sliding backwards into another cushy tire barrier. He was so deep in the barrier that they used a crane to pull him out.

Ribeiro was the first driver to really get his car running, turning laps a full two seconds faster than everyone else.

The order now:

Zanardi de Ferran Christian Fittipaldi Rahal Ribeiro Unser

Zanardi, having outlasted the challenge by Unser, was now over twenty seconds out in front, clearly having the fastest car today.

Jourdain, who had been gamely showing the IRL flag at the back of the pack, seemed to have missed the end of the pit straight, sliding deep into the gravel trap. This brought out the first full course caution of the day on lap 62. Everyone quickly came into the pits, EXCEPT FOR THE LEADER! He was so far in front that he had to do almost a full lap before he could get back to the pits. This really screwed up the Newman-Haas team, who told Michael to stay out to make up his lap. By the time they figured out what had happened, the pits were closed and Michael would be forced to pit under yellow. Unlike last race, his radio communications (and sign language) were less polite with his crew. Blundell, who had pitted on lap 41 was the only driver who didn't pit. The full course yellow lasted for five laps, and about eight minutes.

On the restart, Unser quickly got by Blundell, with the battle lining up like this:

Zanardi de Ferran Christian Fittipaldi Rahal Unser Emmo Ribeiro Johnstone Blundell

Spots 2 through 6 were battling, as were the group in 7th through 9th.

Zanardi was still on another plane, pulling out from the field again.

Emerson dropped out with a broken transmission on lap 78, with Blundell confusing the ABC guys by finally taking his last pit stop of the day.

Unser and Rahal were battling fiercely, with Rahal making a mistake and getting wide, allowing Unser past on lap 81.

Salazar, trying his best to be brutal, was now two full laps behind the closest competitor, and five laps down on the field.

Rahal had another moment in the same corner on lap 87, letting Johnstone move past. Things stayed pretty static for the last 10 laps, with the only battles back in the pack between Johansson and Gordon, who were a lap down, and Fangio and Vasser. Fangio managed to hold off Vasser for many laps, finally making a mistake and letting Vasser by him with two laps left.

Meanwhile, Andretti, who was nearly 20 seconds back of his lap down group, managed to make it up in the final laps, overtaking Fernandez.

Zanardi took the yellow, nearly ten seconds out in front of de Ferran who was followed by Christian Fittipaldi.

All three made a close pass of the pits, with Zanardi jubilantly waving his fist in the air over his first victory!

Final order was:

1. Zanardi 2. de Ferran 3. C. Fittipaldi 4. Unser 5. Johstone 6. Rahal 7. Ribeiro 8. Blundell 9. Johansson -1 10. Gordon -1 11. Andretti -1 12. Fernandez -1

Fastest laps of the day:

1. Zanardi 62.572 lap 28 2. Emmo! 62.758 lap 28 3. Andretti 62.894 lap 72 4. Blundell 62.937 lap 85 5. Vasser 63.042 lap 29

It was an interesting day, with Zanardi dominating the rest of the field. The points battle is now very tight, with Vasser finishing out of the points, and his pursuers de Ferran, Fittipaldi and Unser all finishing well. Andretti made the best of a bad day to pick up a pair of points with his eleventh place finish.

Next week, Cleveland. You'll recall that last year, Gordon and Villeneuve had quite a battle here. The end of the race had Gordon intentionally driving his car into the side of Andretti's! The wide track makes for some really good battles, so make sure you watch!

My thanks to EDS, by the way, who are now providing real time (sort of) scoring to beta testers of their Indycar site. Really adds another dimension to the race! Now if they could just get it to show up on the same lap as the TV coverage, I'd be slightly less confused!

John jclarke@nortel.ca

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , P.J. Jones