CHAMPCAR/CART: Road America report

>From IndyCar media relations ANDRETTI CAPTURES FOURTH OF THE SEASON AT TEXACO/HAVOLINE 200 ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 18, 1996) -- It took seven years, but "Canada Corner" of the Road America course transformed itself from foe to friend for...

>From IndyCar media relations


ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Aug. 18, 1996) -- It took seven years, but "Canada Corner" of the Road America course transformed itself from foe to friend for Michael Andretti.

Andretti lost his bid for victory in the 1989 Texaco/Havoline 200 when his car ran out of fuel in that turn, but found triumph Sunday in that very same location when leader Al Unser Jr. blew an engine in Turn 12 on the final lap and left victory at the doorstep for Andretti.

It was the only lap Andretti would lead in his Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford, but it was more than sufficient as he registered a 0.541-second margin of victory over Bobby Rahal and his silver anniversary Miller Reynard Mercedes. It was Andretti's fourth triumph of the season, moving him into a tie for the series lead in wins with Jimmy Vasser, and marked the 50th career triumph for Newman/Haas Racing.

"I know how he [Unser Jr.] feels. In 1989 I was leading the race and ran out of fuel in the same exact place," said Andretti, who also won this event in 1990 and '91. "I know he feels bad, but you have to take it. I was lucky today. I've given Al a few wins and he has given me some."

The most recent, however, was perhaps the most disconcerting for Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes). He had an opportunity to snap his season-long winless streak and substantially close the PPG Cup points gap on Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), but it all went up in a puff of smoke before a record-matching crowd of 75,000.

Unser Jr., who led a race-high 25 of the 50 laps, had taken control of the race by the midpoint and only relinquished the lead briefly to rookie Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), who finished third, because of a different pit stop sequence.

After having Zanardi lead for three laps, Unser Jr. regained the advantage on Lap 38 and began opening a slight cushion over his nearest competitors. He held a 1.41-second lead over his closest pursuer, Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart/Budweiser Lola Ford), with six to go and received some major help when Fittipaldi experienced engine failure on the ensuing lap.

Unser Jr. still had a Newman/Haas ride in his mirrors as Andretti moved into second and trailed by 2.57 seconds. Andretti was able to shave the deficit to 1.22 seconds with a lap to go on the 4-mile permanent road course, but needed a break and it came when Unser Jr. retired less than a mile from the checkered flag. Andretti averaged 102.947 miles per hour in a race with five cautions for 16 laps.

"I had no indication at all that the engine was going to break," Unser Jr., who finished 10th. "It was unfortunate, but what are you going to do? That's racing."

Rahal overcame a broken clutch and an extra stop due to confusion over IndyCar's closed pit policy to record a season-best finish. It was his second podium appearance in the past four races and his best performance since finishing second at Toronto last year. The effort was extremely timely as it celebrated the 25th anniversary of his sponsor, Miller, in motorsports and the presence of his co-owner, David Letterman, for the second event this season.

"I lost the clutch on the first pit stop. I came into the pits for the first stop and then CART closed the pits. So I had to drive through the pits and come back in for my stop," Rahal said. "We went from third to 15th and the car was good throughout the race. I have to give my crew credit. We ran a low downforce setup and that made us fast on the straights. I made a good run at Michael at the end, but I couldn't get him. My heart goes out to Al. He had us covered today."

Zanardi continued his stream of visits to the podium by securing third place after capturing the Marlboro Pole Award on Saturday for the second consecutive race. He persevered through an opening-lap brush with Gil de Ferran (Pennzoil Special Reynard Honda) and a pit-stop penalty to register his fifth podium finish in the past six races. It also allowed him to close to within six points of Unser Jr. and 27 of Vasser in the points battle.

"To be honest, I don't know how I did it," Zanardi said. "We simply did not have what we had yesterday [Saturday]. I was strong in the braking areas, but I didn't have anything on the straights. It's great to go home with a third-place finish. I would have liked to score a third place in another way. I would prefer to pass than to see someone like Al stopped on the track."

Stefan Johansson (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) turned in a season-best effort for the second time in the past three races. Johansson, who established a season-best of fifth at Michigan, eclipsed that performance with a fourth-place showing. It was his best finish since taking fourth at Vancouver in 1995. Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Mercedes) added to his recent roll with a fifth-place finish. It marked the fifth race in a row that he has earned a top-six finish and his third consecutive among the top five.

Vasser and his sixth-place finish helped him extend his lead over the unfortunate Unser Jr. Vasser leads Unser Jr., 136-115, with 44 maximum points available in the final two races. Scott Pruett (Firestone Patrick Racing Lola Ford) followed in seventh for his eighth top-10 showing of the season.

The Toyota-powered tandem of Juan Manuel Fangio II (All American Racers Eagle Toyota) and rookie Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) posted season-best performances for their respective teams. Fangio II finished eighth, which was one position shy of matching his best career effort, to top the ninth-place finish of teammate PJ Jones at Detroit. Papis, who made his career debut for Arciero-Wells at Mid-Ohio, gave the team its first PPG Cup points of the season by taking ninth.

Parker Johnstone (Motorola Reynard Honda) and Paul Tracy (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) captured the final two PPG Cup points positions despite contact on the final lap. Johnstone finished 11th after rear contact from Tracy, which caused his car to flip upside down. Johnstone emerged from the car and had no injuries. Tracy was 12th in his return after a two-race absence due to injury. He had missed the two previous races because of a chip fracture of the spinous process vertebra sustained in a July 27 practice accident at Michigan.

Johnstone was not the only driver to escape without injury after incurring an accident that flipped his car over. Davy Jones (Delco Electronic Lola Mercedes) had his car flip and land upside down during an accident early in the race, but he also came out of the incident with no injuries.

The Texaco/Havoline 200 will be re-aired by ESPN on Friday, Aug. 23, beginning at 3:30 a.m. ET. The PPG Indy Car World Series will be idle this upcoming week before resuming with the Molson Indy Vancouver on Sept. 1.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Juan Manuel Fangio , Davy Jones
Teams HART