GUERRERO, INFINITI ENJOY REBIRTH WITH SIZZLING TEXAS FINISH FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 20, 1998 -- If there's a maternity ward for race drivers, Roberto Guerrero has made more exits from it than he can count. "How many times...
GUERRERO, INFINITI ENJOY REBIRTH WITH SIZZLING TEXAS FINISH
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 20, 1998 -- If there's a maternity ward for race drivers, Roberto Guerrero has made more exits from it than he can count.
"How many times have I been reborn?" Guerrero said with a laugh after leading 22 laps and finishing fourth in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Lone Star 500 on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. "I've been born so many times."
Guerrero also is driving for the 1998-born Cobb Brothers Racing team and relying on the Nissan Infiniti powerplant that was born three years ago and now is starting to fulfill its promise.
The Colombia-born Guerrero got the job with owner Price Cobb after his midseason release from Pagan Racing. Cobb had released Jim Guthrie after the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte, N.C., and picked up Guerrero for the Radisson 200 on Aug. 16 at Fountain, Colo. Guerrero immediately showed that the Infiniti could be competitive although a fuel pump problem sideline him at mid-race.
"I had a blast," said Guerrero, a naturalized American citizen. "It's true, I can't remember how much fun I had in a race. I think Nissan is pretty happy."
At 26 in 1984, Guerrero came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time, drove to second place and shared the coveted Bank One Rookie-of-the-Year Award with Michael Andretti. In his first four races at Indy, he placed second, third, fourth and second again.
He won the pole in 1986 at Miami and led every lap but the last one when he ran out of fuel. The following season he won at Phoenix and then at Mid-Ohio. He was on the verge of stepping in with the big guns.
Then four days after his Mid-Ohio victory, he crashed into the Turn 2 wall during a testing session at Indy, suffering a serious injury that ended his season. He still finished fourth in the final CART point standings.
The rebirths then began.
Driving for Vince Granatelli, he started his first comeback by driving to second at Phoenix in his first race back the following spring.
Despite a 12th in the final standings that year, he was out of a ride when Granatelli closed his operation. He then was named to drive the new Alfa Romeo for the Alex Morales team, but it wasn't ready for Indy. He drove to eighth at Detroit in the car's debut race at Detroit, but the engine never provided enough horsepower to do any better thereafter.
Pat Patrick gave him a ride in 1990, and the next year called him in to drive Danny Sullivan's backup car at Indy. His highest finish was 15th that year, and his star was fading.
He rose from the ashes again at Indy in 1992, winning the pole with record-setting speeds. He then crashed on the parade lap and was on the sidelines for the rest of the season. He rebounded in 1993 to place 14th in points.
He joined Pagan Racing in 1994 and has been a regular in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League since its birth two years later. He had a number of good showings but still couldn't break through as a winner.
"Unbelievable," he said about challenging for the victory for the first time in many moons. "And with that engine. When I went to this team I didn't expect very much.
"I'm to the point where I've gone through so much I don't even let it worry me anymore. Everything happens for a reason."
For most of three Indy Racing League seasons, the Infiniti hasn't provided much competition for the Oldsmobile Aurora. Then Cobb signed Guerrero, and suddenly the engine-driver combination began showing competitiveness.
When Guerrero took the lead on Lap 137, it was the first time that a car powered by an Infiniti led an Indy Racing League race.
"The good thing is they're not sitting back and not doing anything," Guerrero said about Infiniti. "The series needs another engine. I think they've got it now."
Guerrero, closing in on 40, said his engine will be improved a little more for the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 11 and a that new engine - smaller and lighter - will be forthcoming by Indy next May.
Guerrero made his final pit stop on Lap 190 figuring the others, too, would need a final gulp of fuel for the last dash to victory. Then Davey Hamilton suffered tire failure on Lap 197, bringing out a yellow that Guerrero said removed his chance of winning. This didn't bother him at all.
"I'm really happy to see the checkered flag," he said. "I hadn't seen one in a long time. I didn't win, but I'm so happy to finish fourth."