The Callahan Report: Zanardi Flies to Victory on Airport Circuit
14 July 1997"Tower..... this is Zanardi. Request clearance for departure" might have been the radio request. The reply was, "You have clearance, Zanardi, you are number one." Indeed he was. Alex Zanardi flew to victory in the Medic Drug Grand Prix at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. The victory was anything but easy.
Under a full course yellow, there was a major mis-communication between Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and its participants. The teams were informed via radio the pits were open. However, the "pits closed" sign at the entrance to the pits was still being displayed. Several cars listened to the radio and made their stops.
Zanardi and six others pitted while the pits were closed, changing the entire complection of the race. Those seven cars were sent to the rear of the pack. Zanardi, who started from the pole, was the leader before the blunder and suffered the most from the miscue. To add insult to injury, he also violated the blend line on his exit from the pits earning himself a black flag. He restarted the race from the 23rd position. Zanardi's Target/Chip Ganassi car was clearly the fastest machine at the track.
It looked as though outside polesitter Gil De Ferran would be the biggest benefactor. He did not make the pit mistake. His car was fast. He stayed in front for the majority of the race. Christian Fittipaldi, Jimmy Vasser, Scott Pruett and Bryan Herta also stayed out. They were running in the top five as the race went back to green.
Zanardi had worked himself back to second spot with twelve laps remaining. He was closing on De Ferran at a rate of one second per lap. The Valvoline car of De Ferran was in a fuel conservation mode. With six laps to go, Zanardi moved low in turn one and took over the lead for good. De Ferran was finally given the go ahead to run at full fuel mixture but it was too late. Zanardi's margin of victory was 1.281 seconds.
Zanardi and De Ferran were both running in Reynard Hondas. Zanardi was using Firestone tires while De Ferran runs Goodyear rubber. Firestone has been winning the tire battle on hot tracks (95 degrees today). Brian Herta brought the Shell/Rahal car home in third place. His boss, Bobby Rahal, finished fifth. Al Unser Jr., finishing fourth, had his best performance in quite some time for Roger Penske. The Marlboro Team owner is still looking for his 100th career victory. Penske's other car, driven by Paul Tracy, finished in seventh. Scott Pruett, Mark Blundell, and Parker Johnstone rounded out the top ten.
The troubles continue for the Toyota Team. P.J. Jones went out due to a shifter cable breaking. Jones and teammate Juan Fazio II were over ten mph down on the straightaways. Lack of horsepower and other problems continue to frustrate the team. Fangio blew an engine with two laps remaining.
Michael Andretti was running fifth with less than twenty laps to go. He brought the Kmart/Havoline Swift into the pits and shut it down. The crew removed the rear cover and did some quick work. He was sent back out but came in a lap later. His day was done.
Richie Hearn chilled the crowd of 65,000 on hand. He was involved in the biggest mishap of the day. His Lola lost tire pressure on the left rear entering turn nine. The car spun quickly and hit the concrete barrier. He traveled on into the tire barrier. The car was extensively damaged. Hearn was uninjured.
Andre Ribero likes his new equipment. His team purchased a new Reynard recently, doing away with their troubled Lola chassis. Ribero qualified in eighth spot with the new car and ran up front most of the day. His teammate, Adrian Fernandez, is still using a Lola. Fernandez qualified in twenty-fifth and was never a factor with the ill handling car.
Paul Tracy is the series points leader. Greg Moore is second. De Ferran holds the third spot, followed by Andretti, Zanardi, and Scott Pruett.
It is only fitting that cars with wings race on the runways of an airport. That was the case today as the CART series returned to Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. The cars were flying. Some left the runway. None were airborne. The next CART event will be the Molson Indy Toronto this coming weekend at Toronto, Canada.
Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel