The Callahan Report: Blundell Gets First Super Speedway Victory
29 September 1997Mark Blundell
FONTANA, CA: Trying to predict how CART officials will react to an on track situation is as hard as reading the word "Firestone" on Alex Zanardi's tires while running at full speed. Ask Jimmy Vasser. He predicted a caution flag would fly as Greg Moore's engine exploded in front of him with eleven laps remaining in the Marlboro 500. Vasser let off the gas to avoid any spewing oil or flying engine parts. Mark Blundell watched the track lights. They stayed green. Blundell blew past Vasser and won the inaugural running of the Marlboro 500 in Fontana, California today.
Nine times out of ten, the caution would have been displayed for a blown engine in the CART series (especially on a high speed oval). Vasser was furious with the CART officials. He said, "That was a big mistake on CART's part. I don't know how they knew without a track inspection that there was no fluid coming out on the track."
Blundell, in only his second CART season, posted his third win of the year. He saw the incident with Moore's blown engine differently. He said, "The engine blew coming out of two (turn two). I assessed the situation real quickly and saw no oil. I made a quick check on the radio (with one of his spotters) and then I just took off." The Englishman now living in Arizona continued, "It's tough to go into the turn committed not knowing if there's anything on the racetrack, but I did. Jimmy faltered and we made the move."
Lola finally got a podium finish with Adrian Fernandez. Lola made a change in the under-tray design for the final race of the season. Fernandez struggled with the non responsive chassis all season long until today. The Mexico native drove the Tecate sponsored car to a third place finish, one lap behind Blundell and Vasser. Fernandez had some help from Bobby Rahal. The Miller Lite driver was running third but had to stop for a splash of fuel with less than ten laps remaining. Rahal finished in fifth place.
It was a race in which it was bad luck to be the leader. Andre Ribeiro was dominant for most of the race. Around lap 150, the driver of the LCI Reynard lost radio communications with his pits. He also could not read the pit board at speed. Ribeiro had built a 18 second cushion over second place. He ran out of fuel on lap 202 and limped to the pits, losing a lap in the process. Ribeiro crashed two laps later. He led 114 laps of the 250 lap race.
Polesitter Mauricio Gugelmin was leading late in the race when a blistered tire sent him the pits. The Brazilian recovered to finish fourth. Greg Moore inherited the lead from Gugelmin. Moore held the lead briefly before blowing his engine with eleven laps to go.
The race got off to a slow and embarrassing start for one of the race's sponsors. Toyota had its logos plastered all around the track and in the infield grass. Before the green flag flew to start the race, Jaun Fangio's Toyota erupted in flames delaying the start for eleven laps.
Paul Tracy raced twice as long as he had in a while. Two laps after the green flag, Tracy spun between turns three and four. His Marlboro sponsored Penske chassis was finally put out of its misery after a disappointing (second half )season. Tracy walked away from the crash.
Target/Chip Ganassi Racing gets the award for spending the most money this weekend. The team destroyed three cars in the final race of the season. Alex Zanardi, the new PPG Cup champion, wasted two cars on Friday. The team still had two cars for stable mate Jimmy Vasser, but Zanardi was not cleared to drive after suffering a concussion in the second wild ride on Friday. Team owner Chip Ganassi called on Indy Racing League star and two time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk to fill in for the injured Zanardi.
Luyendyk arrived at the track on Saturday after qualifying had ended. He was allowed to start in Vasser's backup car based on his practice speeds. Luyendyk was placed at the back of the pack, in 27th starting spot.
Luyendyk was moving through traffic early in the race when Arnd Meier spun in front of him. Luyendyk had no place to go but straight into Meier and then hard into the wall. He was unconscious at the scene. When he woke up, he was on his way to Loma Linda Medical center for a round of X-Rays and a CAT scan. Both were negative..... Luyendyk was released.
The cars and stars of CART put on a good show for the fans at this new facility. High speed open wheel racing is appealing to the fans. The grandstands were packed and the infield was full of RVs. The race in California is the second of only two high speed oval races on the CART schedule.
CART now heads into the 5 month "off season" where sponsor searches, driver swaps, and equipment changes will be the headlines. For race fans, winter sucks. For race teams, the work continues but there finally will be some free time. It is well deserved.