TACH Race Report: Cal 500 Engine Wars End in Dead Heat . . . Everyone's Even

1 October 1997

The big topic of conversation trackside at the Cal 500 was: what engine could last the full 500 miles at 9000 RPM with track temperatures reaching 140 degrees?

It was one gruelling race that saw Firestone win the tire war, but in the motor department it ended up with Mercedes Benz, 5, Honda 5 and Ford Cosworth 5. Nobody dominated, even though MB had three of the top five spots: Mark Blundell was powered by Mercedes; 2nd placer Jimmy Vasser used Honda power; 3rd, Fernandez, Honda; 4, Gugelmin, Mercedes; 5, Rahal, Mercedes. Scott Pruett was the first Ford Cosworth finisher in 7th place. Two Toyota powered cars made it to the finish line, as P.J. Jones took 10th and Mad Max Papis was in the 13th spot.

Though the fastest guy on the race track was Mo Gugelmin, we think that if the he hadn't lunched his Mercedes engine, Canadian Ace Gregg Moore would have won the race over Mark Blundell. He was storming in the late stages and looked like he'd take all the marbles.

If Gugelmin hadn't had to come in for a splash and dash and had won the 500 miler, he would not only take home the first place money and the 10 grand from PPG for taking pole, but would get another $105,000 for winning from the pole.

In Saturday's on-track festivities, the drivers who have won pole positions this year--Zanardi, Gugelmin, Herta, Pruett, DeFerran, et al--had a chance to take home a new Mercedes E-320 sedan. All were given keys to the car and the one that started the sedan got to keep it. One by one they stepped up to the ignition and tried their keys. A couple of drivers like Zanardi had three chances. In true Hollywood tradition, the contest went down to the next to last key, which was in the possession of lone pole winner Bryan Herta (Mid-Ohio). He got the new car and promptly announced that just last week he had ordered an identical Mercedes from Ohio Mercedes dealer Bobby Rahal. Now he has his and hers.

Rookie of the Year Patrick Carpentier crashed on Friday and was taken to the hospital for a Cat scan, which was negative. Tony Bettenhausen then withdrew the car from the race.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel

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