The Callahan Report: CART at Mid-Ohio was the Perfect Recipe
9 August 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
The emotion was obvious. Adrian Fernandez captured his third career victory by winning the Miller Lite 200. His teammate, Scott Pruett, was hot on his rear wing in second place. Fernandez made his Tecate/Reynard very wide in the late laps of the race. The battle brought the overflowing crowd to their feet all the way to the checkered flag.
The crowd was enormous. The reason....more emotion. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the home track for Bobby Rahal. The owner/driver of the Miller Lite team announced earlier this year that 1998 would be his last season as a driver. Race fans from across the Midwest flocked to the scenic race course to see Rahal one last time at Mid-Ohio.
Rahal did not disappoint those fans attending his final reunion. Rahal posted his best finish of the season. He wound up in third place just a few car lengths behind Fernandez and Pruett. Rahal was able to say farewell from the podium. He was tearful at his sendoff.
The kind of drama exhibited at Mid-Ohio was the kind we could do without.
Michael Andretti walked away from the most horrifying accident of his racing career. Fans, race teams, and friends stood open jawed as Andretti clipped P.J. Jones at the fastest spot on the track. Andretti was traveling in excess of 190 mph when his car began flipping violently down the backstretch. His aerobatic act ended in a broad gravel trap. Andretti sat dazed in the car for a minute or two. The driver of the Texaco Havoline Ford Cosworth was covered with dirt and dust as he unbuckled and stepped out of him junked racer. The fans all around the track roared as Andretti waved to the crowd. More emotion....a life saved... thanks to the high-tech construction of the CART FedEx Champ cars.
Series points leader, Alex Zanardi added to the drama by driving off the course entering turn one. His car got loose sending him into the grass at 150 mph. Zanardi looked like a trick skier jumping the wake as he made his way back to the track. He continued in the race after "jumping" his car as high as four feet heading toward the keyhole turn. Zanardi finished twelfth which was worth one point in his championship bid.
Greg Moore also got in on the drama portion of the show. Moore had just received pit service when Andre Ribeiro pulled into his own pit in front of him. Moore had already began his pit exit but had to stop and wait for Ribeiro. There was less room for Moore's exit than anticipated. He lit up his tires and the car broke loose. The rear of Moore's car slammed a tire being carried by Ribeiro's right-rear tire changer, ripping it from his hands. The airborne tire then hit Ribeiro's right front tire changer. Moore's car was damaged to badly to continue. Ribeiro re-entered the race.
The conflict began on the opening lap as the three fastest qualifiers were removed from competition just after the green flag waved. Bryan Herta, starting from the third spot, cut to the inside of polesitter Dario Franchitti in the first racing turn. Herta was clearly ahead of Franchitti heading for the next corner. Jimmy Vasser, who started second, stayed to the outside of Herta. There was not enough room for the three brilliantly colored race cars to get through the turn.
Herta and Franchitti made contact. Vasser was also collected. When the dust settled, there were three CART FedEx Championship cars sitting as motionless as an air bubble inside an ice cube. The tempers in the cockpits were boiling.
Both Franchitti and Vasser placed all the blame on Herta. The emotions were obvious as all three drivers were furious with the situation. Franchitti remarked repeatedly that Herta made a "stupid" move. Vasser concurred with Franchitti's remarks.
Franchitti understands "stupid" mistakes. He won the pole position in Toronto last month. The pole winner at each race has a shot at winning the Marlboro Bonus Qualifying Award if the driver can win the pole and the race. The money "rolls over" until it is won. The Marlboro pot of gold now stands at $310,000. Franchitti dominated the Toronto race until he spun all alone late in the race.
Once again, the CART FedEx Championship Series provided true "bang-for-the-buck" value to its paying customers. Mid-Ohio and the pros in CART are the perfect recipe for a thrilling racing weekend.
1. Adrian Fernandez, Ford
2. Scott Pruett, Ford
3. Bobby Rahal, Ford
4. Mauricio Gugelmin, Mercedes
5. Paul Tracy, Honda
6. Al Unser Jr., Mercedes
7. Patrick Carpentier, Mercedes
8. Tony Kanaan, Honda
9. Gil de Ferran, Honda
10. Andre Ribeiro, Mercedes
11. Robby Gordon, Toyota
12. Alex Zanardi, Honda
13. Christian Fittipaldi, Ford
14. Max Papis, Toyota
15. J.J. Lehto, Mercedes
16. Alex Barron, Toyota
17. Helio Castro-Neves, Mercedes
18. Arnd Meier, Ford Cosworth
19. Mark Blundell, Mercedes
20. P.J. Jones, Toyota
21. Michael Andretti, Ford
22. Greg Moore, Mercedes
23. Gualter Salles, Ford Cosworth
24. Richie Hearn, Ford
25. Bryan Herta, Ford
26. Dario Franchitti, Honda
27. Jimmy Vasser, Honda
28. Michel Jourdain Jr., Ford Cosworth