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The Callahan Report: Zanardi Wins Despite Penalty

28 July 1997

BROOKLYN, MI: Alex Zanardi is getting good at overcoming adversity. At a recent CART series event in Cleveland, he came from 23rd spot (after penalties) to the front for his second win of the year. Today, Zanardi was penalized again for running over an air hose on his first pit stop. He charged all day and was able to post his first ever oval track victory.

The air hose incident was just part of Zanardi's problem on his first stop. He also tried to pit in his teammates pit box. "I realized I was coming in too fast.

Then I realized I was in Jimmy's pit box. That's the kind of mistake that can cost you the race." Zanardi continued, "Then I stalled the engine. I was screaming to myself!" The air hose incident dropped Zanardi to 18th spot.

[ Alex Zanardi ] Alex Zanardi

Zanardi felt he had something to prove. He was hungry for the oval track victory. "There were a lot of people who said, `Yeah, he's quick everywhere, but he isn't smart enough to win a 500-mile race,' Well, this proves they were wrong." Indeed it does....Zanardi is now a proven winner on every type of circuit in the series.

Zanardi's mistakes could have cost him the race if other drivers hadn't had their own misfortunes. Several drivers had the field covered only to have problems while running near the front of the pack.

Mark Blundell ran a smart, consistent race again today. Blundell has won two of the last three CART series events. Blundell was the only other driver on the lead lap with Zanardi. He was just barely on the lead lap (31 seconds behind....qualifying lap times were in the 31 second bracket).

"It was a little bit tough at the end," Blundell said. "I picked up a little vibration, and I was holding on so tight I lost the circulation in my left hand. I felt for a while like I didn't have a hand.''

Paul Tracy was the series points leader heading into the race. He also fought back from a pit penalty to finish fourth. Tracy and Gil de Ferran were in an exciting battle for third and fourth until 10 laps to go. The Brazilian De Ferran took the spot for good.

There were three crashes in the race. They all involved frontrunners. Parker Johnstone has always been quick at Michigan. The former polesitter crashed exiting turn two after getting into the "marbles" high on the track. A suspension piece hit his helmet leaving a large contusion on his forehead. Johnstone was able to walk away from the incident.

Bobby Rahal was the next driver on the crash list. Rahal was leading very strongly when he came up on Dennis Vitolo. Rahal claimed Vitolo moved up the track putting him on the dirty part of the track and consequently into the wall hard. Rahal's Miller Lite car was demolished. Other than a damaged checkbook, the owner/driver Rahal was fine.

Scott Pruett was the polesitter for today's U.S. 500. He was running strong and in contention till lap 174. He tasted the Michigan turn two wall in the Brahma/Reynard.

There were other leaders having problems. The speeds at Michigan, in conjunction with the extreme heat and humidity of today's race, produced a rash of gear box failures. Seven of the eighteen cars that dropped from competition were a result of gear box failures. The loading in the corners at over 230 mph took its toll. Raul Boesel, Dario Franchitti, Michael Andretti, and Jimmy Vasser were all up front when their gearboxes let go. Andretti was certainly on the move before his troubles. The Nazareth, PA driver came from 18th to the lead before dropping out on lap 79 of the 250 lap race.

Zanardi took over the points lead with his victory. Paul Tracy dropped to second. Gil de Ferran keeps turning in solid performances and now holds third spot in the points. Michael Andretti lost big today by finishing 21st. He is in fourth, but trails the leader by 24 points with only five races remaining in the season.

The CART teams have next weekend off. The series travels to the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio, in two weeks.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel