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The Callahan Report: Zanardi Gets First 1998 Victory

6 April 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Alex Zanardi
Bryan Herta
LONG BEACH, CA: Hiding in the shadows of the front runners was a bright red flying machine. Alex Zanardi didn't make any noise until late in the running of the 16th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. With a damaged and ill handling Reynard, Zanardi emerged with a next-to-last lap pass of race leader Bryan Herta. The pass earned him and his Chip Ganassi Racing team their first victory of 1998.

Zanardi made a pass on Herta at the beginning of the next-to-last-lap. It was a clean pass, but it caused Herta to lift off the gas. He lifted so much that he was also passed by Dario Franchitti. Herta ended the day in third place after starting from the pole.

When Zanardi got by . . . he was gone. What was more amazing was that Zanardi had a damaged suspension piece from contact earlier in the race. The crew pounded the suspension back into shape. While the car was not in its best operating mode, Zanardi was able to make up the difference.

The victory was a popular one for the fans. It was unexpected. It symbolized man over machine. Zanardi responded to the crowd reaction. He unbuckled his safety harnesses and raised half his body out of the car while waving his fist in the air. This was a departure from Zanardi trademark "donuts" he did last year after each of his victories.

Zanardi commented, "The steering arm is all bent. The car was not right and I still won. It is amazing."

Bryan Herta
Bryan Herta
Herta said, "We didn't have anything for him, I fought him off as long as I could. I almost crashed every lap trying to hold him off."

It has been said, that the cars in the CART FedEx Championship series really fly. They did it literally in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. At other times, they did not fly at all. They were at a complete stand still.

Paul Tracy showed fans the sponsor logos on top of his car in turn 6 of the tight and exciting street circuit. Tracy got together with Christian Fittipaldi. When their tires touched, Tracy's car launched into the air sideways. He nearly went all the way onto his roll bar. The car came back down on all four wheels and then into the tire barrier. Both Tracy and Fittipaldi were done for the day.

On the first lap after the Tracy incident restart, Michael Andretti received a tap from front row starter Bobby Rahal and got airborne. Andretti simply shifted gears and continued to race. Twenty laps later, Andretti's team was on the radio telling him to take it easy on his left side tires. Within a lap of that information, his left front tire blew sending him into the outside wall at one of the fastest areas of the track. Luckily, Andretti was uninjured.

Not all escaped injury. Greg Moore hit pit crew member Tim Wilson on one of his stops. Wilson was injured but was awake and alert at the scene. Moore was assessed a stop and go penalty as a result of the incident.

Even though the CART cars have the ability to fly, it appeared at one time in the race that they could not even negotiate turns. There was a major traffic jam in the hairpin turn just before the half way point in the race. The track was completely blocked. Many of the drivers stalled their cars waiting for the track to be cleared. Several positions changed due to the incident. Corner workers were finally able to get the cars restarted. It was during this traffic jam that Zanardi had his front end ran over by one of the over ambitious drivers. He received quick service while under the yellow, enabling him to charge hard to the win.

There were more than 100,000 in attendance for the popular CART event. The Long Beach Grand Prix remains to be one of the most successful and popular street course events on the circuit. This is mainly due to the organizational skills of race promoter, Chris Pook, president of the Long Beach Grand Prix association.

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