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Vasser Scores Hot Victory in Cool Nazareth

28 April 1998

Nazareth, PA (April 27, 1998)-- Twenty-Two hours after the scheduled
starting time, the green flag dropped for the Bosch Spark Plug Grand
Prix.  Unlike the balmy conditions of qualifying on Saturday, the
weather was clear and cold.  However, after the 225 laps and 7 caution
periods were completed, Target-Ganassi driver Jimmy Vasser was first
across the line. The win broke a victory drought for Vasser that
extended back to the US 500 in May of 1996. Vasser's teammate Alex
Zanardi was second. Greg Moore in the Players Indeck Mercedes was
third with Gil de Ferran coming home a very strong fourth.

Pole-sitter Patrick Carpentier held the early lead, but was soon
overwhelmed by Newman-Haas driver Michael Andretti.  Starting from 3rd
on the grid, Andretti swept by Moore on the back stretch on the
opening lap.  Andretti had just passed Moore when the caution flag
came out for a single-car spin by Adrian Fernandez.  The Tecate/Quaker
State driver's racing day was short-lived.  The cold weather no doubt
played a part, but his spin was eerily reminiscent of Robert Gurrero's
spin at the 1992 Indy 500.  The results of the spin found Fernandez'
car up against the inside back-straight guard-rail with a bent left
front suspension arm on his Reynard.  Fernandez did not even finish
one lap. How quickly fortunes change. Less than a month ago, Fernandez
was basking in the glow of victory in Motegi, Japan.

On Lap 9 the course went green.  On the ensuing lap, Andretti swept
past Carpentier and began to open a sizable lead against the rest of
the field, if there is such a thing at Nazareth.  On lap 14, Dennis
Vitolo, who had earlier been involved in a spin similar to Fernandez's
made contact with the walls of Nazareth ending his day.  Finally after
6 more laps of caution the course went green. After 20 laps the top
five running order was Andretti, Carpentier, Moore, deFerran and
Vasser.  The field seemed to settle down and the driver's were
reporting that the grip on the cold track was improving.  Race time
temperature was a balmy 51 degrees.

The race remained caution free until lap 63 when Helio Castro-Neves
in the Alumax Reynard Mercedes hit the outside wall in turn 4.
Castro-Neves was able to exit the car on his own power, but his race
machine was finished for the day.  The race field took advantage of
the third caution of the day. On lap 67 the top 20 cars all
pitted. Andretti was able to retain his lead after the pit-stop. De
Ferran returned to the race in second place after a splendid pit
stop. Moore came out in third with Tracy in fourth. Scott Pruett, who
had been contending in the top ten, was forced to retire from the race
after an O-ring on his fueling hose failed, causing an excessive fuel
dump and a fire.  Pruett, who had just exited his pit area, did not
immediately realize the severity of the problem.  He returned promptly
to the pits on the next lap, and his the crew extinguished the fire,
but Pruett's day was over.  Another pit-stop incident involving JJ
Lehto and a crewman on Vasser's team brought out the black-flag for
the Championship Car rookie. CART officials informed Lehto's team that
he would be black-flagged as soon as the race went back to green.

The field went back to racing on lap 79. Lehto was given the black
flag on the ensuing lap.  At lap 80 the running order was Andretti,
DeFerran, Moore, Tracy and Carpentier.  As soon as the field seemingly
found the racing groove, another caution was brought out on lap 82:
Dario Franchitti had spun and made heavy contact with the
ever-familiar fourth turn wall.  Thankfully, Franchitti was not hurt,
but his race machine was in pieces.  Ten laps later the green flag
waaved. Andretti and de Ferran, once again built up a sizeable lead
over the rest of the field.

On lap 100 the top ten running order was Andretti, de Ferran, Moore,
Tracy, Carpentier, Zanardi, Herta, Vasser, Rahal and Kanaan. The field
continued to circulate until lap 109.  Mark Blundell crashed at the
entrance to the back straight.  On lap 113, the field pitted for the
second time. Herta, Vasser, and Gordon decided to forgo pitting. The
feeling in the Gordon pit was that there would be at least two more
caution periods over the remaining 112 laps and that track position
was more important.  Gordon's crew was correct about the number of
remaining cautions, but they probably did not anticipate that the
caution would be so soon. Just as the race went green, Michael
Andretti became a victim of the cold weather.  Once again, the now
familiar turn four was becoming the "wrecking ball" area.  Andretti's
day was finished.  It was really too bad for Andretti, who had led 102
of the 123 laps.  Andretti commented that "I just stood on it a bit
too early, I guess. I suppose, given the cold tires, I should have
been more careful." It was one of the understatements of the
day. After clearing the debris from Andretti's turn four incident the
race went back to green on lap 132.

At the 150 lap mark the top ten running order was Herta, Vasser,
Gordon, Zanardi, de Ferran, Tracy, Moore, Gugelmin, Kanaan and
Rahal. From 1st to 10th the field was covered by 15.4 seconds. On lap
155 Vasser passed Herta for the lead and pulled out to a 1.8 second
lead.  Robby Gordon holding down third place since lap 109 was forced
to pit on lap 156. Bryan Herta soon followed suit and lost second
place on his pit stop on lap 160.  The pit-stops allowed Zanardi to
move from fourth to second. On lap 165 Vasser pits and Zanardi took
over first.
The top ten running order on lap 175 was Zanardi, de Ferran, Moore,
Tracy, Gugelmin, Hearn, Kanaan, Rahal, Fittipaldi and Carpentier. The
last set of pit stops were rapidly approaching for all of the driver's
except Vasser who was out of sequence but certainly had enough fuel to
go the distance. Gil de Ferran was the first of the top ten to pit on
lap 189.  Zanardi came in on lap 192. Greg Moore inherited the lead
but two laps later was in the pits for his last stop of the day. The
re-cycling of the pit stops returned Vasser to the lead.

On lap 200 the top ten was Vasser, Zanardi, Moore, Gugelmin, de
Ferran, Tracy, Gordon, Herta, Rahal, and one lap down, Carpentier. The
race appeared to have all of the makings of a 25-lap "wild west"
shoot-out between the two Target teammates with Moore and Gugelmin
prepared to make their moves for victory. However, the opportunity for
Gugelmin came to a quick close when he impacted the fourth turn wall
on lap 207. Once again, the field was able to stay out of a multi-car
incident but the drama of a 25 lap trophy dash was gone. On lap 220
the race went green and Vasser pulled out to a 1.400 second victory
over his teammate Zanardi.  Greg Moore grabbed third followed by Gil
de Ferran in fourth and Paul Tracy in fifth.  Seven cars were on the
lead lap.  That seventh place finisher, Robby Gordon, was every bit as
happy as Jimmy Vasser. Starting from 24th place, Gordon drove his new
team to their highest finish this year, and the highest finish for any
Toyota powered team, since that manufacturer came into the
Championship Series.

Vasser commented "that he just tried to drive a very controlled
race. I was concerned about being out of sequence but my crew kept
telling me that everything was going to work out." For Vasser the
victory could not have come at a better time for the 1996
Champion. With the next race in Brazil on May 10th the points race has
tightened considerably and Vasser has jumped into the fight.

Race Statistics

Time of Race 1:57:20
Average Speed:108.839 mph
Margin of Victory 1.400 sec.

Lap Leaders		From	To	Total
Patrick Carpentier  	    1	 10	  10
Michael Andretti	   11	112	 102
Bryan Herta		  113	 154	  42
Jimmy Vasser		  155	 165	  10
Alex Zanardi		  165	 191	  27
Greg Moore		  192	 194 	    3
Jimmy Vasser		  195	 225	  31

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel

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