Andretti Brings It Home
Race No. 5
NAZARETH - Before a record home crowd on a cool, breezy day, Michael Andretti
showed that he can race clean and smart. Just two weeks prior to Nazareth,
Michael was placed on probation for rough driving. That was Andretti's third
probation in as many years for the same offense.
Andretti has been publicly ridiculed by his fellow drivers, especially at Long
Beach when at the Saturday driver's meeting Paul Tracy, Robby Gordon and Mauricio
Gugelmin showed up wearing "Michael Andretti Driving School For The Blind"
Michael said it best after the win at Nazareth: "The only way to fix that is to
go out and win. That shuts everybody up."
"This is the best medicine you can have," said Andretti, who won the
inaugural Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix in 1987. "To win at home is something very
special. This was just a dream weekend and one of those wins you remember for a
long time. We felt coming into this weekend that this was a must finish race. We
had to finish and we also had to finish in the top three to have any chance at
the championship. We needed it and wanted it very, very badly."
This was the first non-Honda, non-Firestone win in the 1996 season. The Goodyear
tire has shown significant improvements since Long Beach when Gil de Ferran had
the race in the bag until mechanical problems hobbled his effort.
"The big gain was Goodyear," Andretti commented. "They've been sticking with it.
They knew they were a little bit behind in the beginning and they came out with a
good tire. That was the big difference for this weekend. Ford also came up with
some more power, but this is not a horsepower track, it's a handling track."
Paul Tracy had been the man to beat all weekend as he blistered Nazareth's
(almost) 1-mile tri-oval becoming the first person to turn a lap less than 19
seconds on a 1-mile closed course track.
But Paul beat himself this weekend. On lap 82 Tracy came into the pits, but
locked up the brakes in pit lane and made contact with the wall and left rear
tire changer Matt Johnson and two other crew members.
In the confusion Paul had to go back around for another lap until his team got
settled back down. In the meantime, leaving his pitbox, Paul ran over an air
wrench with his left-rear tire.
Paul then completed his pitstop on lap 83 and was assessed a black flag, sending
him two laps down effectively ending all hopes for a win.
"My left side tires were blistered, that could've been some of the problem," said
Tracy. "I didn't come in that hot, but I came across a painted line and the car
skidded on me.
"I felt like shit to see my guy lying there in pain and to tell the truth, I
really couldn't get motivated after I went back out."
Not motivated? Paul went back out, ended up gaining a lap back and finished
Another noteworthy effort was Greg Moore, who started 13th and finished on the
podium in second place.
"We'd worked on the race set-up all weekend," said Moore. "A lot of people
probably discounted us because we didn't qualify well. But the plan was to pick
them off one by one and it worked."
Moore scared himself a bit when with only ten laps to go he dove down inside of
Al Unser inside in turn three, pushing out to the wall in mid-corner and got into the marbles as Unser easily reclaimed third place.
"That was me being a little stupid," said Moore. "I went in really, really hot
and went up to the wall. I don't know how I saved it."
Moore successfully passed Unser three laps later. And then passed Emmo on lap
Emerson was then robbed of a third-place podium finish when Unser passed him on
the very last lap.
"It was an all or nothing move," said Unser. "It was the last lap and I got a
pretty good run on him through Turn One. The lap before he'd entered the turn a
little low, so I got on the edge of the marbles and legged it and hoped it stuck.
He tried to get me back in Turn Three and his left front was even with my right
rear at start/finish."
Rahal finished 6th with an ill-handling Reynard. "I was optimistic going into the
race because I felt our car was set-up well," said Rahal. "But the car had too
much push, and the grip wasn't there to make the passes at the proper time. I
could run with the leaders but I got a lap down early (and) playing catch-up
isn't what you want."
A surprising result was 1996 Indy Car star and PPG points leader Jimmy Vasser
finishing in 7th place, one full lap down.
Scott Pruett looked to be good at the start of the race when he jumped into 3rd
place on the first lap, but his efforts waned as he battled an over-steering Lola
and ended up in 8th place, two laps down.
"We missed on our race setup," Pruett said. "The car was loose all day. We made
some adjustments during the race and that helped, but by then we were down two
laps. The Ford engine and Firestone tires were good, we just didn't have the
Finishing 10th, three laps off the lead, was Christian Fittipaldi.
"Something happened that made my tires go bad after only five laps and it kept
happening," Fittipaldi complained. "We had huge blisters on the right rear tires.
It made me stop under green a couple of times. On top of that, there was the
stop-and-go penalty that I didn't fully understand. It was just one of those
Christian was assessed a black flag penalty for passing the pace car.
Bryan Herta and Ribeiro rounded out the points-paying positions finishing 11th
and 12th, respectively, both four laps down.
The PPG Indy Car World Series prepare next for its centerpiece event, the U.S.
500, with qualifying on May 10-12 at Michigan International Speedway. The U.S.
500 will be held May 26 at MIS and televised live by ESPN beginning at 2 p.m.