Race No. 9
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Mark Blundell, 2nd year driver of the #18 PacWest Motorola Reynard Mercedes-Benz, saw his chances of a first PPG CART World Series win go up in fumes at the Detroit Grand Prix only two weeks ago. Today, in the Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 at Portland International Raceway, Blundell scored that first victory in a final straightaway drag race with Gil de Ferran in the Walker Racing Valvoline/Cummins Reynard Honda.
The race had started as a sloppy spin-fest with heavy showers covering the entire race course. At one point early in the race, Derrick Walker had gone so far as to lobby for the race to be red-flagged for overly dangerous race conditions. All drivers started on grooved rain tires, and some rode them out for the entire two-hour time-shortened event. Last year's embarassing showing by the Firestone rain-tire was vindicated today, as there was no appearent domination by Firestone nor Goodyear.
With about 60 laps to go, CART made the official announcement that the race would end in ten-minutes. Several drivers dove into the pits for slicks so that they could take advantage of a drying surface in the racing line of the track.
PacWest team owner Bruce McCaw had agreed with Blundell's wish to make the switch to slicks at mid-race. When Mark returned to the track after the tire-switch pit stop, he made a charge to the front improving six positions in the final ten laps, with Raul Boesel (Brahma Reynard Ford Cosworth XD, also on slicks,) in close tow.
Paul Tracy, in the Marlboro Penske Mercedes-Benz, learned that slicks don't fair well on the still damp parts of the track, as he spun twice in the ensuing laps after changing tires. Tracy was able to regain composure and pull off a seventh-place finish to retain his PPG Cup points lead with 100 points.
As the pit stops started for tire changes, Gil de Ferran in the Walker Racing Reynard Honda and returning driver Christian Fittipaldi in the Newman/Haas Kmart/Budweiser Swift Ford-Cosworth (both on Goodyear rain tires) decided to roll the dice and stayed on the wets, which put Gil and Christian in first and second respectively.
They would maintain their positions until Blundell and Boesel were able to catch and pass Fittipaldi with less than two laps to go. Then, timing his turn and acceleration perfectly, Blundell rounded the last turn of the race and darted to the inside of de Ferran for a drag race that would result in the closest 1-2 and 1-2-3 finish in PPG CART World Series history. The victorious Blundell had nosed out de Ferran by a mere .027 seconds, and Boesel was only .055 seconds off the lead.
The race as a whole was slowed by seven caution periods for a total of 24 laps. That was only possible due to the fact that the natural road course offered grass and gravel run-off areas as the wet conditions sent several drivers off-track. In a street-course or oval-course condition, concrete walls would have made the attrition rate much higher, but the natural road courses offer local yellow-flag conditions rather than full-course yellows. Unofficially, there were a total of seventy-eight laps of the scheduled ninety-eight laps run with five different leaders and seven lead changes. The unofficial average speed of the race was 76.344.
The chase for the PPG Cup now moves on to the season's tenth race at Burke Lakefront Airport for the Cleveland Grand Prix on July 13. The race on the 2.369-mile, 10-turn temporary road course will air live on ABC at 2:00pm EDT.