Vasser Lean?

Author

David Phillips

View profile
Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

David Phillips delves into an Indycar title chase which has seen the runaway leader stall and a plethora of rivals make up ground in recent weeks

Just two months ago, these pages all but crowned Jimmy Vasser as 1996 PPG IndyCar World Series Champion and that was before he won the US 500 to make it four victories from the season’s first six races.

Much has happened since then, little of it good for Vasser’s hopes of becoming the first man to win the PPG title in the same year as his maiden Indycar success. Michael Andretti has scored two fortunate victories; Al Unser Jnr has collected points relentlessly, despite a brewing internecine spat with Penske team-mate Paul Tracy; Gil de Ferran’s run of bad luck came to an end in time for him to make three straight appearances on the podium; and Christian Fittipaldi emerged as a dark horse with superb drives at Detroit and Portland.

In the meantime, Vasser has accumulated just a sprinkling of points. A mediocre 10th at Milwaukee, he then smacked the wall in practice at Detroit and at times it seemed the spells of dizziness he subsequently suffered were spreading to the Target/Ganassi camp as a whole. Despite irrefutable evidence that Firestone’s rain tyres were hopelessly uncompetitive, the team ran wet settings in a Detroit race that began on a damp but drying surface. Vasser’s reward was a lowly 12th.

Rain made a cameo re-appearance in Portland and, with a top five finish there for the taking, the series leader spun his way out of the points. At Cleveland, the team unaccountably failed to call him in from second for a pit stop during an early full-course yellow. Out of sequence with the rest, Vasser collected a couple of marker cones while trying to pass Tracy, made an extra stop and finished a disbelieving 10th.

After the tragic Toronto race (see Diary), which claimed the life of Jeff Krosnoff, Vasser’s lead of 34 points over Unser had dwindled to just eight.

Ironically, ‘Little Al began his surge when he battled an unbalanced Penske-Mercedes to eighth in the Michigan race, salvaging five points on a day when he really had no business finishing in the top 10. He dominated at Milwaukee until a curious convergence of factors left him a sitting duck for Andretti on a late restart. IndyCar’s new rules call for cars on the lead lap to line-up directly astern of the leader while lapped traffic stays to the inside. Thus Andrea’ leap-frogged a gaggle of backmarkers and took up position on the

another matter, and Andretti used his extra grip to pass Unser en route to his second win of the year.

Although the Penskes have been off the pace ever since, Unser fought tooth-and-nail for a brace of fourths at Portland and Cleveland, overcoming an ill-advised mid-race switch to wets in the former and latterly soldiering home in a car by no means happy on the bumps of the Burke Lakefront Airport circuit.

Detroit was another matter. There an uncharacteristically impatient Unser stuffed his car into the tyre wall trying to pass Tracy, and later publicly criticised the Canadian for racing a team-mate with a faster car unnecessarily hard. While Roger Penske’s men feuded, the Newman/Haas camp got along famously even as Andretti scored his third win in four races at his team-mate’s expense. Just as in Milwaukee, the Pennsylvanian benefited from a late full-course yellow to close on Fittipaldi, then capitalised on the Penske’s gearbox. In addition his quarry was on Goodyear’s primary tyres, a move that had enabled him to outrun Andretti – on the Akron company’s softer wares – over the course of 60 odd laps between stops. But restarts were another matter, and Andretti used his extra grip to pass Unser er route to his second win of the year.

Although the Penskes have been off the pace ever since, Unser fought tooth-and-nail for a brace of fourths at Portland and Cleveland, overcoming an ill-advised mid-race switch to wets in the former and latterly soldiering home in a car by no means happy on the bumps of the Burke Lakefront Airport circuit.

Detroit was another matter. There was uncharacteristically impatient Unser stuffed his car into the tyre wall trying to pass Tracy, and later publicly criticised the Canadian for racing a team mate with a faster car unnecessarily hard.

While Roger Penske’s men feuded, the Newman/Haas camp got along famously – even as Adnretti scored is third win in four races at his team-mate’s expense. Just as in Milwaukee, the Pennsylvanian benefitted from a late full course yellow to close on Fittipaldi, then capitalised on the latter’s slight fumble at the restart to take victory.

But the wheel of fortune turned against Andretti in Oregon: he went nearly two laps down effecting repairs to a loose electrical connection, then lost any hope of a good finish when differing rule interpretations by Newman/Haas and IndyCar saw him denied access to the pits during a full-course yellow. And at Cleveland he was battling his way up from 13th on the grid after blowing his engine in qualifying when the differential broke.

June saw de Ferran re-emerge as a force after a quiet spell on the ovals. Third at Detroit despite a mid-race spin (caused by a sudden, and tardy, de-activation of the pit lane speed limiter on a wet race track), he was second at Portland after another spin, this one resulting from taking to a damp track on unscrubbed slicks. Then came a sweet victory at Cleveland, exploiting a two-stop fuel strategy to perfection and atoning for last year’s disaster when he tripped over a lapped Scott Pruett with victory in sight.

Like Unser, Fittipaldi has yet to win taste victory, but not for want of effort. He drove a storming race at Detroit in difficult conditions and deserved the win, yet accepted second with good humour and grace. In Portland he brought his marginally competitive Lola-Ford to the front through a combination of brilliant driving and tactical nous staying out in the rain on “hot” slicks as long as possible.

June was far from a total disaster for the Target/ Ganassi outfit, as Alex Zanardi never put a wheel wrong in a dominant victory on the West Coast, then lost to de Ferran by the slimmest of margins on the “North Coast”. Barring a superhuman streak of late-season successes, however, the former Jordan and Lotus pilot must be content with a spoiler’s role for the remainder of his campaign supporting Vasser and taking points from his rivals whenever possible.

At this stage, it’s anybody’s championship. The two most experienced drivers with the two best teams are saddled with flawed machinery. Vasser and Ganassi are showing signs of cracking under the pressure, and while de Ferran shows no sign of cracking, Hall Racing has yet to prove it can consistently field a winning car.

Like Andretti and Unser, Fittipaldi has the team but perhaps not the equipment.

The calendar seems to favour Vasser and de Ferran. Their mutual Achilles’ heel thus far has been mile ovals, of which there are precisely none left, while the Honda engine should shine once more on power tracks such as Michigan and Road America. In contrast, the Penske is not at its best on road and street circuits, while reliability glitches continue to plague the Ford-Cosworth motor.

The joker in the pack could be tyres. If Firestone comes up with a trump card, as it did at Surfers Paradise, the opposition Unser, Andretti, de Ferran and Fittipaldi will be fighting for the crumbs. But if Goodyear steals a march on the ‘Stones, or if there are a few more rainy weekends, Vasser is in trouble.

Stay tuned…

Related articles

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore

Related products

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore