Fernandez Wins Miller Lite 200
LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) _ Adrian Fernandez had a winning ride, Bobby Rahal had his last ride, Michael Andretti had a wild ride and three drivers had costly rides.
Fernandez narrowly defeated Patrick Racing teammate Scott Pruett in Sunday’s CART Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with Rahal finishing third in his final appearance at his home course.
Andretti walked away from an accident in which he flipped four times.
It was caused by a crash involving series points leader Alex Zanardi, who was fined the CART maximum of $50,000, a series record, for bumping two other drivers out of the race in separate incidents. He also was placed on probation and had the point for his 12th-place finish taken away.
Greg Moore was fined $5,000 for driving over Andre Ribeiro’s car in the pits and Rahal teammate Bryan Herta was placed on probation for a first-lap wreck that took out the first three qualifiers.
Fernandez led the final 26 laps of the 83-lap race, but Pruett was never far behind and crossed the finish line just 0.247 second behind his teammate. It’s the first 1-2 finish for Patrick since the 1982 Michigan 500.
``It was a very difficult race because I knew Scott was strong and would have something left for me at the end. Scott determined the pace of the race, but when he was pushing, I was pushing harder,″ Fernandez said.
Fernandez, who also won at Motegi, Japan, in March, was victorious for the second time this year and third time in his six-season career.
``Adrian never put a wheel wrong all day long, but we gave him a run for his money,″ Pruett said. ``I was hoping he’d let me by at the end because he’s already won once this year, but he wasn’t going to let that happen.″
Fernandez took the lead on the 58th lap after previous leader Gil de Ferran pitted, but that was almost unnoticed because of Andretti’s crash on lap 56. His car went airborne on the seventh turn and came to rest in a sandy runoff area, leaving him apparently uninjured.
``I just went for a wild ride,″ Andretti said. ``I was caught totally off guard. When something like that happens, you just close your eyes and pray you don’t hit anything.″
He was trying to make it through a gap between Mark Blundell and PJ Jones when Jones moved into his path because of an accident involving Zanardi and JJ Lehto.
Those two cars bumped, with the wing from Lehto’s car landing in Jones’ lap and causing him to lose control briefly, bringing him and Andretti into contact.
Polesitter Dario Franchitti, Jimmy Vasser and Herta all exited the race on the second turn of the first lap in the crash for which Herta was placed on probation.
Herta and Franchitti bumped after squeezing together on a narrow part of the course and Vasser ricocheted off Franchitti, who was quite clear about his displeasure with Herta.
``I can’t believe Bryan pulled such a stupid move,″ he said. ``He squeezed me out and kept squeezing till I was on the grass and we touched.″
As Herta saw things: ``I got on the inside of Dario and went into the corner and I thought I had him cleared. We touched and I spun. It’s really unfortunate because the car was really good.″
The first-lap crash, which also eliminated Michel Jourdain Jr., put Mauricio Gugelmin, who started fourth, into the lead for the first 29 laps.
Moore moved into the lead on lap 30 after the first round of pit stops and remained in front through the 52nd lap. He then pitted and as he was getting under way, his car bumped a right rear tire being held by a crew member for Ribeiro, parked in the pit next to Moore’s.
That caused Moore’s car to go over Ribeiro’s, damaging the suspension, ending Moore’s day and giving de Ferran the lead for five laps before Fernandez took it for good.
After knocking Lehto out of the race, Zanardi did the same to Helio Castro-Neves, then in 12th, with two laps to go. In addition, he bounced through the grass on the 24th lap, but kept going after an unsuccessful attempt to get around Andretti.
Zanardi’s punishment means neither he, Vasser nor Moore gained any ground in the driver standings. Zanardi leads Vasser by 68 points and Moore by 72.
The punishment was for both bumping incidents. ``After reviewing the tapes and interviewing all the drivers involved, both accidents should have been avoided. In both cases, Alex was the overtaking driver,″ said CART chief steward Wally Dallenbach.
The first three cars all are Ford Cosworths. Rahal finished a little more than two seconds behind Fernandez as he moved from 16th on the starting grid to third and delighted fans who came to cheer him in his last ride on the track most identified with him.
Rahal is retiring as a driver at the end of the season after 17 years. His team is based in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, about 60 miles from Mid-Ohio.
``After that last restart (following the Andretti crash), every lap was like qualifying,″ he said. ``You could get close to them (Fernandez and Pruett), but you couldn’t get by them.″
Gugelmin was fourth and Paul Tracy, who started 21st, finished fifth, the biggest improvement from qualifying.