Unser's Blown Engine Gives Andretti Victory
Aug. 18, 1996
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) _ A blown engine two turns from the end robbed Al Unser Jr. of his first win in nearly a year and handed longtime rival Michael Andretti the victory in Sunday's Texaco-Havoline 200.
Unser took the lead 13 laps from the end during the last of five full-course caution flags in the 50-lap road race at Road America.
He appeared well on the way to an easy victory that would have moved him ahead of series leader Jimmy Vasser by two points with two races remaining.
The victory seemed assured when Christian Fittipaldi, who was Unser's closest pursuer, suddenly pulled off course and parked on lap 45, the victim of an engine failure.
That left teammate Andretti in second place, but trailing Unser by 2.57 seconds.
Andretti, who now has four wins this season and 34 in his Indy-car career, closed within 1.22 seconds _ about 10 car lengths _ as Unser took the white flag, signifying one lap to go.
Unser, whose last victory came in Vancouver, British Columbia, last September, appeared to have about the same margin when he braked his Penske-Mercedes hard, drove off-course into a gravel pit and came back onto the shoulder of the track before parking the car with gray smoke spewing from his engine.
Meanwhile, Andretti drove on to the checkered flag, driving his Ford-powered Lola across the finish line 0.54-seconds, about seven car-lengths, ahead of the Reynard-Mercedes of Bobby Rahal. The winner averaged 102.547 mph.
Alex Zanardi, who started from the pole, wound up third, followed by Stefan Johansson, Bryan Herta and Vasser, who gained five points over the 10th-place Unser, now leading by 21.
Only 11 of the 26 starters were running at the end of the 4-mile, 11-turn road circuit.
The crashing began at the first turn of the first lap as Gil de Ferran, who started on the outside of the front row, tried to get around Zanardi on the outside.
The two cars bumped hard, sending de Ferran skidding into one of the many gravel pits that line the course. The gravel is designed to slow cars when they leave the track.
As a cloud of dust covered the track, rookie Jan Magnussen of Denmark, filling in for injured Emerson Fittipaldi, bumped another car and slid into the same gravel pit, ending his race.
Paul Tracy, coming back from a fractured vertebrae that kept him out of two races, was the next victim of the slick track, spinning and sliding into the gravel on lap eight. Tracy's car was towed from the gravel and he continued after a stop for tires.
The next incident came on lap 14 when Greg Moore and Andre Ribeiro, battling for ninth place, came together, sending Moore careening into the catch-fencing. He slid along the fence for several hundred feet, before going across the track and into the gravel.
Meanwhile, Davy Jones lost control, slammed into a tire wall and turned upside down. Safety workers turned the car over and Jones was able to unstrap himself and walk away without injury.
The worst accident of the day occurred on lap 18 when Mark Blundell passed Ribeiro and the Brazilian tried to immediately get back around the Englishman. Bibeiro apparently did not see Mauricio Gugelmin, who was trying to pass him. The two pounded together, sending Gugelmin into teammate Blundell and carrying both of them into the guardrail.
Moments before Unser's blown engine, Parker Johnstone, who had been running in the top 10 most of the day, slid into the grass and flipped over several times before coming to rest upside down. He was shaken but not injured.