Indy's rivals gear for weekend race
May. 23, 1997
MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ While the crowds will once again descend on Indianapolis this weekend, the best-known names in racing will be elsewhere.
The Motorola 300, where Paul Tracy will shoot for his third straight CART victory on Saturday, has almost all of the top-name drivers, all of the best-known teams and most of the money.
The new Gateway International Raceway, just outside St. Louis, has everything, it seems, except tradition. After all, the new track was paved only a month ago.
But Indy, known as the ``Greatest Spectacle in Racing,'' appears to be hanging on in that category.
Mario Andretti won at Indy in 1969 and raced there for three decades. This week he's at Gateway advising his son, Michael, and he shakes his head at the fallout of the two-year feud between CART and the Indy Racing League.
``The crowds are down tremendously there, the most in modern history,'' Andretti said. ``The fans ultimately are the ones who should determine whether something is good or not.''
Gateway can't accommodate massive throngs yet, although there are plans to increase seating capacity to close to 100,000. The Motorola race will draw a capacity crowd of 45,000, while Indianapolis, even on a down year, will draw upward of 350,000.
But there's little doubt Gateway has talent. Indianapolis has Arie Luyendyk and a supporting cast that Tracy likens to Triple-A baseball players. The Motorola has the Penske team of Tracy and Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Scott Pruett, Bobby Rahal, Alex Zanardi and more.
``I still wish we were there,'' said Bobby Rahal, who won at Indy in 1986. ``But obviously we're not wanted there, and I think this is going to be more of a race.''
CART drivers note that at Indianapolis the rules change frequently.
Until last week, Indy guaranteed up to 25 of its 33 starting spots to IRL series regulars. It changed that rule, but still requires all teams to use chassis and engines built by Indy Racing suppliers, which would force CART teams to either replace their entire fleet or buy extra cars to use only at Indianapolis.
They also arbitrarily expanded the field two spots to 35 _ the first time the field has had more than the traditional 33 starters since 1979, when CART was still in its infancy.
Tracy has run Indy three times, and he's not sure what it will be like if and when he runs it again.
``Once the fans forget about tradition and leave, it's hard to get them back,'' he said. ``We've seen that in baseball and we've seen that almost happen in hockey.''
In the meantime, CART and Indy are going head to head, with the Motorola 300 on Saturday and Indy on Sunday. Gateway International has a four-year deal with CART, and if the squabble continues, next year's race also likely will be held on Memorial Day weekend.
Tracy ended a 20-race winless slump for Marlboro Team Penske when he won the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix on April 27. He followed that triumph with a victory in the Rio 400 on May 11 for his 12th career victory and the 98th for Penske Racing, and has led in four of the five series races this year.
Drivers were hampered on the first day of practice Wednesday on the 1 1/4-mile oval by swirling dust and slippery conditions. That stemmed from the lime poured on the track to close surface pores.
But the dust was mostly gone Thursday and speeds picked up 5 mph on the high end just in the morning practice.
Tracy had the top practice time of the day at 187.539 mph, followed by Greg Moore at 186.696 mph and Andretti at 186.620. Andretti blew his engine with about five minutes to go in the afternoon session, but had planned on changing the engine anyway.
The only crash of the day came when Paul Jasper hit the wall in turn 2 and spun out during the afternoon practice. He was not injured.