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Notebook : On the Road Again, Tom Sneva Is Happy Just to Finish Third

April 06, 1987|RICH ROBERTS

Tom Sneva, confirmed oval track driver, seemed almost as pleased as if he had won when he finished third in Sunday's Long Beach Grand Prix.

It was the second time he has been third on the tight road course, having finished there in 1984--also behind Mario Andretti.

"I've had good luck here," the Gas Man said. "I don't know why, but it's worked out that way.

"We had a lot of problems all weekend, but it came together today," he said of his March. "We had waste gate problems by the tenth lap and I didn't think the car would last.

"Actually, it got stronger at the end. I had to run one-half to three-quarters throttle down the straightaway. It's just one more thing to worry about. You not only have to be smooth in the corners and in shifting, but also in how you put the power down.

"The March cars were whistling while they worked today."

Tony Bettenhausen, who got sponsorship from 40 friends in Indiana when he couldn't land a big bucks backer, went all the way on one set of tires. By contrast, Mario Andretti had four-tire changes on both pit stops.

"I drove the pace car the last two years here and I felt a whole lot better out racing," said the youngest Bettenhausen brother. "I've seen enough races to know that you just want to stay out of trouble and run consistently.

"Our game plan, starting from last place, was just to run smooth and not make mistakes. We did that. We never changed a tire during either pit stop.

"This is the first road course I've run in four years, but I feel pretty good about getting back on one."

Bettenhausen, who plans to run the entire Indy car season with his unusual backing, finished eleventh.


There were times Sunday when Rocky Moran went so slow that he appeared to be looking for an off-ramp.

Moran, 37, an executive jet pilot from Arcadia, finished 13th, nine laps behind Mario Andretti--but he finished.

"We didn't have all our gears," Moran said. "They were coming and going."

Asked if he ever considered giving up the futile chase, he said, "I thought about it. But the game is to keep it running. As long as you're running, you gotta keep it going, as long as I'm not a hazard out there."

Moran's March had a mind of its own.

"It would work fairly decent for half a dozen laps, and then it would go to where I couldn't get any gears," he said. "I'd think it was all over and roll down pit lane, then it'd start going again."

No driver was ever more pleased to finish fifth than Josele Garza, the 1981 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year who still hasn't won an Indy car race.

Sunday's finish was his fourth best in 75 races and only his second event since fracturing his left thigh in a severe crash at Mid-Ohio last August.

"I really am happy," Garza said, "considering this is the first race of the season. We didn't do much testing on the road courses. This really is where we're hurting, but if this is hurting I'd like to see what we can do on the ovals."

The CART tour moves to the oval at Phoenix next week. Garza's Machinist's Union team still uses Cosworth engines, but he sees a steady switch to the Ilmor Chevrolet power plants that Mario Andretti and a few others are using.

"The Ilmor's gonna be the way to go, sometime soon," Garza said. "It's incredible the amount of power those guys have. Danny (Sullivan) just went by me on the straightaway like I was sitting still."

However, Michael Andretti said his father's success was unique. Of five Ilmor Chevvies starting, Rick Mears' was the only other one to finish, and he ran ninth, five laps behind the winner.

"In the race they didn't have an advantage," Michael said. "I think when they have to lean 'em down to get the fuel mileage, they lose their horsepower. In the race they weren't pulling me much."

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