PHOENIX — Roberto Guerrero, who couldn't win when he started on the pole and led 111 of 112 laps at Miami, found a different way to win Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
He started last.
Guerrero, a 28-year-old Colombian who lives in San Juan Capistrano, was so dominant in the Checker 200 that he overcame a stop-and-go penalty late in the race and still held on to defeat Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal by 8.16 seconds.
It was Guerrero's first Indy car win after leaving Formula One in 1984. It was also the first win for car owner Vince Granatelli, whose father Andy called himself Mr. 500 after Mario Andretti won at Indianapolis in his car in 1969. Vince took over a team from Dan Cotter at the end of last season.
"When you start dead last and see 21 cars pull out ahead of you, it's kind of spooky," Guerrero said. "But I knew we had a fast car. Starting last and winning makes it all a little sweeter.
"Because the car was running so beautifully it was easier to get by people. After what happened at Miami, I didn't breathe easy until I saw the checkered flag."
At Miami, in the final race of 1986, Guerrero ran out of fuel on the last lap after leading from the start, which allowed Al Unser Jr. to win.
Guerrero was forced to start last here when his March-Cosworth was found to be 2 1/2 pounds light Saturday after he had qualified it third fastest.
"Obviously, we weren't happy about being penalized," Granatelli said. "Before qualifying yesterday the car weighed in five pounds over the 1,550-pound minimum and was legal. After we qualified, the car was weighed on the same scale and came out light. It was very disappointing, but even then, knowing we would start last, we felt we had a car that Roberto could win with."
On the first lap, when pole-sitter Mario Andretti and his son, Michael, roared away from the front row, Guerrero's bright red machine passed five cars and picked off two more the second time around the mile oval.
By the fourth lap he was 11th and, after steadily moving up, Guerrero swept under surprising Dick Simon, the 52-year-old veteran who also lives in San Juan Capistrano, to take third on lap 47. This left only Mario Andretti and Rahal, who had taken the lead on lap 43, ahead of him.
Andretti fell on lap 63 and, in heavy traffic on lap 87, the bold Colombian went high along the wall to pass Rahal on the outside of the third turn.
Once in the lead, Guerrero quickly moved far enough ahead so that he was able to pit for tires and fuel and maintain his edge over Rahal.
However, in his anxiety to get ahead of Rahal, Guerrero clipped the removed right-rear tire with his right-rear wheel. Running over equipment calls for the driver to come into the pits, stop, and return to the track.
"I knew I was going to be called in because I felt the bump when I ran over the tire," Guerrero said. "I thought, 'Oh, no, here we go again,' but I was fortunate to be nearly a lap ahead of Bobby (Rahal)."
A stop-and-go penalty cost him approximately half a lap.
A crowd estimated at 35,200, plus a few more thousand sitting on Rattlesnake Hill outside the track, watched Guerrero pace a high-speed merry-go-round at a record 138.020 m.p.h. It bettered the 134.676 mark set by Michael Andretti last October.
Arie Luyendyk, a native of the Netherlands who brought a spectacular driving style with him from Europe, finished third, a lap behind Guerrero and Rahal. It was Luyendyk's best Indy car finish in his third year on the circuit.
Michael Andretti overcame an ill-handling car to finish fourth and beat his father by one position.
"The car was never right," Michael said. "I didn't have any grip, and it got sluggish after the first pit stop.
"I thought I could catch Arie (Luyendyk) at the end, but dad wouldn't let me past. He thought I was on the same lap."
Mario was actually almost one lap behind of his son.
"I had plenty of understeer," Mario said. "Believe me, a couple of times I should have spun it. I was just hanging on.
"As I've said many times, I believe the key to the season is consistency. Sure, you want to get your licks in and win, but you must finish to win the championship, and that's the goal as far as I'm concerned."
After two races, heading for the May 24 Indianapolis 500, Mario leads Michael with 33 points to 24 in the PPG Cup standings. Guerrero is third with 22.
It was not a total loss for the Andretti family as Michael's younger brother, Jeff, won the 75-mile American Racing Series race for prospective Indy car drivers. Jeff, 22, broke away quickly at the start to beat pole-sitter Dieier Theys of Belgium to the first turn and led the entire race.
This was the fourth time in Indy car history that a driver has won after starting last--and three of them have been at Phoenix. The late Mike Mosley went from 20th to first here in 1974, and Tom Sneva started last in a 25-car field in 1980 after pitting on the parade lap to repair a broken shift linkage. Sneva took the lead on lap 102 of a 150-mile race.