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Andretti Is Left in First Place : Auto racing: Attrition takes the leaders in Phoenix, and he is around for the finish, becoming the oldest Indy car winner.

April 05, 1993|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — After 161 miles of an absolutely dazzling display of speed by Paul Tracy, the final 39 miles of the Valvoline 200 Indy car race Sunday turned into a destruction derby.

Tracy, the young Canadian replacing the retired Rick Mears, was so dominant that he passed the entire 25-car field in the first 42 laps and passed them all a second time by Lap 100.

The busiest person among the estimated 50,000 at Phoenix International Raceway was the man frantically waving the blue move-over flag as Tracy swept through the field, sometimes high, sometimes low and sometimes bursting by three or four cars in a single turn.

On Lap 162, Tracy was pinched toward the infield by Jimmy Vasser, and his car spun halfway around and smacked the concrete barrier at nearly the same spot at which Formula One champion Nigel Mansell crashed during practice on Saturday.

Emerson Fittipaldi, Tracy's Penske teammate, took over the lead but didn't last 10 laps before he slammed into the wall at the other end of the one-mile oval.

That left Mario Andretti in front by a lap over Raul Boesel. Andretti held on without hitting anything to become, at age 53, the oldest driver to win an Indy car race and the first to win in four decades.

Boesel finished second, one lap behind, and Vasser was third, three laps back.

"I was going into the turn when I came up on the No. 18 (Vasser) car, which was going slower," Tracy explained. "He moved over, I thought to give me room to pass. I took my line and committed to going into the turn. Then he came down on me and I had to back off. At that point, the car spun."

Tracy, 24, was treated at the track hospital for a severe bruise to his right knee.

Vasser's version of the incident: "I knew he was behind me, a couple of car lengths. I took my usual line. I expected him to go around me on the outside through the turn. When he went to the inside he got so close to me that he must have had some problems with my air."

At 100 miles, Andretti was sixth. He won without passing any of the first five cars.

First, pole-sitter Scott Goodyear--running second--pitted with engine problems on Lap 106. Next, Robby Gordon, driving for A.J. Foyt, crashed on Lap 137, shortly after having passed Roberto Guerrero for third place.

It was the second crash of the day for the young off-road racer from Orange. He rapped the wall during morning practice, and Foyt's crew barely had time to make repairs and push the car onto the starting grid as the national anthem was being played.

"Considering the whole weekend, I'm glad we got out of here alive," Foyt said. "I think he (Gordon) did a great job. That's racing. But I'm proud of him."

Tracy crashed on Lap 162, and Guerrero dropped out a lap later with a smoking engine, moving Andretti up to second, where he remained until it was Fittipaldi's turn to whack the wall.

"It was my lucky day," Andretti said. "I've had as many taken away from me this same way, so I'll take it and cherish it. I couldn't be happier, getting a win in the '90s. Actually, I've won in five decades. I won my first race at Nazareth, (Pa.,) in 1958."

That was in a modified stock car race, driving a Hudson Hornet. His first Indy car victory came in 1965. This was his fourth victory at Phoenix. Others came in 1966, 1967 and 1988.

It also ended a 73-race winless streak in Indy cars, dating back to the Budweiser Grand Prix in Cleveland on July 3, 1988. During that time, he had eight second-place finishes, four behind his son Michael.

"It seemed for awhile that every time I was in position for a win, Michael would have his name on it--so I sent him away," Andretti said with a big smile. Michael Andretti, who had been his Newman-Haas teammate for four years, left this year to drive in Formula One, which his father won in 1978.

Michael Andretti watched the race from his home in Nazareth and spoke briefly by cellular phone with his father in Victory Lane.

"I couldn't believe what I was watching," he said. "I'm so, so happy for Dad. He deserved it. He's lost far more races like that than he's ever won. He's had so many heartbreaks. I can't even tell you how happy I am."

Mansell, who replaced the younger Andretti on the team, also watched the race from his home in Clearwater, Fla., after flying there Sunday morning.

"It's great for the team and the crew," said Mansell, who suffered a concussion and bruised shoulder in Saturday's accident. "My best to Mario, and we'll see everyone in Long Beach."

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