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The best of CART

By JIM TOMLIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

Times staff writer Jim Tomlin has followed CART for much of its 25-year history. He looks back at some fantastic races:

BIGGEST UPSET

1982, ELKHART LAKE: Mexican driver Hector Rebaque, coming off of a few years struggling in Formula One, had victory fall into his lap when leader Al Unser's car ran out of fuel on the last lap. How big of an upset? The last lap of this race was the only one Rebaque ever led in CART. After a serious crash at Michigan, Rebaque retired at the end of the season.

BEST FATHER-SON DUEL

1986, PORTLAND: On Father's Day, Mario Andretti caught son Michael coming out of the last turn on the last lap when Michael's car ran out of fuel. Mario won by .07 seconds.

BEST FINISHES

1993, NEW HAMPSHIRE: On his 40th birthday, Nigel Mansell beat Paul Tracy by .45 seconds. With 10 laps to go Mansell passed Tracy, then Tracy passed him back two turns later. With four laps to go Mansell went around the outside of Tracy in Turn 1 and made it stick.

1995, MICHIGAN: Scott Pruett and Al Unser Jr. dominated the second half, trading the lead several times. They dueled to the finish, with Unser taking the lead in Turn 1 on the final lap. Pruett pulled off an audacious pass on the outside in Turns 3 and 4 to win by 0.056 seconds, less than a car length.

1997, PORTLAND: The race started in rainy conditions but the track dried as the race went on, setting up CART's best three-way finish. Gil de Ferran, on wet-weather tires that were wearing out, led coming out of the final corner. Mark Blundell, on slick tires, got a better jump out of the turn and pulled alongside in the straight. Raul Boesel in third was faster than both at the end and the top three finished within a car length. Blundell beat de Ferran by .027 seconds, the closest CART finish ever. Boesel was third, .055 behind Blundell.

BEST PASS

1996, LAGUNA SECA: Alex Zanardi, a Formula One veteran but a CART rookie, showed road-racing savvy and sheer bravery. Bryan Herta, who led 40 of the final 41 laps, lost the lead to Zanardi on the last lap in the famed Corkscrew. Zanardi went into the dirt and over the curbs to pull off the pass and won by 1.41 seconds.

BEST COMEBACK

1997, CLEVELAND: Polesitter Zanardi led the first 22 laps, then was penalized twice for pit lane violations and fell to 22nd. He worked his way back to second and was going more than a second a lap faster than leader Gil de Ferran. Zanardi caught and passed de Ferran with six laps left and won by 1.28 seconds.

BEST ACTION

1998, MICHIGAN: Greg Moore won the U.S. 500 in the first example of the effects of the Handford Device, a rear-wing development that was supposed to reduce speeds. It did, but it also increased the draft cars produce, making it much easier to pass. Ever since, CART superspeedway races have produced close, restrictor-plate type racing in open-wheel cars. The race set a series record for most lead changes, 62.

2001, CALIFORNIA: Cristiano da Matta won under caution, providing an anti-climactic ending to a terrific race. The event was another example of pass-a-minute Handford Device racing on a superspeedway and easily broke series records with 73 lead changes among 19 drivers.

BEST STATEMENT

2001, INDIANAPOLIS 500: It was an Indy Racing League event, but you would not have been able to tell it by looking at the leaderboard. Six CART regulars entered, and the top five finishers were all interlopers from CART, led by winner Helio Castroneves. Sixth went to Winston Cup regular Tony Stewart; the highest IRL regular was Eliseo Salazar in seventh. A major case at the time for CART drivers' superiority.


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