| ||Associated Press|
HOUSTON -- The Houston Grand Prix was just another unlucky day for Michael Andretti.
The 1991 CART champion, who began Sunday's race third in the season standings, just 11 points behind leader Gil de Ferran, lost ground when he killed his engine during a pit stop and then saw any hope of a decent finish end when he was slammed from behind by rookie Alex Tagliani.
The contact spun Andretti's car and started a chain reaction that left six cars jammed into a narrow area of the 1.527-mile downtown street circuit.
"This is a tough track for me," said Andretti, who wound up 13th -- one position out of the points -- and fell into a tie for fifth in the standings with Adrian Fernandez, both of them 25 points behind leader Gil de Ferran.
"Tagliani drilled me in the back and it set off a traffic jam," Andretti said. "I was turning in and boom! He probably hit that bump and locked his brakes and drove into me."
Andretti was forced to make two pit stops, the first to check the suspension for damage and then another to change the front wing after running over a chunk of metal.
With two races and a total of 44 points remaining, Andretti
knows he needs some help to win another championship.
"The front runners will need to run into some trouble in the last two races," he said. "I'm not going to make any predictions on our changes. At some point, though, our luck has to turn around."
Vasser's helmet in the mail
Race winner Jimmy Vasser spent some time during
the last few laps of his first win in nearly two years thinking
about former teammate Alex Zanardi.
When Vasser last won, in Fontana, Calif., in November 1998, he gave the helmet he was wearing to Bobby Rahal, who retired from driving following that race.
Zanardi, who missed the race with a concussion after wrapping up his second straight CART championship the previous race, left for Formula One the next season. Vasser promised his friend he would send him the helmet he wore at his next win.
"He kept calling me and asking me if the helmet was in the mail, yet," Vasser said with a grin. "Now I've finally got a helmet to give him."
Talking about the last few laps of Sunday's race, Vasser said,
"I couldn't help but think about my friend Zanardi back in Italy.
I know he is a commentator on the CART telecasts in Italy and I
know he happy he'd be with this win."
Vasser beat Ganassi Racing teammate Juan Montoya to the finish
line in the first 1-2 finish for the team since Vasser beat Zanardi
on April 27, 1998 in Nazareth, Pa.
On top of things
When the engine in Max Papis' car shut off
suddenly on the sixth lap Sunday, Memo Gidley was too close behind
to avoid a collision.
Gidley slammed into the rear of the slowed car and somehow wound
up atop Papis' car, his front wing locked with Papis' rear wing.
"There's like nine safety guys busting veins trying to separate
our cars," Gidley said. "They tell me to get out of the car and I
say, 'Just lift me off and send me on my way.' I just didn't want
to budge and neither did Max.
"So, finally, they used a crane to life my car up and out and I
headed on down the road."
Papis was done for the day and Gidley, who had to pit for a new
front wing, lost four laps by the time he got going.
When he made a routine pit stop on lap 46, team owner John Della
Penna told him to shut off the engine.
"We were four laps down and had nobody to race for position,"
Della Penna said. "At that point, we didn't want to risk damaging
Gidley finished 21st in the 25-car field.
Still close heading Down Under
With races remaining in Australia and Fontana,
Calif., nine drivers still have at least a mathematical shot at the
Jimmy Vasser, who is riding a string of five straight top-10
finishes, is ninth, 36 points behind Gil de Ferran.
"I'm never going to give up until I'm out of it," Vasser said.
"I've been doing the math every week and thinking, 'Man,
somebody's going to have to step up and take charge of this.
"Now Montoya and me are lurking at the tail end of the guys who
can still win it."
Montoya, last year's champion, moved from eighth to sixth and
trails de Ferran by 31 points, with CART rookie Kenny Brack, Helio
Castroneves and Vasser the other long shots to win the title.
Kenny Brack, the 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner and that year's runner-up in the rival Indy Racing League, has wrapped
up the rookie title over runner-up Oriol Servia.
Sunday's victory was the fifth in the CART series for a Toyota engine, all
of them this season. It was the first on a street or road course
after four on ovals.
Vasser averaged 76.626 mph in the race
slowed by five cautions for a total of 21 laps.
The race was viewed by a near-sellout crowd of 55,000.
Vasser ends victory drought on streets of Houston
With an eye on the championship, Michael Andretti had very little to say about his disastrous spin out.
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