Originally created 07/20/98

Zanardi wins again with great pass



TORONTO -- Alex Zanardi tied a CART record by winning his fourth straight race, executing a sensational pass to take the lead three laps from the end and win the Toronto Molson-Indy.

The streak matches the mark set by Al Unser Jr. in 1990, and was the hard-charging Italian's sixth in 11 starts this season.

This race seemed to belong to pole-winner Dario Franchitti, who dominated the 95-lap event until misfortune overtook him on the first turn of lap 80. But the 25-year-old Scot spun while all alone on the track with a lead of nearly 11 seconds.

His car wound up stopped sideways across the track, leaving barely enough room on either side for oncoming cars to snake by after coming off the blind turn.

Michael Andretti barely slipped by the front of the car, taking over the lead. Jimmy Vasser, who had been third, nearly stopped before bumping over the front wing of Franchitti's Reynard as Zanardi, his Target-Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, took advantage to speed past the rear of Franchitti's car and take second place.

Paul Tracy braked hard and nearly slid into his teammate, whose race was over.

That situation brought out the fourth and final caution flag of the race. When the green flag flew again for the start of lap 86, Andretti held a nearly 2-second lead over Zanardi. But that margin began to dwindle almost immediately, with Zanardi's Reynard-Honda pulling close to the rear of Andretti's Swift-Ford on lap 89.

Finally, on the third turn of lap 93, Zanardi darted to the inside, moved alongside the leader and squeezed past without touching either Andretti or the looming concrete barrier.

That was the race, with Zanardi moving away to win by 1.921 seconds, the 14th win of his career.

"It came in a very unexpected way," Zanardi said.

Of his pass, he said: "Michael was just protecting his line, like anybody would. But I think he had a problem. At the last moment, he lost the car a little bit. I saw a little gap and I said, `I have to go for it.' I took my foot off the brake pedal and it worked."

Andretti, the leading active CART driver in victories with 37, including five in Toronto, has not won since the season-opener at Homestead, Fla.

"It was close, but we didn't do it," he said. "The car was halfway decent, but at the end of each fuel run I was struggling the keep the tires under me and Alex was able to take advantage of it."

Vasser wound up third and took over second place in the season standings, trailing Zanardi by 69 points with eight races remaining.

Bobby Rahal, winner of the first Toronto race in 1986, finished fourth, followed by teammate Bryan Herta, Scott Pruett and Richie Hearn. Franchitti, still looking for his first victory, wound up 20th.

Until the end, it appeared that Sunday would be unlucky for Zanardi.

On lap 26, as some of the cars near the back of the lead lap worked their way into turn three, a tight right-hander, Alex Barron dived inside Michel Jourdain Jr. They banged together, sending Jourdain's car flying into the air and Barron's into the concrete barrier.

Behind them, everyone braked and swerved to avoid the incident. Unser, who had just made a pit stop, Arnd Meier and J.J. Lehto banged together in a chain reaction that clogged the narrow track.

Zanardi, who had been second, found himself stuck momentarily as Andretti, Vasser and Tracy snaked past before he could steer around the stopped cars. All the leaders pitted under the ensuing caution, with Zanardi coming out fifth.

He got back one position immediately, passing Tracy after the green flag waved on lap 31.

The racing was slowed by two more full-course cautions in quick succession as Mark Blundell, the defending champion, stopped with an electrical failure on lap 33 and Lehto slid into a tire wall in turn one on lap 40.

Then, on lap 63, Zanardi, trying to pass Vasser for third, nearly hit his teammate, locked up his brakes and spun. He was able to continue without losing any positions and was still fourth after the second scheduled pit stops that began a few laps later.

Ironically, Zanardi drove the race with one of Franchitti's backup Honda engines, which his team borrowed from Team KOOL Green after Zanardi had a mechanical problem during the morning warmup.