Michael Andretti Follows His Father’s Example
Michael Andretti, outdueling Al Unser Jr. in a battle of second-generation drivers, earned his first Indy-car victory Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
That kept the race through the streets of downtown Long Beach in the family since Michael’s father, Mario Andretti, had won both previous CART-PPG Indy-car series races on this circuit.
The 23-year-old Michael Andretti, making both fuel stops earlier than his top competitors, managed to run the final 40 laps around the 1.67-mile, 11-turn layout without a stop.
The victory came in his 36th career Indy-car start.
Unser, the son of defending series champion Al Unser, took the lead when Andretti made his final pit stop on the 56th of 95 laps. But Andretti moved back on top on lap 72 when the last of the other leaders, Tom Sneva, made his final scheduled stop.
A crowd estimated at more than 77,000 watched as Andretti took a chance that his fuel would last to the end of the 158.65-mile race. The younger Andretti kept Unser, who will be 24 next Saturday, behind him.
The two ran close together in the twisting parts of the narrow street circuit, but Andretti’s March appeared to outpower Unser’s Lola on the straightaways.
Andretti crossed the finish line just .38 of a second ahead of Unser.
Australian driver Geoff Brabham was third in another Lola, moving past Sneva’s March on the final lap when Sneva’s car ran out of fuel and coasted to a stop.
The elder Andretti, who also won a Formula One race on the Long Beach circuit in 1977, wound up fifth, a lap behind the leaders. He ran his Lola through the last half of the race with no clutch and no brakes.
“This was the second best result I could have had today,” he said of Michael’s victory. “We still get the trophy at Long Beach, and that’s important to us.”
The winner earned $86,160 from the total purse of $700,000 as he averaged 80.965 m.p.h. in the race slowed by two early full-course caution flags.
Unser, who started next to pole-winner Danny Sullivan on the front row, jumped into the lead at the start, but Sullivan regained the top spot on lap three.
Sullivan, who will defend his Indianapolis 500 victory in the next Indy-car race next month, then got into a battle for the top spot with Emerson Fittipaldi of Brazil until lap 32 when Fittipaldi’s March began spraying fluid and had to pit.
On lap 39, Josele Garza of Mexico spun and hit one of the concrete barriers. Sullivan, coming up behind Garza, slammed into the rear of his car and badly bent one of his front wings.
That forced Sullivan to pit for repairs and cost him a full lap. He never got back into contention.
The younger Andretti was the only one of the leaders to make an early pit stop, taking advantage of the first caution flag, brought out on lap 16 when a car spun and stalled on track in a dangerous spot.
It was actually the second triumph for Michael at Long Beach. He won a Super Vee race here in 1983.
The only other yellow flag came out on lap 32 when Fittipaldi oiled down the track.
Sneva, who finished second to Kevin Cogan in the season-opener at Phoenix, leads the point standings with 28, followed by Michael Andretti with 22, Cogan 20 and Sullivan 18.