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Sneva Named to Replace Guerrero

Times Staff Writer

Tom Sneva, two-time Championship Auto Racing Teams Indy car driving champion and winner of the 1983 Indianapolis 500, has been named to replace Roberto Guerrero as No. 1 driver for Vince Granatelli’s racing team.

Guerrero was released from his 2-year contract with Granatelli to join an Indy car team being put together by Alfa Romeo of Italy in time to run in the Indy 500 on May 27.

Sneva, 40, who drove in only two races last year after being dropped from the Mike Curb team late in the 1987 season, will complete the team’s hometown Phoenix flavor. Sneva lives in Paradise Valley, Granatelli in Scottsdale--both Phoenix suburbs--and the racing shop is in Phoenix.

“We hated to lose Roberto, but he felt it was an . . . opportunity that he couldn’t pass up,” Granatelli said. Guerrero, a Colombian native who lives in San Clemente, was with Granatelli for 2 years, during which he suffered a serious head injury in 1987 while testing at Indianapolis. He recuperated and celebrated his return to racing with a second-place finish in the 1988 season opener at Phoenix.

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“With Sneva, we have an ideal situation, especially for testing,” Granatelli said. “He lives near our shop, he can test at the two local tracks (Phoenix International Raceway, site of the CART season opener April 9, and Firebird Raceway, a road course in nearby Chandler) with no travel problems, and we can go to and from the races as a team.”

Granatelli will also have a new engine, switching to a Buick V-6 from last year’s Cosworth DFX, and perhaps a new chassis, a Lola T8900.

“We have already run the Buick in tests and believe it will be very competitive at Indianapolis,” Granatelli said. “There, the push-rod engine gets 55 inches of (manifold) boost, instead of only the 45 it is allowed in CART races. We don’t think that is a fair balance, but we hope a development program can keep us in the game.”

Indy 500 rules are set by the United States Auto Club, whereas rules in all other races of the PPG Indy Car World Series are set by CART.

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Granatelli has two new ’89 model Lolas on order, plus two ’88 Lolas and two ’87 March chassis in the shop.

“There’s no guarantee that just because a car is new that it’s going to be faster,” Granatelli said. “We’ll have Tom run them all and decide what we feel is the best for whatever track we’re racing next.”

Sneva won consecutive national championships in 1977 and 1978 with Roger Penske’s team but when he failed to win a race in 1978--even though he won the championship--he was dropped by Penske. He won the 1983 Indy 500 driving for Dan Cotter and George Bignotti.

In 197 Indy car starts Sneva has won 13, finished in the top five 74 times and in the top 10 109 times. He most recently won the 1984 Las Vegas 200. Four of his 13 wins have been at Phoenix International Raceway.

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