MOTOR RACING : Fate of Fittipaldi, Patrick Team Up in Air
Emerson Fittipaldi and the Marlboro-sponsored Patrick Racing Team have already won the PPG Indy car championship before the final race of the season, but it hasn’t been decided what is going to happen to Fittipaldi and Pat Patrick’s team next year.
All of those involved will be in Monterey this weekend for the season-ending Champion Spark Plug 300-kilometer race Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway, but how much they will say may be something else.
“Nothing’s buttoned up yet,” is their standard reply. “We’ll have something to say as soon as the contracts are signed.”
The scenarios for next year’s $17-million season are endless.
Marlboro, the biggest-bucks sponsor in Indy car racing, has already committed its bankroll to the Roger Penske team, which has dominated the sport with eight championships in the last 13 seasons. This apparently would leave Patrick, despite having the current No. 1 team, without a major sponsor.
And what of Fittipaldi, winner of the Indianapolis 500 and four other races for his first Indy car championship at age 42? He has been with Marlboro since joining Patrick in 1986, and the sponsor has made it known that it wants to maintain the relationship. Does that mean the charismatic Brazilian will join Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan on the already loaded Penske team?
If that comes to pass, it could force Penske into running a three-car team, a heavy burden for a 16-race season, and one he has steadfastly refused to carry in the past, even when he had national champion Al Unser in the wings.
Mears has won three national championships and three Indianapolis 500s during his 12 years with Penske and is not about to leave. Nor is the yellow color of his Pennzoil-sponsored car likely to change.
Sullivan has carried Miller beer sponsorship while winning the 1988 Indy car championship and two races this year despite missing part of the season with a broken arm.
But Marlboro spokesmen insist that there will be two cars in their red-and-white colors next year. One for Fittipaldi and one for Sullivan seem likely.
Changing the look of Sullivan’s car would be simple. After all, both Marlboro and Miller are owned by Philip Morris Companies Inc., and cigarette companies, whose products are banned from appearing on TV commercials, have more money to spend on their racing venture than breweries, which are sponsors of major sporting events as well as racing teams.
“The deal (between) Marlboro and Penske was made over a year ago, but Emmo (Fittipaldi) and Patrick threw a wrench into things when they won Indy and the championship,” one team insider said. “Marlboro doesn’t want to give up Fittipaldi now, so Penske may be stuck with three drivers.”
The last team with three top-rated drivers was the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Super Team of Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Joe Leonard between 1972 and ’75.
Curiously, it was that team, sponsored by Viceroy cigarettes, that drove Marlboro from Indy car racing. Marlboro entered the American racing picture as a sponsor for the entire United States Auto Club season in 1971.
“We can’t be in a position where a team sponsored by a rival cigarette company could win the Marlboro championship,” a spokesman said at the time. “We don’t want to pay our money to a competitor.”
Marlboro did not return to Indy car racing until 1986, sponsoring Patrick’s team with Fittipaldi.
There is a remote possibility that Fittipaldi could remain with Patrick and Sullivan with Penske, but with the same sponsor. However, it would mean that Fittipaldi would be without the new Penske PC-19 model for 1990. This year, in a unique arrangement between Penske and Patrick, Fittipaldi drove the same PC-18 model that Mears and Sullivan had.
No such arrangement has been made for next season. And if Fittipaldi remains with the year-old car, it would be with a beat-up machine. He totaled one car at Phoenix before the first race of the season and wrecked a second one last month while testing at Laguna Seca.
Patrick, faced with the loss of his championship driver and his sponsor, is rumored to be linking up with Alfa Romeo, the Italian car builder, which entered the Indy car picture this season with Roberto Guerrero of Colombia as its driver.
If Patrick and his partner, Chip Ganassi, make such a move it will reunite Guerrero with his former team manager in Formula One, Maurice (Mo) Dunn, who directed Patrick’s operation this year. A move to Alfa, which uses its own V-8 engine, would cause Patrick to lose his link with Chevrolet and the all-powerful Ilmor-Chevy engine that won 12 of the 14 races this season.
There was a strong rumor circulating along pit row last month that Sullivan might join Teo Fabi as the second driver on the Porsche team, but that was scotched when Porsche made a public announcement that it is going with a one-car team next year except for the Indianapolis 500.
Fabi and the Porsche have been one of the surprises of this season. After nearly two years of sorting out a new car, Fabi drove the Porsche to its first win last month at Mid-Ohio. Now he is looking forward to two races this weekend, the 100-mile Marlboro Challenge Saturday and the 300k championship race Sunday on his favorite track.
“For sure, Laguna Seca is my favorite track in America,” the Italian driver said. “I know how to win there. I have won in Can-Am and Indy cars and I have tested there a great deal. I also like it because it is quite similar to many of the road courses I have driven on in Formula One.”
Robby Unser, 21, the youngest son of three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser, will make his Indy car debut this weekend driving for Ron Hemelgarn in a Judd-powered Lola. Unser earned his ride by winning 11 of 14 races this season in the Machinists Union American IndyCar Series for stock block machines.
STOCK CARS--The Western States 100, second of a three-race series for NASCAR sportsman cars, will close the season Saturday night at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino. The series pits drivers from Orange Show, Cajon and Saugus Speedways in late-model Camaros, Firebirds and Thunderbirds. Dave Scheidecker won the Orange Show sportsman track championship. . . . Street stocks will race Friday night at Ventura Raceway.
SPRINT CARS--Jerry Meyer’s margin in the California Racing Assn. standings over defending champion Ron Shuman has dwindled from 207 points in July to eight going into Saturday night’s 30-lap main event at Ascot Park. Meyer’s decision to go for the win instead of holding on to second place last week cost him dearly when he crashed with Billy Boat while racing for the lead two laps from the end and finished 13th. Shuman was second behind Lealand McSpadden and picked up 32 points.
SPORTS CARS--Danny Hill Jr. of Lawndale, Formula Ford champion of the Sports Car Club of America’s Southern Pacific Division, will lead a group of about 20 drivers from Southern California in the SCCA national championship runoffs this weekend at Road Atlanta.
Hill, 28, won five races to earn his way into the finals, where his toughest competition may be Mike Berg of Downey. Other Southland hopefuls include Mark Edwards of Los Angeles in Formula Vee, Beaver Theodosakis of Carlsbad in Showroom Stock GT and Bill Hagerty of Vista, who is taking two cars to the finals, a Mitsubishi in Showroom Stock A and an Oldsmobile in Showroom Stock B.
OFF-ROAD--Drivers in Saturday’s Gold Coast 300, a High Desert Racing Assn. event south of Las Vegas--especially No. 1 starter Corky McMillen--will face an unusual challenge. For the first time in HDRA/SCORE racing, there will have been no opportunity for racers to familiarize themselves with the 75-mile course. A rule against pre-running the course was issued to placate wildlife officials who have become concerned after recently listing the desert tortoise as an endangered species.
“Normally, I’d be elated to be first off the line,” McMillen said. “But without pre-running, we’re going out absolutely blind. That first guy, which is me, has nothing to guide him.” McMillen is a former unlimited two-seater series champion from Bonita.
MIDGETS--The full midgets and TQs will split up this weekend. Robby Flock, Sleepy Tripp & Co. will race the big midgets Saturday night at Cajon Speedway, while the three-quarter variety will go at Ventura Raceway the same night.
VINTAGE CARS--The second Greatrace West, for cars from 1900 to ’59, will be held this week between Long Beach and Sparks, Nev. Thirty-two vehicles will take off at 10:30 a.m. today from the Queen Mary and meander 1,000 miles through California and Nevada before reaching Victorian Square in Sparks at 5 p.m. Sunday. There are two classes, one for pre-1943 cars and the other for 1943-59 models. Featured will be a red Kurtis Kraft sports car driven by Joe Sexton of Indianapolis and a 1936 Cord Phaeton driven by Bud Melby of Kent, Wash.
POWERBOATS--Veteran Bill Seebold, of Fenton, Mo., thwarted Scott Gillman’s bid for the International Outboard Grand Prix championship when he finished second to Chris Bush of St. Paul, Minn., in the season’s final race Sunday at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Gillman started the day only two points behind Seebold, but the Orange County driver had engine problems and finished 13th.
MOTORCYCLES--Shawn Moran did not fare so well in the United States Speedway championships last Saturday night, when he finished fourth behind 33-year-old Bobby Schwartz, but he did become the first American rider to win the British League title by scoring a perfect 15 points in the championship finals at Belle Vue.