Fittipaldi breezes in stop-and-go win Penalties are pits for Andretti, Rahal

AUTO RACING

October 04, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

NAZARETH, Pa. -- If this were a game of Monopoly, Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal would be in jail and Emerson Fittipaldi would be counting all his money.

Fittipaldi, who earned $300,000 yesterday by winning the sixtannual Marlboro Challenge all-star race, is hot. But, perhaps, not quite as hot as Andretti and Rahal, who were both given stop-and-go penalties for improperly entering pit road.

It was a perfect demonstration of just how difficult it is thandicap the PPG IndyCar championship points race with just two races left in the season.

The Challenge, in fact, was a microcosm of this championshirace. It was Fittipaldi bursting into the lead in the late going, just as he has bullied his way into title contention with a late-season run of three victories in the last four races.

The Challenge also showed how tightly knit this competition isMisfortune for one means victory for another. With only today's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix and the Oct. 18th Toyota Monterey Grand Prix left on the schedule, anything can happen.

"All I know is that if I win these two races, I win the title," saidefending series champ Andretti, who starts from the pole position today. "If I don't win, then I'll need help from Bobby and Al."

Yesterday, it was Andretti and Rahal who helped Fittipaldi. Thpit penalties, one on Andretti, two on Rahal, allowed Fittipaldi an uncontested victory in the All-Star race.

"This will be a very different race," Fittipaldi said of today'Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix. "The championship is still open for four of us and we will all be going for it."

During the past four IndyCar races, Fittipaldi has outclassed thfield. His three recent victories, in Cleveland, Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio, have brought him to fourth place in points, behind Al Unser Jr., Rahal and Andretti and just 18 points out of the lead.

"My chances for the championship are the weakest of the four ous, but things can happen," he said.

Just as they did yesterday. Rahal, who dominated the first 5laps, seemed to suffer from an overabundance of adrenalin.

When Unser Jr. caused a caution on the track by running intJohn Andretti on lap 55, it should have relieved some pressure on Rahal and Andretti, who still had to make mandatory pit stops.

But Rahal rushed his pit entry, right in front of Andretti. And thehe compounded the move by leaving his pit too early, while the fuel vent nozzle was still attached to the car.

"I saw Bobby accelerate and blow by the pace car," Andrettsaid. "And I was pointing [to the officials] to say he's doing it."

Rahal was called for the violation, but so was Andretti, whcouldn't believe it. After he watched a taped replay, he believed it even less.

"I was purposely watching the pace car," Andretti said. "Lookyou can see my head is even turned to make sure I stayed behind the pace car. I can't believe it."

To say Rahal was irritated is to understate. More than two hourafter the race, the former IndyCar champ was still complaining.

"Boy, I can't believe they can make calls like that," Rahal said"Here we are, winning the race, and we get black-flagged for not blending into the track properly. OK, I'm a big boy. If that's the rule, I can take a stop-and-go penalty. But then to get black-flagged a second time for a supposed fuel leak is $l ridiculous."

Fittipaldi averaged 156.127 mph, for a 10.6-second victory oveAndretti, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. The crowd of about 25,000 barely had time to settle in their seats before the 10-car, 100-mile race was completed a little more than 38 minutes after it began.

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