Fittipaldi keeps running long after race

June 01, 1993|By Gary Long | Gary Long,Knight-Ridder News Service

INDIANAPOLIS -- The exhilaration did not wear off overnight. Emerson Fittipaldi finally went to bed at 1 a.m. yesterday, but he was up again at 6 a.m.

"It was more difficult to sleep the night after the race than the night before," he said after the traditional photo shoot with the Indianapolis 500 champion.

The Fittipaldi name in auto racing history didn't really need a boost. Two world Formula One championships, the IndyCar title in 1989 and his first Indy 500 victory that same year had elevated Fittipaldi into the pantheon of driving legends.

He has had two careers. He has won all over the world and ruled in auto racing's two most glamorous forms.

But how he achieved his second Indy 500 victory Sunday afternoon revealed more than the actual addition of another accolade to his record in this past quarter-century.

"Emerson drove an absolutely perfect race," car owner Roger Penske repeated. "I've never seen him make a mistake when he was in a position to win."

Fittipaldi, a hero in his native Brazil who has been adopted as well by South Florida, exhibited wisdom and patience early Sunday. He never led during the first 184 of the 200 laps. But the last 16 belonged to him. It was time to be daring, time to take the risks inherent in the profession.

That was epitomized on the lap-175 green flag restart on which British Formula One champ Nigel Mansell blasted from fourth to first and Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti found themselves locked side by side entering turn two.

"That was my worst moment of the race," Fittipaldi said. "Mario's left front wheel was between my right-side wheels going through the corner." Had either slid off his line even a couple of inches, the resulting brush would have sent both hammering into the wall.

"I know Mario's always been tough," Fittipaldi said admiringly. "He is not going to back off." Neither, naturally, was Fittipaldi.

Fittipaldi added that he made only one chassis adjustment from the cockpit during the race and that was to "neutralize" a front wing setting to reduce downforce but increase speed.

The calculated manner in which he claimed the lead from Mansell on the lap-185 restart and the slick strategy that kept Arie Luyendyk from victimizing him the same way 10 laps later stamped this victory.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway's track revisions, namely narrowing the corners to make room for a warmup lane exiting the pits, made racing more difficult for the drivers, but safer.

Post-race reviews didn't fall into the "rave" category. Luyendyk spoke for most when he said the racing previously was considerably more enjoyable for the drivers. Andretti said: "I think it should be judged by the people who watched the race." He was speaking to the entertainment value.

Fittipaldi acknowledged that "it was very, very difficult to pass. That's the only thing that's a little negative.

"But the warmup lane is a great improvement for safety, and the record yesterday showed they'll probably have to continue with the track this way."

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