Fittipaldi takes Detroit Grand Prix Mario and Michael Andretti crash during caution period


DETROIT -- Emerson Fittipaldi came away with his first victory of the season yesterday in the Detroit Grand Prix, a race featuring an incident involving Mario and Michael Andretti and a safety truck that caused a stoppage of nearly an hour.

The Brazilian, who also won here in 1989 on the way to the CART driving championship, held off a determined effort by series point leader Bobby Rahal over the final dozen laps on the tight 2.5-mile, 17-turn circuit winding through the streets of downtown Detroit.

Following the 50-minute delay, Fittipaldi held the lead over Rahal but drove the last seven laps of the 62-lap event almost entirely one-handed.

"I had a good lead after the restart but with seven laps to go my car starting jumping out of gear," Fittipaldi said. "I had to drive with my left hand and I had to hold the gearshift with my right hand. It was very difficult to be quick that way."

Still, he managed to beat Rahal to the finish line by 0.29-seconds -- less than two car lengths -- relegating Rahal to his fourth second-place finish of the season.

The incident that interrupted the race began with Dennis Vitolo, already far off the leaders' pace, stopped in the fourth turn, a blind, slow right-hander. The transmission was frozen and the corner workers could not push it out of the way, so one of CART's two safety trucks drove to the site and pulled in front of the stalled car to tow it back around to the pits.

The car was hooked up and the truck was just about to pull away when Mario Andretti, near the back of the lead lap after a flat tire slowed him in the early going, came around the turn hard and slid into the back of the safety vehicle, the nose of his car under the truck and the rear partially blocking the track.

Several cars, including that of leader Fittipaldi, made it through the narrow space, but second-place Michael Andretti, the pole-winner and defending race champion, skidded into Vitolo's stopped car.

That pretty much blocked the track and Rahal, running third, had to come to a full stop to keep from hitting anyone. CART officials then red-flagged the rest of the field while the mess was cleared.

Michael's car was too badly damaged to continue, but Mario's car was towed to the pits and he was able to get it repaired and restarted.

"I was in first gear," Michael said. "I was taking it easy because I knew there was trouble ahead. It's a totally blind corner. They put the safety car right in the [racing] line. There should have been a full-course yellow."

Mario, who angrily told his crew his version of the accident in the pits, cooled down before talking to the media. He said, "This car was the only thing I could see coming around the corner. I didn't know that big truck was out there. Usually in a situation like that, you have a full-course yellow."

Nobody was injured in the incident.

The cars were put into the order they were running at the end of lap 48 for the restart following the red flag. That put Fittipaldi out ahead of Rahal, with Arie Luyendyk third, followed by Eddie Cheever, Rick Mears, John Andretti, Al Unser Jr. and Mario Andretti.

They ran two laps behind the pace car under a yellow flag before being given the green flag for the final 12 laps.

Fittipaldi, who averaged 53.79 mph in the victory, earned the 13th victory of his Indy-car career and became the sixth winner in as many CART events this season. It was the first win for the 44-year-old Fittipaldi since last October at Nazareth, Pa.

Luyendyk wound up third, followed by Unser, Mears, John Andretti and, last on the lead lap, Mario Andretti

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