14 October 2011

Laguna Seca, CART PPG Indy Car World Series, Sept 8, 1996

It was on the last lap; Herta had held off Zanardi lap after lap in a race that had become a game of follow the leader.
The race was uneventful until that last lap. Paul Tracy in the Penske took an off-road excursion early in the race and had enough contact with the wall at turn 5 to take him out of the race. Stephan Johansson, in his last race for Bettenhausen, lost a rear-wing and went off hard into the tyres in turn 2, but was uninjured.
Going into turn 8 at the top of the corkscrew, Herta took his normal line and left open an opportunity for Alex that he would not forget. Zanardi outbraked Herta going into the turn and it looked as though the two would touch as Herta started to turn in for 8a, but held off when he saw Zanardi zoom by.

"I went a little wide and slid out a little on the last lap," Herta said. "Alex caught me totally by surprise. I didn’t even expect to see him and was very surprised when he came up next to me. I didn’t even expect him to try. When he did, there wasn’t much I could do. This is very difficult to take, and not just for me. The guys on our team have worked hard all year and they deserved to win a race this year."

But Alex was performing his own personal version of the corkscrew as he launched his Ganassi Reynard Honda up and over the kerbing and onto the run-off area at 8b. He made the apex with two tyres in the dirt (and all of them off the circuit, which incredibly wasn't an illegal manoeuvere in the sport back then) and then bounded over the kerbing once more before rejoining the actual racing surface.

"This is incredible," Zanardi boasted. "I was faster than Bryan the last 15 laps but couldn’t get around him. On the last lap, there was a lot of dirt on the course and I took the turns really tight to avoid that. Bryan seemed to take it a little more carefully. Then I was able to close a bit and saw an opportunity."
"He  didn’t expect me to pass because the course is up and down and you can’t see there. It was very risky, but well worth the risk. As a result, I’m here smiling and he is not smiling as much."

Some people had coined this the pass of the year, but it could have easily cost both drivers the race had Herta not seen Zanardi at the last second. It would have also cost Zanardi the rest of his $40K suspended fine that was issued at the Road America round on August 18th.
But, that was not to be. A shocked Bryan Herta followed Alex Zanardi as they took the checkered flag with Herta once again losing out at the last second, as he did when Zanardi snagged the pole from Bryan on the very last lap of final qualifying on Saturday.
Herta was terribly disappointed on losing pole, and then the race itself proved a repeat of that disappointment.

Driver quotes from Speedcenter.com

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