Rewind: 1997 ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix

By: Spencer Neff
June 10, 2021

This weekend, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to action for two races with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on The Raceway at Belle Isle.

After the 2020 event was removed from the schedule, IndyCar will be on this course for the 28th and 29th time since its 1992 debut. Previously, the series competed on a different course in the city from 1989 to 1991.

Before the doubleheader, this week’s rewind goes back to 1997’s race and one of the most memorable finishes in series history.

Moore nabs second straight win as PacWest duo stumbles

Entering the seventh race of their 17-event schedule, the PPG CART World Series was in the midst of an intriguing championship battle. A week earlier, Forsythe Racing’s Greg Moore became the youngest winner ever at the Milwaukee Mile.

After winning the previous three races, points leader Paul Tracy was injured during an incident prior to the 77-lap race at Belle Isle. Tracy, the winner of the previous three races before Milwaukee, was forced out.

With his team sitting on 99 wins, Penske’s hopes rested with Al Unser Jr. Fortunately, Tracy’s 24-point lead over Newman-Haas’ Michael Andretti meant he would still lead by no less than three after the race, considering Andretti was unable to qualify better than sixth.

Walker Racing’s Gil de Ferran earned his second pole of 1997 when he turned a lap at 1m09.052 (109.500 miles per hour) on the 2.1-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit in his Reynard Honda.

Gil de Ferran set a track record in qualifying and would lead the first 27 laps (David Taylor/Allsport)

Race

The rough and narrow surface of the temporary Belle Isle circuit put overtaking at a premium, as the start of the race proved. On the first lap, 1996 Rookie of the Year Alex Zanardi and Adrian Fernandez got into separate accidents, ending their days without a lap completed and forcing the first four laps to be run under the yellow flag.

Debris from a Turn 8 braking distance marker forced another caution just two laps later. Continuing a rough day for his Tasman Motorsports team, Andre Ribeiro spun into the Turn 5 barrier and forced yet another caution, ending his day with a broken suspension.

As the carnage ramped up behind them, the leaders began to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. During the first round of pit stops, outside pole sitter Scott Pruett made an early appearance on pit road with engine issues on his Reynard-Ford and did not return, finishing 53 laps down in 24th.

Rookie Dario Franchitti of Hogan Racing and Roberto Moreno, making his expected final start in place of Christian Fittipaldi at Newman-Haas, also spent time up front.

Moore took the lead during the first pit stop cycle (Jamie Squire/Allsport)

On Lap 31, Della Penna Motorsports’ Richie Hearn spun in Turn 11, prompting another yellow. Thanks to waiting until the caution to make his first pit stop, Moore was able to inherit the lead and held on as the race restarted on Lap 42.

Despite a suspension failure by Michel Jourdain Jr. that also had a course worker briefly pinned under his right-front tire, the action continued unabated prior to Hiro Matsushita stalling between Turn 14 and the front straightaway with 28 laps remaining. His Reynard-Toyota was towed in and he continued on.

When the race went back to green on Lap 54, the PacWest duo of Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell held the top spots as they looked for their first win as a team and individually.

Gugelmin leads Blundell and Moore (Twitter/HistoryinIndy)

Due to the expected number of cautions, Gugelmin and Blundell planned on making it to the checkered flag on a single pit stop, which they had made on Lap 34.

The race would stay under green the remainder of the afternoon. Entering the back straightaway on the final lap, Gugelmin’s fuel tank ran dry, handing the lead of the race to his teammate.

Two turns short of his first career win and first podium, Blundell suffered the same fate. Moore sped past and earned his second consecutive victory by 1.818 seconds over Andretti, with de Ferran climbing back to third.

Gugelmin and Blundell ended the day 16th and 17th. After his runner-up, Andretti shrunk his points deficit to just eight behind Tracy.

Moore (Center) celebrates on the podium with Andretti (left) and de Ferran (right) (Getty Images)

Analysis

Following the bitter disappointment of the Belle Isle race, Victory Lane proved to be closer than expected for PacWest.

Two weeks later, Blundell used tire strategy in a rain-shortened Portland race to earn his first career victory by .027 over de Ferran, the narrowest margin to date.

He and the No. 18 team also scored victories on the Toronto street circuit and the inaugural California (Auto Club) Speedway event in the season finale.

Gugelmin earned his first win at Vancouver. The duo would not win again and PacWest’ last win came with Scott Dixon at Nazareth in 2001.

Blundell emerged with his first victory in another thrilling finish at Portland two weeks later (INDYCAR)

Moore’s win proved to be his only victory away from an oval, where he earned two more wins in 1998 and a win in the 1999 opener. He was fatally injured two years later at California Speedway in the finale.

Despite finishing 11th two weeks later, Zanardi dominated in the second half of 1997, finishing in the Top Four every race and clinching the championship with a race to go.

Header Image By Getty Images

Published by Spencer Neff

I am a lifelong auto racing fan. Through IndyCar1909, I look forward to sharing my passion for the series and its illustrious history with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: