Moreno wins in Cleveland

Roberto Moreno utterly blitzed his rivals in the Grand Prix of Cleveland, his serene progression to victory lane only interrupted briefly during the pit stop sequences

Moreno wins in Cleveland

Moreno's first ever CART victory is also his first win of any kind since he took the 1988 Formula 3000 title, and with most of the title contenders hitting trouble again it means that the veteran Brazilian now has a 22-point lead in the series standings over Michael Andretti.

For the second weekend in a row there was utter chaos at the start. CART had inserted a line of cones on the run into the first corner to try and prevent the traditional pile-up that results when the field funnels five and six abreast into the turn one hairpin.

The plan failed somewhat. Drivers found their braking points hard to find with the cones changing the line into the corner. Moreno got through unscathed, as did Mauricio Gugelmin, Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran.

Juan Montoya tried to go round the outside of everyone and found himself bouncing over the grass. Behind, Bryan Herta nudged Dario Franchitti into a spin in front of the pack just as Adrian Fernandez did likewise to Cristiano da Matta. Oriol Servia was having his own accident by this time, bouncing off his team-mate into Helio Castroneves.

Max Papis tried to go round it all and smashed his front wing on a manhole cover hidden in the grass. Michel Jourdain Jr spun in avoidance while Tarso Marques harpooned Shinji Nakano into his team-mate Takuya Kurosawa. At the back of it all, Norberto Fontana took the sensible route and headed off down the escape road.

The result was a lengthy yellow. Moreno headed Gugelmin, de Ferran, Andretti and Fernandez behind the pace car. Paul Tracy had taken the inside line and missed all the craziness at the start, flying up from 17th to sixth as a result. Jimmy Vasser ran seventh ahead of Christian Fittipaldi, Kenny Brack and Mark Blundell, who had moved up from 18th to tenth by following Tracy.

Franchitti, da Matta, Herta, Papis and Nakano all survived the first lap incident and rejoined at the rear of the field, but Castroneves, Servia, Kurosawa, Marques and Jourdain Jr were not so lucky. Nakano was already a lap down after having to struggle back to the pits with a puncture.

Blundell didn't last long in the top ten, crashing in turn six when he tried too hard to fend off the recovering Franchitti. His PacWest Reynard was embedded in the tyres and brought the yellows back out, but Blundell was towed back onto the track and was able to rejoin after repairs.

PacWest's promising day was going downhill rapidly. Gugelmin soon started to tumble back down the order as he struggled with his car. Gil de Ferran ran second but he began to hit trouble with his rear brakes after the first pit stops and would also begin to freefall down the top ten.

Moreno was unstoppable. With de Ferran's problems, Andretti was up to second but he could do nothing to stop Patrick Racing's Brazilian stretching his lead to as much as 18s.

One man who looked capable of spoiling his party was, inevitably, Juan Montoya. The Columbian's Lola-Toyota was working better as the race went on. He had charged back into the top six quite quickly after his initial excursion, then came on strong in the second half to force his way into second place. He took over a second a lap out of Moreno's lead as he decided to turn up the fuel mixture and go for a three-stop strategy in the hope that everyone else would also have to make late stops.

The plan failed as Alex Tagliani stopped on course and brought the yellow out. Montoya now had to pit, whereas all his rivals would be okay on fuel.

That left Kenny Brack and Cristiano da Matta to try and challenge Moreno. Both closed in dramatically in the final laps but a late slide by Brack just as he was getting within sniffing distance of the leader allowed da Matta to take a look at second position. By defending from da Matta, Brack lost ground to Moreno and the latter was able to secure a well-deserved and utterly commanding victory.

"I have a list a mile long of people I have to thank," Moreno gushed afterwards. "I'm so happy! Thank you so much everybody...

"The competition today was very tough, whenever I had to push I had enough to push a little bit harder to show them that it would be a tough fight to catch me."

Brack took his best CART result yet in second, as did da Matta, making his first visit to the podium for the ever-improving PPI Motorsports outfit.

"It's good, but we were unlucky at the start," said the young Brazilian. "Otherwise we could have challenged for the race win."

Andretti had to slow as his car faded late in the race, dropping from a likely second to fourth ahead of Patrick Carpentier, who had been in contention all the way without doing anything too attention-grabbing, and the recovering Montoya.

Adrian Fernandez was a remarkable seventh after a scrappy race. Instrumental in the first corner shunt, he then had a big spin while running fourth and dropped to the tail of the field. He later pulled away too soon at his final stop, nearly taking the refuelling rig with him. The crew pushed his car back and sorted the problem out, thankfully no-one was hurt in the confusion.

Vasser was eighth after deciding early to switch to three stops. He led briefly having stopping during the early yellow but didn't have enough of a speed advantage to make the strategy work. Bryan Herta tried an identical plan and was only just behind in ninth, ahead of troubled trio Gugelmin, Fontana and Blundell.

Dario Franchitti followed da Matta back through the field and was looking good for third until a late gearbox problem took him out of contention. His Team KOOL Green team-mate Paul Tracy suffered the same fate while running in the top six early in the race.

Mechanical problems also accounted for Nakano, Tagliani, Papis and Luiz Garcia Jr, the latter coming into the pits with his Reynard-Mercedes on fire.

Christian Fittipaldi can expect official sanction from CART. Gutted when his engine failed while running on the tail of team-mate Andretti in third, the Brazilian ignored the regulations and crossed the active race track on foot to return to the pits. He was unrepentant afterwards, but his wallet will soon be a little lighter.

Gil de Ferran's miserable day ended when he charged into the back of Gugelmin and smashed his front suspension. Gugelmin slowed and went wide after a move on Fontana failed. De Ferran, now totally without rear brakes, cannoned into the PacWest Reynard. Remarkably Gugelmin was able to spin back around and continue, but it was game over for the man who started from the outside of the front row.

So just as Marlboro Team Penske was beginning to look too strong for anyone to challenge on the road courses, Moreno goes and proves that he has raw speed to match the sensible consistency that had already taken him into a narrow points lead.

The next few weeks will be crucial for the likes of Team KOOL Green, Ganassi, Penske and Rahal, as the title favourites try to replicate Moreno's ability to stay out of trouble and always find a way to the podium.

It has been traditional in recent years for Patrick Racing's drivers to feature strongly in the title battle at first then fall back, but this time Moreno is in a much stronger position already. As the series nears its halfway point, Montoya, Franchitti and the other star names know that they cannot afford any more slips if they are to stop the dimunitive upstart Moreno from stealing the crown.


Results from Cleveland:

1 Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford
2 Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford + 0.8s
3 Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota + 2.0s
4 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 7.5s
5 Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 8.3s
6 Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 10.2s
7 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 19.3s
8 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 19.7s
9 Bryan Herta Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes + 21.2s
10 Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes + 57.8s
11 Norberto Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota + 1 lap
12 Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes + 2 laps

Retirements:

Dario Franchitti Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda
Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford
Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford
Paul Tracy Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda
Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes
Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota
Tarso Marques Dale Coyne Swift-Ford
Takuya Kurosawa Dale Coyne Lola-Ford


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