Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Tom Sneva was not on the short list
of drivers expected to play a starring role, and indeed, with 12 laps left
Sneva was running 11th, five laps behind the leaders. But then he made his
move. It was subtle, but it sure packed a wallop. According to Al Unser Jr.,
Sneva's move, undetected by most other observers, caused Unser to smash into
the tail of Mario Andretti, who later jumped down Unser's throat. Whatever
happened, you can't say that Sneva didn't give everyone due warning. After
qualifying 12th on Saturday evening, he said. "I think we'll surprise a few
people on Sunday."
In the aftermath
of the collision, Unser had to agree. He had been running second to Andretti by
just a few feet when they came up on Sneva in a tight turn. Sneva slowed down
more than Unser expected, and Andretti became the filling in a hero sandwich.
Unser poked the back end of Andretti's Lola-Chevrolet and spun it out of the
race. Unser fled the scene—leaving behind the left front wing of his own
Lola-Chevy—and ran all the way to Victory Lane.
As Unser climbed
out of his car, Andretti greeted him with steamy accusations.
"Idiotic," "stupid," "blatant" and "sorry
driving" were some of the words Andretti employed.
chagrined to have won in such a manner, and he accepted responsibility for the
accident. "I blame myself for not expecting the unexpected," he said.
"Murphy's Law hit me square in the face. I apologize to Mario. I don't
blame him for being mad. I would be too, if someone ran over me like
Unser's mea culpa
came a bit late for Andretti. He would doubtless disagree about who got mugged
by Murphy—the difference in prize money between first place and 18th, where
Andretti was credited with finishing, was $99,260.
may be tainted but it was not a surprise. He had won the pole position on the
1.67-mile circuit with a time of 66.255, which was a whopping 1.1 seconds
faster than the No. 2 qualifier, Andretti's son Michael, who would wind up
second in his Lola on Sunday.
Unser ran away
from the field for the first half of the 95-lap race and opened up a 16-second
lead over Mario before backing off to save fuel. When they both pitted for the
second and final time, Andretti trailed by only 3.2 seconds, and his crew
literally pulled a fast one to give him the lead. Shunning a tire change to
save time, the crew got him in and out of the pits quick enough for Andretti to
take a 2.7-second lead over Unser. But six laps later, Unser had whittled the
gap down to almost nothing. "I wasn't a bit worried about not being able to
pass him," Unser said. "We were going to go at him in a scientific
way—and wham!—they stopped in front of me. That was that."
Unser and the
Andrettis were the only drivers in the hunt on Sunday. The two Penske-Chevys
driven by 1988 Indy 500 champ Rick Mears and '88 CART champion Danny Sullivan,
which had finished first and third, respectively (Unser was second), at the
Indy Car opener in Phoenix the previous week, struggled all weekend. Mears
ended up fifth and Sullivan eighth.
Unser leads the
CART point standings, and talk is that this will be his year. Last season he
finished a close second to Sullivan in the points championship and won all four
CART street races. Unser also won the four-event International Race of
Champions series, a feat that supposedly makes him the best driver in the
world. But he knows that if he ever hopes to be considered the equal of his
father, Al Sr., who has four Indy wins, or his uncle Bobby, who has three, he
must put his name in the Brickyard record book. Next month he'll get his