Jacques Villeneuve, stripped of the lead for passing the pace car early in the Indianapolis 500, was handed victory Sunday when first-place driver Scott Goodyear drew a controversial black flag for the same offense.
The penalty stunned and embittered the stable of Goodyear, who had the lead and only seven laps to travel when the smooth trip turned dreadfully sour.
The decision by chief steward Tom Binford to penalize Goodyear is not protestable, according to United States Auto Club rules. The order of finish was to be made official Sunday evening, but Binford gave no indication that the result would change.
The dramatic ending diverted attention from driver Stan Fox, who suffered internal head injuries in a crash moments after the race began. He was described in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Methodist Hospital after surgery.
Goodyear, forwardly placed most of the afternoon, ultimately was undone by passing one car too many in this 79th Indy 500. Coming out of a caution situation following a crash by second-place Scott Pruett, he tried to get a jump on his pursuers on the restart of the 190th lap, 10 from the finish. But Binford determined that Goodyear was too eager, saying the driver violated race rules by passing the pace car. Goodyear received a black flag but ignored the order to pull into the pits.
“I guess I was in disbelief,” he said.
Binford, retiring after 22 years as Indy’s chief steward, has the discretion late in a race to reduce such a two-lap penalty to one lap, which he did in Goodyear’s case. But the damage to Goodyear’s winning hopes was irreversible.
Goodyear contended that the starter’s light was green when he moved alongside the pace car, giving him the right to move past. Binford said the light hadn’t changed to green and a television replay appeared to confirm that conclusion. Goodyear committed an infraction simply by moving abreast of the pace car, Binford said.
“The violation took place,” Binford said, “and I applied the penalty.”
For failing to move into the pits as ordered, Goodyear received no credit for the last four laps he covered. That left him with a 14th-place finish in the 33-car field, and a greater feeling of distress than from his 1992 loss to Al Unser Jr. here by .04 of a second.
“We played the game right all day long,” said Steve Horne, whose Tasman Motorsports Group team owns Goodyear’s Honda-powered Reynard. “I feel that we won this race.”
But it was Villeneuve who drank the championship milk after inheriting the lead in a Reynard/Ford-Cosworth and beating rookie Christian Fittipaldi to the finish by 2.481 seconds.
Villeneuve came back from a twolap deficit, the most by any Indy winner.
Bobby Rahal finished third, 39-year-old rookie Eliseo Salazar fourth, Robby Gordon fifth and Mauricio Gugelmin sixth. Gugelmin, a second-year IndyCar driver from Brazil, led for a race-high 59 laps before faltering with more than 60 laps to go.
In welcome sunshine and gusting winds, a crowd of some 400,000 saw a youth movement Sunday through 200 laps around this monstrous 2 1/2-mile oval. Villeneuve, son of the late Formula One star Gilles Villeneuve, and Fittipaldi, the nephew of two-time winner Emerson Fittipaldi, are 24 years old; only four drivers have won the race at a younger age.
“Five hundred miles felt like 5,000,” said Fittipaldi, who started 27th. “I thought I was going to hit the wall every lap. The dash was flashing. The oil temperature light was on. The water temperature light was on. I kept my foot down and tried my very best.”
Villeneuve, a rising IndyCar force in his second season, became the first Canadian to win the Indy 500 after Goodyear appeared to have that accomplishment measured. Villeneuve was second last year to Al Unser Jr. in his only other start here.
“This is the best feeling I’ve had in racing so far,” said Villeneuve, the circuit’s rookie of the year in 1994 and now the IndyCar points leader for 1995. “To win this race is as big as winning a championship.”
That Villeneuve even had a chance to seize the lead was a toast to his Ford and his fire. After he unknowingly inherited the lead under caution 39 laps into the race, he was black-flagged for passing the pace car.
“We didn’t realize at that point we were in (first place) and didn’t notify the driver,” said car owner Barry Green. “We had the wind knocked out of our sails there.”
Villeneuve had dropped back to 24th by the time he got going again, then gradually set after the front-runners. The accident involving Fox left oil on the track and caused drivers to back off on the throttle. Villeneuve, as a result, finished the 500-mile race in just over 3 hours 15 minutes, averaging 153.616 mph. He went faster last year when Unser beat him to the checkered flag by 8.6 seconds.
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