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Englishman’s Patience Pays Off

Two weeks ago, Mark Blundell’s big gamble failed 300 feet short of victory. This time, he gambled and won, by the closest margin in Indy-car history.

The Englishman caught Gil de Ferran on the final straightaway to win the Budweiser G.I. Joe’s 200 on Sunday by 27 thousandths of a second, high drama at the end of a rainy day when a timely tire change made the difference.

Blundell’s Mercedes-powered Reynard beat de Ferran’s Reynard Honda by 27 thousandths of a second, breaking the record set at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 43 thousandths of a second.

Raul Boesel finished third, just 55 thousandths of a second behind Blundell.

It was the sixth straight victory for the Mercedes engine. Two weeks ago, Blundell, trying to eke by on one pit stop, headed for his first Indy-car victory before running out of fuel 300 feet from the finish line.

This time, eight laps from the end, he switched from rain tires to the much faster slicks as the Portland International Raceway track was drying out. It was a tactic that had spelled disaster for others Sunday, most notably Paul Tracy, the first to make the switch.

Tracy spun off the course twice and dropped out of contention.

de Ferran stayed with his deteriorating rain tires and held off Blundell until the final straightaway, when it turned into a drag race. Blundell pulled even, then nudged ahead of the Brazilian by a few feet as they crossed the finish line.

It was a rousing finish to a mostly miserable day that had cars sliding around the wet nine-turn, 1.967-mile track as if it were a skating rink.

For the first time in the race’s 14-year history, it was called after a 2-hour time limit. The leaders completed 78 laps, 20 short of what had been scheduled and Blundell’s average speed was 76.575 mph.

There were seven yellow caution flags, five more than ever before in Portland.

Toward the finish, Blundell picked his way through the traffic, narrowly missing a disastrous collision when Hiro Matsushita pulled in front of him.

“I thought it was ‘Good night, Vienna,”’ he said.

Blundell’s victory was the first for the Motorola PacWest Mercedes team.

“It has been an unbelievable couple of weeks,” Blundell said. “Detroit was a fantastic run for us but for the last 300 feet. Then it was one of the biggest lows of my life. But we knew from that race that we’d run a very tactical race and we can run up there. We’re getting stronger and stronger.”

Mauricio Gugelmin, Blundell’s teammate who also blew a chance at victory in Detroit when he ran out of fuel, led the Portland race for 38 laps before fading.

Christian Fittipaldi, in his first race since he was seriously injured in a crash in Australia two months ago, was second going into the final lap. But he also hadn’t switched to slick tires and he couldn’t hold off either Blundell or Boesel.