IndyCar Flashback: 1995 Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix

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This weekend’s race at the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway marks not only the first oval of the season, but the Verizon IndyCar Series debut of yet another third-generation star. Pietro FIttipaldi will make his first start for Dale Coyne Racing on Saturday night. Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1989 series champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

To commemorate Pietro’s debut, we take a look back at Emerson’s last win. Read all about the 1995 Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix and its impact 23 years later in this week’s IndyCar Flashback.

Fittipaldi Wins as Cheever Sputters

The dominance of Team Penske during the 1994 IndyCar Season gave way to a parity-filled start to 1995. Four drivers captured victories in the first four races, with Penske’s lone win coming with Al Unser Jr. at Long Beach.

Two weeks later, the series moved to Nazareth. Building upon the momentum of his first win at Phoenix a month before, Walker Racing’s Robby Gordon started on pole. The third-year driver would lead the first 20 laps before hometown favorite Michael Andretti passed him and paced the field for the next 37 circuits.

1994 Rookie of the Year Jacques Villeneuve showed his hand early on, using a daring outside pass to usurp the lead from Andretti. The young Canadian stretched his fuel until Lap 94, when he relinquished the lead to Forsythe’s Teo Fabi.

Fabi would hold the lead for 13 laps before Gordon’s teammate Christian FIttipaldi took control and led for the first time in his young career. Christian’s uncle Emerson would take over the lead 10 laps later in his Penske-Mercedes, in pursuit of his third win at the 1-mile oval.

The elder Fittipaldi would remain in front until Villeneuve retook the lead from Lap 153 to 160. Villeneuve clinched the bonus point for most laps led in the process.

Fuel mileage again came into play, as A.J. Foyt Racing’s Eddie Cheever Jr. parlayed a gamble on fuel into the race lead on Lap 161. Aided by two cautions for separate incidents involving Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran, Cheever seemed destined to give his car owner a victory for the first time since Foyt won at Pocono in 1981.

Less than two laps to go, disaster struck for the team. Cheever slowed on the backstretch, the strategy for his first win proving unsuccessful. Fittipaldi held off Villeneuve for the win, with Stefan Johansson and Robby Gordon also overtaking Cheever, who finished fifth.

The win marked Fittipaldi’s 22nd in IndyCar competition and his first since Phoenix the previous year.

Analysis

The career trajectories of the drivers on podium that day, as with many others in the field, changed swiftly. Here’s a look at what became of the headliners from the 1995 Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix.

Emerson Fittipaldi

Despite a shocking DNQ by himself and teammate Al Unser Jr. at the Indianapolis 500, the ovals would be the strongpoint of Fittipaldi’s 1995 season, as he would add top five finishes at New Hampshire and Michigan to a run that included a podium at Phoenix and win at Nazareth.

The 1989 Champion moved to the Penske-Hogan effort in 1996. A season that saw the Brazilian finish fourth at Nazareth and Milwaukee would be cut short by a brutal crash at the Michigan 500. The crash proved to be career-ending.

Christian, who would finish second at the Indianapolis 500 in 1995, would win two races in his CART career. He would also spend time in NASCAR, but has competed in sports cars recently, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona three times.

Two weeks after Emerson’s crash, a young Italian driver named Max Papis debuted at Mid-Ohio, replacing the late Jeff Krosnoff at Arciero-Wells Racing. Papis, who won three races during a career  in IndyCar that spanned from 1996 to 2008, would marry Emerson’s daughter Tatiana. Papis would later try his hand at NASCAR from 2008 to 2013. The popular driver now works as a race steward for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Jacques Villeneuve

Five weeks after his runner-up at Nazareth, Villeneuve took his first oval victory in the 79th Indianapolis 500. The Team Green driver added victories at Road America and Cleveland en route to the season championship.

The next year, he switched to Formula 1, winning 11 races and the 1997 World Drivers Championship.  Villeneuve would then dabble NASCAR part-time from 2007 to 2013. The 1995 Indianapolis 500 Champion returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the 2014 Indianapolis 500, starting 27th and finishing 14th.

Eddie Cheever Jr. 

Cheever Jr. competed in the Indy Racing League from its inception in 1996 to 2006. The first career win for the ex-Formula 1 racer would come in 1997 at Walt Disney World Speedway. The Phoenix native would win four more races in his career, including the 1998 Indianapolis 500. Following the 2006 season, Cheever stepped away from ownership and in 2008, joined the ABC broadcast team as an analyst.

A.J. Foyt Racing

Foyt’s team would move to the Indy Racing League after The Split prior to the 1996 season. In 2002, the team snapped their long winless streak when Airton Dare won at Kansas Speedway. Since then, Takuma Sato has also added a 2013 victory at Long Beach to the team’s record.

IndyCar has often been defined by the success of its marquee names. On Saturday night, Pietro Fittipaldi will be looking to not only begin his own impact, but continue on the one started by his grandfather Emerson.

Image Courtesy of Getty Images

Spencer Neff

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