By: Spencer Neff
June 20, 2019 | 8:23 AM
Beginning with its debut on the IndyCar schedule in 1982, Road America has been one of the most storied venues in the seires.
14 turns comprise the 4.014-mile circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In its history, the track has played hosted to 28 races for open-wheel racing in America.
In this week’s edition of IndyCar Flashback, we’ll take a look at one race that featured one member of a famous racing family reach victory lane for the first time.
Fittipaldi nabs first career win in Newman-Haas 1-2 finish
Even before the race started, intrigue continued to grow around the CART Fedex Championship Series’ annual visit to Road America. For the 1999 Texaco/Havoline 200, it was announced that the scheduled race distance of 50 laps would be expanded to 55 laps.
With an added 20 miles to the race distance, fuel strategy would be altered. On the front row were three-time race winner Michael Andretti and rookie points leader Juan Montoya.
Earlier in the season at Twin Ring Motegi, the Newman-Haas and Chip Ganassi Racing drivers and their car owners got into separate arguments, further fueling the fire heading into race day.
Turns 1 and 2 on the opening lap proved to be treacherous for the field. In all, six cars were involved in two separate incidents at the start. The race was red-flagged because of the issue. All six cars continued on despite the issues. However, multiple drivers were forced to their backup cars in an odd string of events.
After the track was cleaned up, the 55-lap race was restarted. During the restart, Montoya was able to overtake Andretti into Turn 1. Once he inherited the lead, the impressive rookie continued his dominant streak.
In all, Montoya would remain out front during the first 31 laps of the race. Although eight cars fell out of the race, there had yet to be a full-course caution on track through the first half of the race – not counting the red flag stoppage.
During the leader’s second pit stop, Forsythe Racing driver Greg Moore made his way to the top spot for two laps. Throughout the race, Montoya had reported issues with his gearbox.
With seven laps remaining, the gearbox on his Reynard-Honda entry finally went away and Montoya would be granted his first DNF in a CART event.
After Montoya lost the lead, Andretti’s teammate Christian Fittipaldi took the lead. Starting fourth in his 72nd career start, the second-generation driver was still pursuing his first career win.
Fortunately, he was able to hold off Andretti and win by 1.060 seconds for a maiden breakthrough. With no full-course yellow flags, the race went caution-free for the first time since 1991.
For the first time since the 1996 race at Belle Isle, when Andretti beat a dominant Fittipaldi, Newman-Haas earned a 1-2 finish. This had also been the previous best finish of Fittipaldi’s career.
In third place, Patrick Racing’s Adrian Fernandez completed the podium despite an earlier spin.
Finishing the weekend as the race’s runner-up, Andretti vaulted two spots into second in points from fourth. Due to Montoya’s mechanical retrement, he earned just a single point for most laps led and saw his lead shrink to 18 points.
By winning his first career race, Fittipaldi had finally begun to see a reversal of fortune.
Although he missed five races due to injury during the season, Fittipaldi set career-bests in the top-five and top-ten categories, as well as races running at the finish results and finishes on the lead lap.
Earlier in the season, he earned his lone career pole position at his home race in Brazil. By season’s end, Fittipaldi had finished seventh in points – his best effort since 1996.
In 2000, the Brazilian driver earned his second and final win at Fontana. After equaling his career-best of fifth in points during the 2002 season, he moved onto NASCAR.
A few years later, he went on to enjoy a successful sports car career. Following January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Fittipaldi retired from racing.
For his teammate, Andretti earned his 31st and final career pole at Road America. By finishing second, Andretti finished on the podium after winning pole for the first time since his victory at Laguna Seca in 1992.
In 2001, Andretti left Newman-Haas for Team Green. As for his team, Newman-Haas went on to win at Road America three more times from 2002 to 2007. Since its 2016 return, Andretti Autosport has yet to reach victory lane at Road America – coming closest with Ryan Hunter-Reay last year in a runner-up effort.
Despite leading 57 laps in his first two starts, Montoya only finished a race once at Road America. In 2016, he ended the day seventh, albeit without leading a lap.
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