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Year-By-Year Indy 500 Race Recaps: 1990s

1990

Almost a full quarter of an hour was sliced from Bobby Rahal’s four-year-old record as Arie Luyendyk ripped through the 500 miles in just over two hours and 41 minutes to average a phenomenal 185.981 mph.

Assisted greatly by the fact that there were only four brief caution periods, Luyendyk’s elapsed time for the distance required four hours less that it had for Ray Harroun to win the inaugural “500” in 1911.

Pole-sitter and defending winner Emerson Fittipaldi broke a record held since 1927 by the late Frank Lockhart, by leading the first 92 laps in a row until a tire problem dropped him back slightly.

In a rather unusual turn of events, there were only three leaders in this race and they were to finish one–two–three with Luyendyk (37 laps led) being trailed by Bobby Rahal (35 laps) and Fittipaldi (128 laps).


1991

An outside pass for the lead hadn’t been performed here in years, yet the fortunate spectators in Turn 1 were treated to this incredible sight not only once, but twice—and on consecutive laps at that.

The lapped cars of Al Unser Jr. and John Andretti were directly behind the pace car and immediately ahead of race leaders Rick Mears and Michael Andretti as the field prepared for a restart on Lap 186. The leaders slipped by the lapped cars as the green flag unfurled, and into Turn 1 they went side by side, with Michael passing on the outside.

He was over a car length ahead at the conclusion of the next lap, but then, to everyone’s amazement, Mears overhauled him at the end of the main straight. Mears, in a truly breathtaking move, sailed around on the outside at speed through Turn 1 to regain the lead. He pulled out a three-second advantage over Michael at the finish to join A.J. Foyt and Al Unser as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.


1992

Freezing-cold temperatures—creating the unlikely situation of a wind chill factor in May—caused all kinds of problems on race day as fresh, unheated radial tires had difficulty adhering to the track. There were accidents galore as former winners Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk and Tom Sneva were among those involved in heavy wall contacts.

Just as fate had turned its back on Ralph DePalma, Bill Vukovich, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and others in the decades before him, Michael Andretti suffered the crushing misfortune of dropping out with a failed fuel pump after leading for 160 of the first 189 laps.

But it set up a phenomenal sprint to the finish between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear, with Unser wiggling slightly out of the final turn and Goodyear all but pulling alongside him at the finish line.


1993

Emerson Fittipaldi led only 16 laps as one of 12 drivers who paced the 1993 event at one stage or another, but the all-important lap No. 200 was included among them as the two-time Formula One World Champion from Brazil held off nine other drivers in a frantic sprint to the checkered flag following a late-race caution period.

Immediately behind Fittipaldi at the finish were pole-sitter Arie Luyendyk, defending World Champion Nigel Mansell (making his “500” debut), Raul Boesel and another World Champion and former winner, Mario Andretti.

The track had been slightly reconfigured with the installation of a separated “warm-up” lane, and 24 of the 33 starters were still running at the end.


1994

Emerson Fittipaldi was well on his way to becoming the first driver since Al Unser (1970–71) to record back-to-back victories when his left wheels momentarily wandered onto the rumble strips on the inside of Turn 4 on his 185th lap. The car wiggled briefly, arched a little too widely out of the turn, and sideswiped the outer wall, sending the car slithering down the main straight to a halt with damaged suspension and a dislodged rear wing.

Al Unser Jr., his teammate, who had been inches away from being lapped, went on to score his second win in three years. Their clearly dominant cars were powered by special Mercedes–Benz-financed Ilmor Engineering “pushrod” engines which were built in complete secrecy for this event and never raced again.


1995


Driving in only his second "500," young Jacques Villeneuve came from a two-lap deficit to improve his extraordinary finishing record to second place and first place.

The race appeared to be in the hands of fellow Canadian Scott Goodyear, who was driving one of the first Honda-powered cars in the race, but when a late-race caution concluded with 10 laps to go, Goodyear was so intent on keeping Villeneuve behind him on the restart that he made the mistake of passing the pace car before it cleared the track.

Instructed by his crew to ignore the resulting black flag, Goodyear's final five laps were not scored, dropping him to 14th in the final standings. Villeneuve, who earlier had fallen victim to a misunderstanding involving the pace car himself, managed to make up the two "docked" laps during caution periods and pit stops.

1996

For the first time ever, the lead was exchanged during the final dozen laps by three different drivers. Alessandro Zampedri had held off the pack for 20 laps but was passed by Davy Jones at Lap 190. Buddy Lazier caught Zampedri on the backstretch a lap later and then set out after Jones.

As they came down the main straight on the 192nd lap, Lazier was still many car lengths behind Jones, but then stunned everyone by making up an amazing amount of ground and lunging into Turn 1 with the lead. He was the third different leader in five laps.

There was great sadness during practice when the very popular Scott Brayton, pole winner for the second consecutive year, lost his life in an accident while running “race day setups.”

This being the final year for turbocharged racing engines, Arie Luyendyk placed the qualifying records far out of reach for the next many years. He averaged 236.986 mph for four laps and an amazing 237.498 mph for one. During the race, Eddie Cheever raised the all-time competition lap record to 236.103 mph.

1997

For the first time since 1967, and for only the second time ever, a "500" which was already underway had to be suspended due to rainfall and completed the following day.

Motorcycle-racing legend Jeff Ward, eventually to finish third and be named Rookie of the Year, led all but two circuits between Laps 142 and 192, giving it up to make a quick stop for fuel during a brief caution period.

That gave the lead to Scott Goodyear, who was promptly overtaken on the restart by Arie Luyendyk, his own teammate. No sooner had that happened than there were two very brief cautions for debris, Goodyear unable to turn the tables on Luyendyk on either of the restarts.
With Luyendyk and Goodyear finishing one–two for entrant Fred Treadway, it marked the first time teammates had finished first and second since Rodger Ward and Len Sutton had done so for Bob Wilke's Leader Card Racing Team, 35 years earlier in 1962.


1998

There were 23 changes of lead among 10 different drivers, and for quite a few laps during the second half it appeared as if John Paul Jr. might pull off one of the great upsets of all time.

But it was Eddie Cheever who triumphed, holding off 1996 winner Buddy Lazier by just over three seconds as Paul dropped to seventh. Driving in the "500" for the ninth consecutive year, Cheever—an American who competed in 133 Formula One races between 1978 and 1989—came from 17th to win, only three winners since World War II having come from deeper within the pack.

He led for 76 laps and, as entrant of his own car, became the first owner/driver to win since A.J. Foyt in 1977.


1999

But for a much-needed brief caution period in the closing laps—which never came—Robby Gordon would very likely have won. As it was, he was obliged to head for the pits for a splash of fuel instead of roaring down the main straight to take the white flag. He had gambled against stopping during a caution period between laps 169 and 173, and he came up short by just over a lap.

Into the lead swept Kenny Brack, the young Swede who was driving for A.J. Foyt. Gordon salvaged fourth. Another rare example of a leader being taken out in an accident came on lap 117, when two-time winner Arie Luyendyk tangled with a competitor he was attempting to lap.

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