This article first appeared in the 13th December edition of Autosport magazine
Checker 200 PPG CART Round 2 – Phoenix, 12th April 1987
RG: I had been so close to winning a CART race ever since my rookie-season in 1984. I had finished 2nd at Indy in only my third ever CART race then and should have won at Miami in ’86 but ran out fuel on the last lap and was overtaken by Al Unser Jnr.
1987 was looking very good indeed. Vince Granatelli bought out Dan Cotter’s team and we had STP sponsorship. The March 87C was a really good car and I still had Morris (Nunn) engineering me. We had been together since 1982 in F1. Phoenix was Vince’s home track and we were confident going in to the race, so it all looked positive.
But as we all know, racing is just not that straight forward. In qualifying we were 3rd fastest and all looked promising. Then at scrutineering the car was found to be two and a half pounds under the weight limit. Everyone ran slightly under the limit then and what you did was ballasted it up to be the minimum weight. Before qualifying the CART technical people thought they had taken all of the fuel out but somehow they left a little in the tank, so when they weighed it there was still a little in. So we essentially had a wrong reading from the start of the meeting and that caught up with us after qualifying when they actually did pull all the fuel out correctly and of course we were under. The punishment was that we had to start from the back of the grid which didn’t go down well with Vince at all.
There wasn’t much time to feel sorry for ourselves and I really went for it from the get-go. In the early stages the car was handling like a dream. I could go inside and outside of the others; Rahal, Andretti, Little Al, Emmo, it didn’t matter who they were; I was going passed them like no-tomorrow! With a caution period thrown-in I started to think; “Wow, we can maybe win this thing.”
Soon I was in 2nd place and behind Bobby Rahal. I hunted him down easily, took him and pulled away getting a lap advantage fairly quickly. But one thing I had learnt from my previous disappointments in CART was not to get too confident, too early. And sure enough at one of my final stop I ran over one of my own wheels leaving the pit. I got a stop/go penalty which made it a little more interesting, especially as I nearly crashed leaving the pit!
Even after that though the car was so good it was ridiculous and I even re-joined still in the lead. From there it was quite simple and I remember the relief when I crossed the line. It felt so, so good to get that first win and especially in Vince’s home town and sharing it with Morris too after all we had been through together.
Anyway after all the hullabaloo of the podium and interviews died down, I went back to the garage to look over the car. As I went to look at the tyres I noticed something hanging out of the radiator. I pulled it out and couldn’t believe what I saw in my hand. It was my team mate Arie Luyendyk’s mirror which had fallen off and jammed in my rad! That was when I knew it really was ‘my day’!
Roberto Guerrero profile
Moving from Colombia to the UK in 1977, Guerrero rose through single-seaters before two seasons of F1 in 1982-83 with Ensign and Theodore. A switch to the US in ‘84 netted three CART wins and two runners-up positions at Indy. A 1987 testing crash at Indianapolis left him in a coma for three weeks before he returned to CART and then the IRL.