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Las Vegas 500K

Race Report

Richie Hearn, of Cayon Country California, driving the Della Penna Motorsports Ralphs Food4Less Reynard 95I-Ford, won the Las Vegas 500K at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday (15th Spet 1996) - round two of the 1996-1997 Indy Racing League.

Hearn took the lead from Robby Gordon thirty-two laps from the finish to record his maiden IRL victory.

In all, Hearn led ninety laps. His first stint at the front of the field coming on the half distance lap. An action packed race, filled with nine caution periods kept his winning average speed down to just 115.171 mph.

Michel Jourdain Jnr., driving a Lola-Ford finished a superb second with Mike Groff third.

Pole winner Arie Luyendyk, Gordon, John Paul Jnr., Hearn and Johnny O'Connell swapped the lead ten times during the two hundred lap race, two of those mentioned exiting the race in dramatic style...

Luyendyk, leader for the first twenty-five laps, crashed heavily in Turn 2 shortly after the halfway mark. His Mi-Jack/Bryant Heating and Cooling Special Reynard 95I-Ford was badly damaged, but the 1990 Indianapolis 500 winner escaped unharmed.

Johnny O'Connell, Luyendyk's team-mate, was fortunate to escape without serious injury following a high speed crash in Turn 4. O'Connell's car hit the concrete wall at over 220mph sending debri into the air. O'Connell's car then proceeded to skid for nearly 500 yards upside down, only for the resident of Chandler, Arizona, to climb out much to the relief and cheers of the huge 67,000+ crowd.

The red-flag was displayed while corner workers cleared the track, and once the race was re-started Hearn sprinted for victory.

"The game plan was to run like the Indy 500," Hearn said, "we decided to take an Indy 500 approach and be conservative. Our car was working very very well. I knew once I got the lead I could run flat out."

Other drivers to be involved in accidents included Hemelgarn Racing's Brad Murphey, Glidden-Menard duo Tony Stewart and Mark Dismore, and McCormack Motorsport's Stan Wattles.

Former rodeo ride, Brad Murphey, was taken to hospital with a broken thigh. Tony Stewart's Turn 2 incident left him with back and shoulder injuries, while Mark Dismore left the trackside with a suspected broken hip.

Stan Wattles was also removed to hospital following his Turn 4 crash which left him unconscious in the car for a short while. All drivers are now recovering and hope to be back behind the wheel of an Indianapolis type car as soon as possible.

Rounding out the top six placings were Roberto Guerrero, Michele Alboreto and Buzz Calkins. Top rookie driver to cross the finish line was Affonso Giaffone, who drove his Quaker State/Hype/Team Scandia Lola-Ford (these team names have to get shorter! Ed) to tenth position.

The winner! Photo:James Beckett

1996 co-champion and the True Value 200 at New Hampshire winner, Scott Sharp, retired his Conseco/AJ Foyt Racing Lola with wheel bearing problems on lap 168. Mike Groff now leads the IRL point standings with 63, just one ahead of Grand Prix veteran Michele Alboreto and Buzz Calkins.

Roberto Guerrero is fourth with 60 points while Las Vegas victor Richie Hearn lies fifth with 59.

The next round of the IRL takes place in January at the Walt Disney World Speedway.

James Beckett.

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