March 31 in Motorsports History: Jimmy Vasser wins Surfers Paradise

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Jimmy Vasser was the driver to beat in 1996.

Entering the season, Vasser was on the cusp of winning his first race in IndyCar competition, having finished second twice in 1995. The season also had change for Chip Ganassi Racing, which made the transition from Goodyear to Firestone tires and from Ford to Honda engines.

Those moves already had paid off in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Vasser led 32 laps en route to his first career victory.

Jimmy Vasser celebrates his win with second-place Scott Pruett (R) and third-place Greg Moore (L). Photo: Getty Images

Two races later, on March 31, Vasser won again in an even more dominant fashion.

The Indy cars were in Australia for their annual event in Surfers Paradise, and in qualifying, Vasser set a new track record to clinch the first pole position of his career.

In the race itself, Vasser was hardly unchallenged. Despite five cautions, the Californian led 60 of 65 laps and won by a margin of 7.748 seconds over Scott Pruett.

“It feels great. I owe it all to the team,” Vasser told ABC Sports. “It was the most beautiful race car I’ve driven in my life. It didn’t do anything wrong. I was just hoping I wouldn’t, and fortunately, I didn’t and we won the race.”

By winning the race, Vasser also took the overall points lead from Pruett. Vasser stayed atop the standings for the remainder of the season and won twice more (Long Beach and Michigan) en route to winning the series championship.

Also on this date:

1968: Bobby Unser won the Stardust 150 at Stardust International Raceway near Las Vegas. Opened in 1965 and owned by the former casino of the same name, Stardust featured a 13-turn, 3-mile road course and a quarter-mile dragstrip. The 1968 race was the lone visit by USAC’s Champ Car Series, and the facility closed three years later.

2012: The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Antonio Garcia and Richard Westbrook won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park. The team won by a margin of 2.147 seconds over the No. 99 Bob Stallings Racing Corvette of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney

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Simon Pagenaud’s engineer relives 2019 Indy 500 victory on Twitter

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The Team Penske engineer for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner is reliving Simon Pagenaud’s day by tweeting about what he was doing each moment a year later.

Starting with an observation that he awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room at 4:30 a.m., Ben Bretzman (@benbretzman) sent nearly two dozen tweets by 11 a.m. ET about how the morning before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 unfolded.

Bretzman was through the infield tunnel and in Gasoline Alley by 6 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he was wondering if his driver was awake yet, but he had heard for the first time from Pagenaud 45 minutes later.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, NBC

FIERCE FRIENDSHIPPagenaud, Rossi recall epic battle of 2019 Indy 500

Among other highlights: The team’s last strategy meeting was at 8:30 a.m.; final check of the weather was at 9:30 a.m. and Bretzman gave the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet a once-over at 10:35 a.m. before it was pushed to the grid.

Follow @BenBretzman to watch the day unfold from the pit box and tune into “Back Home Again at 2 p.m. ET on NBC as Pageanud and Alexander Rossi, who are good friends off the track, recap their epic duel with host Mike Tirico.

Simon Pagenaud and engineer Ben Bretzman debrief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IndyCar photo by Joe Skibinski).