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.
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