What should have been a triumphant end to a weekend of accomplishment became a trial for Al Unser Jr. after he came face to face with the unexpected.
"Murphy's Law hit me square in the face," Unser said after surviving a controversial collision with Mario Andretti and winning the Long Beach Grand Prix on Sunday.Unser led the battle of Chevrolet-powered Lolas by 3.18 seconds on the last complete lap around the 1.67-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit before his second and final scheduled pit stop on lap 75.
He took on fuel and four fresh tires, while Andretti, who pitted on the next lap, took only fuel and got back onto the track ahead of Unser.
Still, with fresh tires, Unser was catching his older adversary - a three-time Long Beach Indy-car winner - when the incident came in turn three of lap 84.
"We were coming down into turn three and we caught Tom Sneva on the entry to the turn," Unser said. "Tom slowed down quite abruptly. Mario slowed down quite fast and I hit Mario."
Unser, who was booed by the crowd in the area where the accident occured as he took the traditional victory lap on the back of a pickup truck, was embarrassed by the incident.
"In our profession, the driver should read what's going on and react accordingly," Unser said. "You should expect the unexpected.
"It was my fault. I hit him. It could have been anybody there, a backmarker, and I'd have run right into him.
Andretti, who hitchhiked back to the pits after the race on the sidepod of his son Michael's car, was hot. "I found it very difficult to congratulate him, of course" Andretti said. "He just punted me out of the way. It's the second time in six months he's done that to me."