Because it was on the US West Coast, the action started quite late on a June Sunday night in the UK, but since 1997 was the summer between me finishing school and starting university I didn’t have any commitments to prevent staying up late. Just as well: the race started in treacherously wet conditions, prompting a series of spins, crashes and delays.
The rain eased midway through the race, and a narrow dry line slowly began to emerge. Soon drivers began to gamble on slicks, but mostly quickly spun off.
Blundell was one of the first drivers to gamble on slicks and not slide straight off the road, but the stop put him down the order, behind a number of wet-shod rivals led by de Ferran and Christian Fittipaldi. The urgency was ramped up when it became clear the race would hit the two-hour time limit, rather than the scheduled 98 laps.
Blundell was charging, though, and with minutes to go battled past Fittipaldi to take second. He rapidly closed on de Ferran as they started the final lap. But on the twisty in-field, he just couldn’t find a way to get past de Ferran’s Walker Racing machine. But de Ferran lacked grip, and Blundell used his superior traction to get a run coming out of the final corner.
As they approached the line, the TV director switched to an overhead helicopter shot as the two cars ran side-by-side. On the British Eurosport commentary, the incomparable Ben Edwards exploded with excitement as Blundell pulled mere inches clear as they crossed the line.
It was only as Blundell and his Pacwest team celebrated wildly and replays were shown that the commentators spotted the third car: Raul Boesel had closed even more dramatically, and fell just inches short of passing both de Ferran and Blundell. Blundell finished 0.027 seconds ahead of de Ferran, and 0.055 seconds ahead of Boesel, the closest finish on a road course in CART history.
It was a truly epic end to a memorable race – and perhaps the finest moment of CART’s finest season.