Byline: JOHN JAY FOX, The Morning Call
Greg Moore had the car, but not the time.
Charging from 13th on the grid, the rookie stormed his way to second place with four laps left yesterday, to finish only 12 seconds behind Michael Andretti in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth Speedway.
"The car was really, really good. We just weren't fast enough with so few laps left," the Canadian driver explained. "Michael won the race, but we had the great finish."
It was Moore's best IndyCar effort from his worst starting spot. Until yesterday, his top place was a third in Australia. Moore was solid in Brazil, but had mechanical problems and finished 18th. In Miami, he passed under yellow and wound up seventh.
"I don't know what to say. I'm just too happy. This is the best drive that I've put in so far in IndyCar. I'm ecstatic about the way things turned out this week," said Moore, who celebrated his 21st birthday last Monday and is in the ride vacated by PPG IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champ Jacques Villeneuve.
"My car was handling unbelievably well and I think that's one reason why we're on the podium right now," Moore said during victory lane celebrations. "Some of the guys were struggling a bit through Turn 2 and my car was just magic. I'm just so happy."
Moore is no stranger to the pesky Nazareth tri-oval. He's won twice on the world's fastest mile, taking Indy Lights victories in 1994 and 1995.
Last season, in his third year of Indy Lights competition, he won the championship. In 12 starts, Moore scored 242 points, 102 more than runner-up Robbie Buhl, leading 375 of 583 laps. The year before, he was third in points with three wins and two poles.
"I was really excited about our chances because we do well on the ovals and my last two years I won here," Moore said. "I just know the track real well."
From inside the seventh row, Moore moved into the Top 3 by lap 80 -- jumping to ninth, then third and second. A sloppy late pit stop moved him back to fourth with a huge chunk of the race to go.
"I got caught out a bit when we pitted and nearly lost a lap," he explained. "Other than that, the car was great."
Sensational passes got Moore past Al Unser Jr. and then Emerson Fittipaldi.
"When I got inside Junior, I powered straight through and almost pushed up into the wall," Moore said of taking Unser for third, but relinquishing the spot to save his car. "I carried a little too much momentum. I tried to get past him a little too much. It was a bit a of tense moment, but you get those in racing."
Back in front of Unser on a Turn 2 move with eight laps to go, Moore quickly axed a two-second deficit, zipping past Fittipaldi with four laps left.
Andretti, who had led since lap 88, had too much of a cushion.
"It would have been nice if Michael was there to race with, but he wasn't," Moore said. "I knew right from the start that I had a car that could run up front. We started moving up pretty soon into the race and started to pick away at the field. It was pretty easy because the car was so good.
"It was a bit of everything -- the Firestone tires, the Mercedes motor, the setup -- it was just a good day for the Players team."
Headed to Michigan International Speedway and the May 26 U.S. 500, Moore is encouraged. The British Columbia resident is first in rookie points.
"It is really important that the car is this good. It shows that the Mercedes, Firestones and Reynard are the car to have. Going into Michigan, it shows what the team can do."
NUT AND BOLTS: This was the first win for Goodyear and the Ford Cosworth engine ... Mercedes-powered drivers swept second through sixth places ... Three-time winner Jimmy Vasser was seventh but remained the points leader with 73, 20 ahead of Unser ... Twenty of the 26 starters were running at the end ... Fittipaldi had his best finish of the season and the top lap at 176.577 miles per hour ... Tracy, the pole sitter, led 87 laps ... Bobby Rahal finished sixth and is eighth in PPG points.
The Bosch topped a huge weekend for IndyCar and former IndyCar drivers ... Unser, Robby Gordon and Scott Pruett finished 1-2-3 respectively at Talladega Super Speedway in Saturday's International Race of Champions. The trio left a select field of nine NASCAR Winston Cup drivers in their wake. It was the first time in the 20-year, 78-race history of IROC that IndyCar swept the podium.
PHOTO by JOHN C. ANDERSON, The Morning Call
CAPTION: Rookie Greg Moore from Canada makes the turn on the Nazareth Speedway just ahead of eventual winner Michael Andretti. Moore finished second in the race.