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Fiasco Italo-Brittanico
Part 17: 90CA on active duty - after Indianapolis



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Roberto Guerrero


March-Alfa Romeo 90CA




1990 Indianapolis 500 (Carb Day)


Traditionally, a week after Indianapolis, the teams met again at Milwaukee. This time for the Miller 200, the home event for Team Patrick’s title sponsor, the Miller brewery. With the Patrick team back to a single entry, it became another disappointing outing for Roberto. Denied the chance to set a time during qualifying he had to start the race dead last and didn’t make it to halfway in the race due to suspension problems, starting 21st, classified 18th.

In the early part of the season the team had suffered a number of broken engines that cut off test sessions and made it difficult to assess how much progress was made with the chassis as well as the engine. The inability to run made it difficult to develop the car. But eventually, the team began to become more disappointed about the support they got from March and more and more doubts surfaced about how good the chassis really was.

And the misery went on at Detroit, the first anniversary of Alfa Romeo’s CART participation, which to date was still the best result ever for an Alfa powered car… One year later Guerrero qualified 18th, but the engine went after 24 of 62 laps, leaving Roberto in 21st position.

The next race at Portland, the team equalled the best-ever finish of its debut race when Roberto finished 8th, but four laps behind the winner… (Perhaps because the race had only one yellow flag period in which the field could be bunched up?)

Alfa Romeo was obviously occupied with more than just the CART program. Shortly after Portland, news leaked out that Alfa’s Group C project was in a much more advanced state than generally assumed and perhaps a V10-engined Group C car was to race in the final two races of the year. Nevertheless, progress on the CART V8 had also been made. A short-stroke version of the engine was ready; the plenum and intake system had also been improved, and engine response had improved according to Guerrero.

Cleveland saw an early retirement due to gearbox problems (19th place, after having qualified 17th); at Meadowlands it was a late race gearbox retirement which left the car in 15th place after having qualified 19th.

Time for drastic remedies at Patrick Racing.

The end of the road for the March 90CA…

By now it was clear for everyone in the team that the March 90CA was a dead-end street. The car was hopelessly inefficient and didn’t provide a decent platform to evaluate any progress that Alfa Romeo made with its engines. Besides that, March seemed unable to live up to what was required for a project like this.

To make matters worse, March was in deep financial trouble and struggling to survive as a whole. Now had their cars been good, there might have been something to work with. But the Porsche-powered March 90P project wasn’t doing well either, though there were some good excuses for this effort falling short.

Lola was not unwilling to sell cars to Patrick Racing and eventually, in an attempt to rescue the season, the team ordered two Lolas. The first of the Lolas was to be delivered on July 11 but a legal dispute between Patrick Racing and March Engineering prevented the Lola being raced at CART’s next race at Meadowlands. If all this news weren’t causing enough headaches already, there were also rumours that Alfa was looking around for yet another team to run its CART program. It was rumoured that Alfa wanted Emerson Fittipaldi to drive for them and was willing to pay him very handsomely.

The Lola could not be used at Meadowlands, so Patrick 'Marched on'. If it wasn’t for the fact that Meadowlands was the 500th race for a Patrick Racing entry, the team would have had nothing to celebrate at all that weekend after yet another disastrous result, qualifying 19th, classified 15th, after yet another gearbox failure. Or perhaps the fact that the March was to be ditched was another reason for celebration?

Patrick Racing didn’t even bother to show up at the next race at Toronto with their uncompetitive March contraption and gave the race a miss.

Nevertheless, though the team had a Lola-Alfa T90/00 at hand for the daunting Michigan oval, they were in for a nasty shock. Al Unser was back with the team and drove another Lola. But early during practice Unser crashed heavily into the third turn after a suspension component broke and had to be hospitalized.

Roberto once again failed to set a time in qualifying. The race however made up for much of the misery. Although he finished 10 laps down, Roberto was classified 5th, the best ever finish for the Alfa V8. And nobody ever thought about even trying the March 90CA one more time.

March terminated the contract with Alfa in reaction to Patrick’s use of Lolas and stated they were very disappointed about being forced to end the relationship. To rub some salt in the wounds, March told that Alfa had admitted that according to their own dyno results they still came short on the Chevy engines. It was a bad period in time for March anyway: they announced that their factory at Bicester was to be closed due to restructuring. The Alfa deal was gone, and the deal with Porsche was still hanging in the air since Porsche was rumoured to be planning to quit CART as well.

Nevertheless, March announced plans to built customer cars for the 1991 CART season again. But given the recent successes (more correctly: the lack of recent successes) one could have doubts about customers being interested in running Marches…