CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Kool Green Race Preview

'ROOMIES' -- NO ODD COUPLE Dario Franchitti and Jonny Kane have more in common than their green, white and gold Team KOOL Green firesuits. The pair, along with Kane's wife, Lesley-Anne, are renting a traditional two-story, lakefront property...

'ROOMIES' -- NO ODD COUPLE

Dario Franchitti and Jonny Kane have more in common than their green, white and gold Team KOOL Green firesuits. The pair, along with Kane's wife, Lesley-Anne, are renting a traditional two-story, lakefront property in Indianapolis for the 1999 season.

Franchitti and Kane met in 1991 at Donington Park in England where they competed against each other in a Formula Vauxhall Jr. race. Jonny was a substitute driver in two Vauxhall races that year and earned a first place finish at one of the events. "Dario was the only guy who would talk to me after I won that race," recalls Jonny. "And we've been friends ever since."

Kane says he and Franchitti share many common interests, "We're both British and have been raised similarly. Dario is quite witty and it's great fun having him around at the track. We also have an opportunity to compare notes and exchange advice. We get along splendidly."

Off the track, the two decided to rent the Indianapolis home together to be close to the Team Green race shop, located on the city's west-side. There was only one catch; Dario was in Scotland while Jonny and Lesley-Anne were house hunting. How did that work? "Trust," Kane said. "When Lesley-Anne and I found the house we wanted, I called Dario. He said if we liked it, then he would like it too."

Will there be vacuum cleaner runs down hallway straightaways at the new residence? "Maybe," Kane joked, "Lesley-Anne said she's going to post a job chart on the refrigerator. I have lived alone before and I'm actually a pretty good cook, so I'll be doing most of that. In the meantime, I think we're going to introduce Dario to the lawnmower."

GURNEY GOES FLAT OUT

KOOL/Toyota Atlantic rookie, Alex Gurney, may have less time to spend this year tinkering with his dirt bikes, or surfing near his Southern California home, but you won't hear any complaints uttered from Alex.

"Sure, this year will be different than last year because it's another step up. The competition I'm facing in the KOOL/Toyota Atlantic Championship is a lot tougher than in Barber Dodge. However, working within a true team environment at Team KOOL Green has me really excited about improving. I'm no longer in a spec series where there's only so much you can do with the car. Now, I'm working with a team and I can learn better how to set-up a race car."

And with his new role, comes a new schedule. More test days, media commitments and higher profile events, including the recent Atlantic season opener at Long Beach, a track rich with Gurney-family history.

"You would think that with additional responsibilities there would be more pressure, but I'm not really feeling it. The only pressure I ever feel is the pressure I put on myself to succeed. And, let's face it, whenever I race at Long Beach there will be pressure for me. Once I get in the car though, I'm going flat out and any butterflies disappear."

"The media attention doesn't really bother me; it's kind of nice. The media training that I've had has been a real eye-opener. I have a better understanding of what reporters are looking for in an interview and I try to give them some good stuff. I'm happy to accommodate anyone, as long as I have time to work on the car with the team."

TRACY AND FRANCHITTI ON OVALS AND STREET COURSES?

Is it easier for a driver schooled on road courses to join North American ranks where he must adapt to oval racing than it is for a competitor from this side of the pond to take a seat in European style racing - no ovals? Or is it vice-versa?

Team KOOL Green presents an interesting two-headed coin with drivers Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy, when it comes to settling a time-honored question about international open-wheel car racing.

Scotsman Franchitti finished an outstanding third last season after being introduced to ovals the year before. All three of his 1998 wins - Road America, Vancouver and Houston - were scored on road or street courses.

Tracy, who has been wooed by Formula One teams in the past, is an eight-year veteran of the CART series. Five of Tracy's 13 wins at the Champ Car level have been scored on ovals, including Gateway International Raceway in 1997.

Though neither suggests a transition is easy, Franchitti thinks it is more difficult to adapt to ovals. Certainly, that's the way he has found the going during his first two seasons.

"It's definitely a challenge for a driver making either change," Franchitti said. "But remember, a Formula One driver coming over to Champ Cars has probably never seen an oval before, much less raced one. A Champ Car driver going over to Formula One, has had plenty of experience on road courses."

"I've found racing on ovals takes a different driving style," he said. "There's a new way of setting up the car, a new way of reacting to the car. It's just a completely different way of going about racing."

Tracy sees things from another viewpoint.

"I think the cars have gotten a lot more difficult to drive in Formula One," Tracy said. "Unless you're driving them every day, it takes awhile to feel comfortable."

Teams in Formula One make their own cars and while there are guidelines and limitations to what can be done, there can be considerable change from the cars of one team to those of another.

"Here (CART), if the car is set up right on the ovals, it's not that difficult to go fast." Tracy explains.

If he's making part of the transition sound basic, Tracy doesn't say it's easy.

"When a car is perfectly balanced (setup properly) on an oval it can almost drive itself. But when it comes time to go racing and you have 30 other cars around you, that's a different ball game."

ON DECK:

Champ Car: Rio -- May 15, Gateway -- May 29, Milwaukee Mile -- June 6, Portland -- June 20

Indy Lights: Milwaukee Mile -- June 6, Portland -- June 20, Cleveland -- June 27

KOOL/Toyota Atlantic: Gateway -- May 28, Milwaukee Mile -- June 5, Grand Prix of Canada -- June 12

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About this article
Series Atlantic , IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Alex Gurney , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Jonny Kane