CHAMPCAR/CART: Detroit: The Road Ahead

ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix The Road Ahead Detroit, MI (June 3, 1998) -- The road to the FedEx Championship Series title begins in the literal sense this weekend, as it begins the extended road course portion of its season with the ITT...

ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix

The Road Ahead

Detroit, MI (June 3, 1998) -- The road to the FedEx Championship Series title begins in the literal sense this weekend, as it begins the extended road course portion of its season with the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix on the newly-reconfigured Raceway at Belle Isle. Having contested six of its first seven events on oval tracks, the series now commences a stretch of 10 road-course races in its final 12 events, beginning with Sunday's eighth round of the championship (2:30 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).

Road-course competition was crucial to determining last year's champion, as Alex Zanardi finished fourth or better in the season's final six road-course races, including victories at Cleveland, Mid-Ohio and Road America, to overtake Paul Tracy and claim the PPG Cup. This year, Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) leads the championship as it visits Belle Isle, where the previous 2.1-mile temporary street circuit has been reconfigured to 2.36 miles. The reconfiguration project included construction of a large straightaway between Turns 2 and 3, eliminating up to four turns from the previous layout and allowing for increased passing.

Zanardi's closest pursuer at present is defending Detroit champion Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), who trails Zanardi, 92-85 in the points race. After going scoreless for the first time this season in last week's Miller Lite 200 at The Milwaukee Mile, Moore will be looking to repeat his strong performance of '97 at a venue where Zanardi's top career finish has been 11th.

In addition to Moore, the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix entry list includes four previous winners at Detroit. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) is a two-time champion (1990, '96), as well as a four-time pole winner (1989-92). He is hoping the road course season treats him better than the oval campaign, which saw him removed from contention while running among the top four at four separate events. Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) won the 1992 Detroit Grand Prix, the first time it was held at Belle Isle, and comes off a season-best fifth-place finish at Milwaukee. Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda), also had a strong performance at Milwaukee, finishing seventh. He won at Detroit in 1994, but sat out last year's event with cervical muscle spasms. Robby Gordon (Panasonic-Duskin Reynard Toyota) is the other previous champion in this year's field, having won from the pole in '95, one of his two victories in Champ Car competition.

PacWest Racing Group drivers Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) return to Detroit in hopes of joining that list, after being dealt the bitterest of disappointments at last year's event. Both drivers ran out of fuel while in the lead on the final lap, first Gugelmin, then Blundell, allowing Moore to rise from third to victory.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) comes to Detroit off a win at Milwaukee, his second victory of the season. The 1996 PPG Cup champion, he has risen to third in this year's chase, with 72 points. Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) collected his fourth podium finish at Milwaukee in his previous five starts with an impressive third-place effort. Now he visits Detroit, where his best finish in nine career starts is fourth, in 1991.

Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) started on the pole and finished third at Belle Isle last year. A model of consistency as runner-up in the PPG Cup championship last year, when he scored in 14 of 17 events, he has alternated points-paying efforts with scoreless results for the past six races.

Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) earned his first FedEx Championship Series career pole position at Detroit in '96. His Patrick Racing teammate, Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) continues to run a strong fourth in this year's championship, with 59 points.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) comes to Detroit with some momentum, having snapped a three-race scoreless streak with a fourth-place effort at Milwaukee.

Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) has scored PPG Cup points in five of seven starts this season, good for seventh place in the championship, with 39 points. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) is expected to return to competition after sitting out the Milwaukee event due to a mild concussion sustained in a practice accident. He led 64 laps of 72 laps en route to a runner-up finish at Detroit in 1996, the best road-course finish of his three-year career.

Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) and Richie Hearn (Budweiser-Ralphs Swift Ford) come to Detroit off highlight performances at Milwaukee. Carpentier captured his second career pole position at a track record speed of 185.500 mph, while Hearn drove from the 24th starting spot to a career-best sixth-place finish and led 23 laps, nearly triple his prior career total of eight.

Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) qualified third at Milwaukee and joined Pruett on the front row with an outside-pole qualifying effort at Detroit in 1996.

The Rookie of the Year race tightened considerably at Milwaukee, as Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) sped to a career-best runner-up finish, giving him a 28-22 lead over Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) in the rookie points race. Kanaan is a two-time winner at Detroit in Indy Lights competition (1996, '97). PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) scored his career-best FedEx Championship Series finish of ninth at Detroit in 1996, in only his second career start. Rookie JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing Inc. Reynard Mercedes) gets his second test of the season on a road course. A Formula One veteran, he led five laps at Long Beach in his FedEx Championship Series road course debut.

Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) comes off his second-best finish of the season, 15th at Milwaukee. Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) and Arnd Meier (BAAN Business Software/Total Tel Lola Ford) seek their first PPG Cup points of the season, while Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) and Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) look to return after not qualifying at Milwaukee. Qualifying for the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix will air midnight ET and 9 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ABC-TV's live race broadcast.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Andre Ribeiro , Michel Jourdain , JJ Lehto