CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Tasman Preview

Can Lightning Strike Twice? Tony Kanaan could become the 20th recipient of CART's prestigious Rookie of the Year award at the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on October 4. Kanaan has amassed a 39-point lead in the rookie battle with...

Can Lightning Strike Twice?

Tony Kanaan could become the 20th recipient of CART's prestigious Rookie of the Year award at the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on October 4. Kanaan has amassed a 39-point lead in the rookie battle with three races remaining on the calendar. If he can increase his lead by six points, he would walk away from the weekend with a 45-point advantage to clinch the title.

Oddly, this was the same situation that teammate Cristiano da Matta faced on September 6 in Vancouver for the Indy Lights Championship. Da Matta's flag-to-flag win gave him a 45-point lead over second-place contender Guy Smith -- enough to claim the championship with two races remaining and give Tasman its fourth Indy Lights title.

CART has been recognizing the top rookie driver each year since its inaugural season in 1979. Since 1988, the award has been presented in honor of Jim Trueman, the former owner of Truesports Racing who passed away in 1986.

Past recipients have included current PPG Cup champion Alex Zanardi, Gil de Ferran, Jacques Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell and Bobby Rahal.

I'll Be Watching

Tony Kanaan's collection of wristwatches -- which currently numbers 32 -- is about to get bigger. Kanaan will be presented with an Omega Speedmaster watch just prior to the start of the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston for posting the fastest lap of the race at the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey on September 13.

Just One

Steve Horne has confirmed that Tasman will more than likely continue to focus its efforts on a one-car program led by Tony Kanaan for the 1999 FedEx Championship Series.

"We believe we have a strong combination in driver, team and equipment," said Horne. "It is important to maintain continuity in CART as the level of competition is so high."

Running With The Big Dogs

"To be running on the same track as Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. is an incredible feeling," Tony Kanaan has said. "I am running with the big dogs. I am still a small dog but I'm trying to be a big dog in the future."

It's hard to believe that it was just three years ago that Kanaan turned his first laps on American soil. The 23-year-old made his debut in the 1996 PPG-Firestone Indy Lights Championship, and was runner-up in the series. But second was not good enough and he finished the job in 1997, claiming the Indy Lights Championship crown.

When Steve Horne announced this past December that he would be graduating Kanaan to Champ Car competition, it was not a big surprise to those who followed his talents behind the wheel. Kanaan has lived up to the challenge. Three weeks ago, he posted his first Champ Car podium finish at Round 2 of the "California Trio" of events held at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.

Kanaan has eight top-10 finishes to his credit, including four finishes in the top five. He is currently 10th in the point standings despite not finishing five events -- Miami (contact), Rio (engine), St. Louis (contact), Toronto (pit fire) and Vancouver (contact).

Take Five

The PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Series has a six-week break before the season finale at California Speedway on Saturday, October 31. Newly-crowned champion Cristiano da Matta headed home to Brazil last week for a bit of relaxation and to celebrate his 25th birthday (September 19th). He will return to the States this week to attend the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Da Matta is looking to graduate to the Champ Car ranks next season.

Tasman's Indy Lights team, led by team manager Steve Dickson, is already looking towards 1999. Initial plans include a test of potential candidates sometime in the next two months.

Purely Points -- The Latest Standings

FedEx Championship Series:

1. Alex Zanardi 234 points 6. Michael Andretti 112 points 2. Jimmy Vasser 136 points 7. Scott Pruett 106 points 3. Adrian Fernandez 126 points 8. Bryan Herta 89 points 4. Dario Franchitti 122 points 9. Bobby Rahal 80 points 5. Greg Moore 118 points 10. Tony Kanaan 72 points

PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Series:

1. Cristiano da Matta 152 points 4. Felipe Giaffone 88 points 2. Didier Andre 113 points 5. Derek Higgins 88 points 3. Guy Smith 107 points 6. Airton Dare 78 points

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Guy Smith , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Didier André , Airton Daré , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Scott Pruett , Derek Higgins , Steve Horne , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta