CHAMPCAR/CART: Kanaan, Zanardi ready for Monterrey

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 5) -- Having doubled the size of its organization less than a year after first opening its doors, Mo Nunn Racing is ready to unleash the troops for a full-scale assault on the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series ...

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 5) -- Having doubled the size of its organization less than a year after first opening its doors, Mo Nunn Racing is ready to unleash the troops for a full-scale assault on the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series title.

Young Brazilian driving star Tony Kanaan, in his #55 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard, and his new teammate Alex Zanardi, in his #66 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard, are ready to tackle the scenic new 2.1-mile road course in Monterrey, Mexico, on Sunday (March 11) for the first of 21 events on the 2001 CART schedule.

"As far as I can tell, things are looking very good as we head into the new season," said team owner Morris Nunn of his second-year team, which competed with Mercedes-Benz power during its inaugural season and scored seven top-10 finishes. "All our testing has gone well. We've learned a great deal about the cars. Our drivers now are both up to speed. All our pit stop practice, even for the new guys we've brought on, has gone well. Everything's been fine. But the big test will be doing everything well under the pressure of a qualifying situation and a race situation. I think it's good we're going to a place nobody's been to. That levels the playing field."

"I can't say how excited I am to start another season," said Kanaan, the fourth-year Champ Car competitor who is reunited with the powerplant (Honda) that he drove to his first career win (the 1999 U.S. 500) and pole position (1999 Long Beach Grand Prix). The Honda-Reynard package also happens to be the one with which Nunn and Zanardi collaborated on back-to-back CART driving championships and 15 race wins altogether while they were at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing from 1996-99.

"It's a whole new deal for me, a whole new challenge, especially with Alex coming on board and all the new people we've brought on board," Kanaan continued. "With Alex, I have somebody to share information with, and someone to push me to the limit. We have a very reliable engine and a very strong team that is ready to go. People are expecting a lot from us, I think. So am I. I'm expecting the best. I'm going to Mexico with one thing in my head ... to do my best. My motto for the season is M&M ... 'minimize mistakes.' I learned that from my old big boss, Steve Horne. That's how I won the Indy Lights championship in 1997. That's what's going to have to happen for us to get the most out of our opportunities. I am very excited."

For Zanardi, next weekend marks his first race since closing out a season of Formula 1 competition with Williams in 1999, and his first race in a Champ Car since winning the second of his back-to-back CART titles in 1998.

"I have total belief in the potential of this team" he said. "But look at the reality: last December 3, this (second) team did not exist. On Dec. 4, this team was built on paper. Today, this means that we were very fortunate to put together a team with people who are so talented. But still, it'll take some action together to mix all these talents and make them work as a team. Therefore, it's not that we're not prepared, not that we're not strong, but compared to other people, who are members of other organizations, we have a bigger margin of improvement that will happen during the season.

"Having said that, I was very delighted that the end of our winter testing program concluded with two very good days (at Homestead Feb. 21-22) where we seemed to be very immune to any sort of problems. The car ran extremely well and we got a lot of work done. And we were able to go very, very fast. This last thing we did will still work in everybody's mind, including mine, to motivate everybody. I'm pumped. I'm going to Mexico thinking we can do well despite the fact we are a very young organization."

Zanardi is especially excited to be starting his new season in an exciting new venue.

"It's going to be fantastic racing in Monterrey," he said. "There is no doubt that our series is popular in that country. Adrian (Fernandez) and Michel (Jourdain) have done a lot to increase that popularity. I really hope we can get a good result behind us. I think all the people in Mexico have been very supportive of me, in particular, whenever their heroes had problems. I've always heard they had the sympathy for me, maybe because our flags look very, very similar. I hope we can all have a good race. But certainly I hope I have a good race. Yes, we are all racing at a track we have never been before, but by the end of the first day of practice, it'll be old news. The first day, the circuit will be really green. So it'll be very easy to come in and want to make changes to the car that really aren't necessary because the track is going to change continuously. So the key will be to take everything very slowly, very patiently."

If coming to a brand new track with a brand new second team wasn't enough, Kanaan and Zanardi have an additional uphill battle on their hands with CART's new qualifying format, which this weekend divides the field into qualifying groups based on last year's season-ending driver points standings. Kanaan and his Mercedes-powered entry finished 19th overall after missing four of 20 events due to a midseason qualifying accident, and Zanardi did not race at all. Thus, both will be grouped in the lower half of the points-scoring competitors. At the remaining events this season, drivers will qualifying based on the current point standings entering each respective race weekend.

"That's something I'm extremely unhappy about. I think it's totally unfair what we're going to have to do," Nunn said. "It's a totally new season, at a brand new track, for that matter. We're grouped according to our points from the previous season. That has absolutely nothing to do with this coming race weekend. As far as I'm concerned, the results from one racing weekend to the next should have absolutely no bearing on each other. It's like somebody who won the Olympics four years ago getting an automatic advantage at the next Olympics when it should really be a totally clean sheet of paper. I'm not looking to gain an advantage over everybody that way, but I especially don't want to be at a disadvantage, either. What if we happen to have the good fortune of being the fastest two cars on the track in practice on Friday, and on Saturday morning? We'll still have to qualify in the slower group on Saturday. And if we happen to be the fastest car in our qualifying group on Saturday, the other group goes next and the track is only going to get better and better for the guys in the fast group. So we could end up starting way down in the order, regardless. That's just not fair."

Practice begins Friday at Monterrey's Fundidora Park with qualifying set for Saturday afternoon. Race time is 4 p.m. EST with a live broadcast set for ABC-TV.

-MNR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Morris Nunn , Chip Ganassi , Steve Horne , Mo Nunn
Teams Williams , Chip Ganassi Racing