CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca Pre Race Notes

* Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) is seeking his fourth consecutive FedEx Championship Series victory this weekend, which would tie a record established by Al Unser Jr. in 1990 and matched by Alex Zanardi in 1994. He has won consecutive ...

* Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) is seeking his fourth consecutive FedEx Championship Series victory this weekend, which would tie a record established by Al Unser Jr. in 1990 and matched by Alex Zanardi in 1994. He has won consecutive events at Mid-Ohio, Chicago and Vancouver, the second time this season that he has recorded three victories in a row. His earlier streak came at Long Beach, Nazareth and Rio de Janeiro. Montoya, who also won at Cleveland, is one win away from tying the CART single-season record of eight victories, established by Michael Andretti in 1991 and tied by Unser Jr. in 1994. He owns nine podium finishes this season, tying Dario Franchitti for series-high honors, and has won either the race or a pole position in 10 of 16 events this season. Montoya, who has already clinched the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award, holds a 194-171 lead over Franchitti in the PPG Cup points race entering the weekend.

* Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in six consecutive events, with top-five finishes in five of those, including victories at Toronto and Detroit. He has scored in 13 of 16 starts this season, tying Jimmy Vasser for series-high honors. Dating to his inaugural FedEx Championship Series career victory at Road America last year, Franchitti has made 13 starts on permanent road courses or temporary street circuits, with 5 victories, 3 pole positions, 9 podium finishes and 11 points-paying results.

* Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) owns top-five finishes in his last four FedEx Championship Series starts, including back-to-back podium efforts of third at Chicago and Vancouver. He has scored PPG Cup points in six consecutive events and 13 of 16 overall this season, tying him with Dario Franchitti for the series lead. He has scored 60 of his 94 PPG Cup points in his past five starts.

* Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team, Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in seven of his past nine starts, dating to his ninth-place finish at Milwaukee (Carpentier missed the Mid-Ohio event due to injury). He owns two of his three best finishes of the season, sixth at Chicago and second at Vancouver, in his past two starts. His runner-up effort at Vancouver was a career-best on a road or street circuit and matched a career-best overall finish established at Gateway in 1997.

* Helio Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Mercedes Lola) has finished eighth or better in his past four FedEx Championship Series starts. He overcame qualifying difficulties at Vancouver to drive from the 26th grid position to eighth place, the greatest improvement from start to finish of any of the 27 drivers in the field.

* Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Team Honda Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in five of his past seven starts, including his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Michigan. Four of those five points-paying results were top-10 efforts.

* Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) owns 11 top-10 finishes in 15 career appearances at Laguna Seca Raceway, including victories from the pole in 1991 and '92. Also included are a runner-up finish in 1988 and third-place performances in 1984, '86, and '90. Andretti is one of three drivers to record consecutive wins at the venue, joining Bobby Rahal and Paul Tracy. He has led 179 career laps at Laguna Seca, including all 84 en route to both his 1991 and '92 victories.

* Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) earned his first career FedEx Championship Series victory from the pole at Laguna Seca last year. He has qualified on the front row in each of his four career appearances, including poles in 1997 and last season. His pole-winning performance in '97 stands as the track qualifying record at 118.666 miles per hour (1 minute, 7.895 seconds). He has finished among the top six in his last three appearances, taking second in '96 and sixth in '97, and has led a combined 143 laps in each of the past three events, including 81 last year, 21 in 1997 and 41 in '96.

* Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) is one of three drivers to win consecutive race titles, joining Rahal and Michael Andretti. His victories came in 1993 and '94, the latter coming from the pole. He has earned four points-paying finishes in eight career appearances at the venue. In addition to his two victories, he finished second in '95. Tracy has led 165 career laps at Laguna Seca, third among active drivers, topped by 84 en route to his '94 victory.

* Jimmy Vasser has five points-paying finishes in seven career appearances at Laguna Seca and a current run of four consecutive top-five efforts (2nd in '95, 4th in '96, 1st in '97 and fifth last year). He has qualified among the top eight in his last four appearances, including a best of third last year. He recorded 58 of his 59 career laps led at Laguna Seca en route to his victory in 1997.

* Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Lola), the only active driver to have competed in every event in Laguna Seca's 16-year CART history. He has recorded points-paying finishes in 13 of 16 starts, including bests of second in 1990 and '91. From his debut in 1983 through '91, he registered seven top-four efforts in nine starts. Unser Jr. has led 32 career laps at Laguna Seca, topped by 18 in '85.

* Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) has a pair of top-five finishes in four appearances at Laguna Seca, including his first career FedEx Championship Series triumph in 1995. He also finished third in 1997 and has led 54 career laps at the venue, all en route to his 1995 victory.

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) has made six career appearances at Laguna Seca and has finished in the points in three of his last four starts, including third in '95, fifth in '96 and ninth in '97.

* Honda is one point from clinching its third Manufacturer's Championship in the past four seasons, adding to the titles it won in 1996 and last year. With an 87-point lead over Ford Cosworth and a maximum of 88 points available in the season's final four events, Honda needs only a top-12 finish from one of its drivers this weekend to wrap up the title. Honda-powered drivers have recorded at least one top-three finish in 15 of 16 events this season, and have swept the podium on four occasions. Honda-powered drivers have won 16 of the past 19 FedEx Championship Series events contested on road or street courses dating to the start of the 1998 season. They have also won three of the past four FedEx Championship Series events contested at Laguna Seca, getting victories from Gil de Ferran in 1995, Alex Zanardi in '96 and Jimmy Vasser in '97.

* Firestone has won 15 of 16 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and 33 of 34 overall, dating to Adrian Fernandez's victory at Japan last year.

* In addition to chasing the CART records for victories in a season, consecutive victories and rookie pole positions this weekend, Juan Montoya is also in a position to move up on the single-season laps led list. He currently stands third on the single season chart with 929 laps led and could pass Michael Andretti's 1991 total of 965 laps led by adding 37 to his current total. Andretti's 1992 total of 1,136 laps led tops the single-season list.

* By starting at Laguna Seca this weekend, Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) will tie Arie Luyendyk for 10th place on the CART career starts list, with 142. Al Unser Jr. is CART's all-time leader in career starts, with 270.

* With four rounds remaining in the FedEx Championship Series season, competition for the four finalists' spots in the inaugural Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge is heading into the home stretch. Pit crews are scrambling to position themselves for a chance at the top prize of $50,000, which will be awarded during the FedEx Championship Series' season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway. Through 16 of 20 rounds in the championship, the crew for the Miller Lite Ford Reynard driven by Max Papis has accumulated 141 points and holds a one-point edge over the crew for rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), which stands second with 140.

Points are awarded according to the same scale used to determine the FedEx Championship Series champion, but based on total time spent in the pits at each event. Points will be accumulated through the first 19 events of the season, and the top four teams will compete in a specially staged pit stop competition at the season finale to determine the winner of the $50,000 grand prize presented by Craftsman.

The crew for Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) currently stands third with 123 points, followed by the crew for Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), which is fourth with 113. Still in position to make a stretch run at the top four positions are the crews for Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift), with 107 points; Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard), with 103 points and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), with 102 points. Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Shell

* Qualifying for the Shell 300 will air at 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast, which begins at 3 p.m. ET.

-CART-

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