Miller Lite 200 Mid-Ohio Preview Even though he has won nearly everything in sight of late, history indicates that Alex Zanardi is the one FedEx Championship Series driver who will not win this weekend's Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports...
Miller Lite 200
Even though he has won nearly everything in sight of late, history indicates that Alex Zanardi is the one FedEx Championship Series driver who will not win this weekend's Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (4 p.m. ET, tape delay, ABC-TV).
And whoever wins at Mid-Ohio this weekend will likely win again in 1999.
Granted, Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) is the two-time defending champion at the 2.258-mile permanent road course, and he leads the FedEx Championship Series with six victories this season, which have helped take him to a 190-122 lead over Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmy Vasser in the PPG Cup points race.
But no driver has ever won three in a row at Mid-Ohio, and the venue has produced four different back-to-back winners in the eight races since 1990.
Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) won in 1990 and '91, followed by Emerson Fittipaldi in '92 and '93. Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) doubled up in '94 and '95 before Zanardi paired wins in '96 and last year.
Mid-Ohio has had one other back-to-back winner in its 16-year history as a FedEx Championship Series venue, Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), who won in 1985 and '86. Since he is hanging up his driver's suit after this season, a Rahal victory this weekend would rule out continuation of the back-to-back trend, but it would be very popular the legion of fans at what is generally regarded as Rahal's "home" track.
The list of possible successors to Zanardi is impressive. Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) finished second to Zanardi in '96 and has finished eighth or better in 11 straight events. He comes in riding consecutive podium efforts at Toronto (third) and Michigan Speedway (second).
Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) earned his fourth career FedEx Championship Series victory at Michigan, becoming the final leader in an event which included a CART record 62 lead changes. He was recently removed from a three-race probation by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach.
Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) remains on probation, but his chances for victory at Mid-Ohio should not be discounted. He has finished second there three times (1992, '94 and '95) and has led laps in four of five career appearances at the venue.
Andretti has finished eighth or better in six of his last eight starts at Mid-Ohio, with podium finishes in 1989 (third) and '96 (third) in addition to his back-to-back victories. He is the only driver to win three consecutive poles at Mid-Ohio (1990-92).
Unser Jr. finished fifth or better in nine of 11 starts at Mid-Ohio from 1985-95 and earned his most recent FedEx Championship Series pole position there in 1994. Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) is the defending pole-sitter at Mid-Ohio and owns top-five finishes in 1995 (fifth) and '96 (fourth).
After a slow start, Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) has posted PPG Cup points-producing finishes in seven consecutive events, his first such run since 1989. Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) looks to bounce back from consecutive finishes of 27th at Toronto and 16th at Michigan, the first time he has gone scoreless in back-to-back events since Mid-Ohio and Road America in 1996.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) makes his first road-course start since a disappointing loss at Toronto, where he led 76 of the first 79 laps before a brake problem ended his day just 16 laps from his first career FedEx Championship Series victory. Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) earned his first career pole position at Michigan, continuing a career-best campaign which has seen him score PPG Cup points in nine of 12 starts en route to fifth place in the championship, with 90 points.
Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) comes off an eighth-place finish at Michigan, his best result since taking eighth at Milwaukee last year. Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) had a breakout performance at Michigan, with career-best efforts of third in qualifying and fifth in the race.
Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) returns to the venue where he made his FedEx Championship Series career debut, starting 12th and finishing 21st for Simon Racing in 1993. Teammate Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) has earned two of his three career FedEx Championship Series victories on road courses, at Portland and Toronto last year.
Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) looks to translate the qualifying success which has produced seven top-10 starts into points-paying finishes which will help him climb from 17th-place in the championship. Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) has scored PPG Cup points in his past two appearances at Mid-Ohio, finishing eighth in 1996 and 10th last year.
Like Gugelmin before him, Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) made his FedEx Championship Series career debut at Mid-Ohio in 1996. Teammate Robby Gordon (Panasonic/Duskin/MCI Reynard Toyota) was runner-up in his first appearance at Mid-Ohio in 1993 and finished fourth a year later.
The Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year race continues to be a battle between Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) and Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes). They finished 11th and 12th, respectively, at Michigan, giving Kanaan a 41-33 lead heading into Mid-Ohio. Fellow rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota), still have time to become factors in the rookie race as well.
Barron and PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) will be debuting the new Eagle 987 chassis at Mid-Ohio. It will be the first FedEx Championship Series appearance for the Eagle since Jones and Juan Fangio II campaigned them in the 1996 season finale at Laguna Seca.
Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) and Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford) make their second career appearances at Mid-Ohio. Payton Coyne Racing's second entry is pending.
Eight of the past 10 FedEx Championship Series events at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course have been won by a driver with a surname ending in the letter "i." Emerson Fittipaldi began the trend with a victory in 1988, followed by Teo Fabi a year later. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) won back-to-back in 1990 and '91 before Fittipaldi earned consecutive visits to Victory Circle in '92 and '93.
Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) interrupted the tradition with back-to-back wins in 1994 and '95, but Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) restored it with victories in '96 and last year. The "'I's Have It" theme could be good news for Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) or Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford), both of whom are seeking their first career FedEx Championship Series victories this weekend, as well as Zanardi and Andretti.
Qualifying for the Miller Lite 200 will air 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, one-half hour prior to ABC's same-day race broadcast. The Miller Lite 200 will be broadcast live on the CART Radio Network, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
Source: CART Online