Oval season gets underway with this weekend's Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. DETROIT (April 22, 2002) - After two highly-successful rounds on road and street circuits, the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series makes its ...
Oval season gets underway with this weekend's Bridgestone Potenza 500 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi.
DETROIT (April 22, 2002) - After two highly-successful rounds on road and street circuits, the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series makes its first visit to an oval for this weekend's Round Three-the Bridgestone Potenza 500 at the state-of-the-art Twin Ring Motegi in the mountains of Japan (SPEED Channel, 12:00 NOON ET, Saturday, April 27).
The 1.5-mile oval is the first of six on the 2002 calendar and this week's trip to Japan is the first of four events abroad in the 20-race CART FedEx Championship Series schedule.
Despite the fact that Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda, Ford-Cosworth has been the dominant manufacturer at the facility, winning all four previous meetings at the track. However, the winners of three of the previous four events in Motegi are now powered by Honda.
Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) won each of the first Champ Car races at Twin Ring Motegi, emerging victorious in 1998 and '99 as a member of Patrick Racing. Now in his second season as an owner/driver, Fernandez and his team might be considered "hometown favorites" considering that his team uses Honda engines and the team also fields an entry for one of two Japanese drivers in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Shinji Nakano (#52 Avex/Alpine Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), who equaled his career best finish in front of his countrymen last year with an eighth place run.
After a "get acquainted" season in 2001, Fernandez has already shown good speed in 2002, as evidenced by his pole position for the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix last month. What may bolster Fernandez's chances this weekend is the fact that he is using a Lola chassis, which was generally regarded as a superior car on the ovals last season.
To that end, Team Motorola went out and got a new Lola for 2000 Motegi winner Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) in hopes of giving him an advantage on the ovals, and CART's winningest driver will make his first appearance behind the wheel of a Lola in competition since he left Newman/Haas Racing at the end of the 2000 season. However, Andretti showed that the Reynard chassis is also extremely competitive in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach just over a week ago, as he drove from 15th on the starting grid to his CART-record 42nd career victory.
While it's clear that Andretti, Fernandez, Nakano and all of the Honda drivers will be pulling out all the stops to finally deliver the manufacturer a victory in its own house, there are plenty of tough competitors that will be standing in their way.
Chief among those drivers is defending Bridgestone Potenza 500 winner Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who scored the first victory of his CART FedEx Championship Series career last year. Brack must be considered among the favorites, especially when the series moves to oval facilities, as the Swede won a total of four events in 2001, all of which came on ovals.
One must also not forget the driver who won the last Champ Car race on an oval, 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series points leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Da Matta emerged with a million dollar victory in the 2001 season-ending event at California Speedway, and is riding a streak of four consecutive races in which he has scored championship points, three of which were victories (Surfers Paradise and Fontana in 2001 and Monterrey in 2002).
Clearly, Toyota would love nothing more than to get a victory on Honda's home turf, and Brack and da Matta lead a formidable group of Toyota-powered drivers. Another Toyota driver to watch will be Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone), who has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his CART FedEx Championship Series career, and will not doubt have extra motivation this weekend.
Considering that they've won each of the past four Champ Car races at Twin Ring Motegi, the Ford-Cosworth contingent cannot be counted out either. Look for Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach polesitter Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to lead the charge for the "Blue Oval Boys." But Sigma Autosport driver Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is fresh off his first podium finish with the team in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and "Mad Max" is always a threat on the ovals.
Likewise, Vasser's Team Rahal teammate Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Office Depot Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) comes into the weekend looking to continue the most successful start he has ever had in seven Champ Car seasons, and the Player's/Forsythe Racing duo of Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) have tested quickly on ovals and figure to be a factor this weekend as well.
All of the drivers on Saturday's field will ride on Bridgestone Potenza racing tires, the Official Tire of CART.
Television coverage throughout the weekend will be provided by SPEED Channel, and the network's coverage will be anchored by Saturday's broadcast of the Bridgestone Potenza 500 at 12:00 NOON ET.
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 20-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.CART.com.