CHAMPCAR/CART: Nazareth second time around

DETROIT (May 23, 2000) - While Memorial Day weekend is acknowledged by most Americans to be the first holiday weekend of the summer, it shapes up as anything but for drivers Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. No...

DETROIT (May 23, 2000) - While Memorial Day weekend is acknowledged by most Americans to be the first holiday weekend of the summer, it shapes up as anything but for drivers Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

No backyard barbecues or pool parties for these guys. They'll be pulling double duty at the race track, beginning with Saturday's rescheduled Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway (1 p.m. ET, live, ESPN).

Following Saturday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, the fifth of 20 races in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series, Vasser and Montoya will travel to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they will compete in Sunday's 84th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The double racing weekend became necessary when an April 9 snowstorm forced postponement of the originally scheduled FedEx Championship Series event at Nazareth. With the series traveling to Long Beach, Calif. the following weekend and being out of the country at Rio de Janeiro and Japan for much of the month of May, Saturday became the most viable date for the rescheduled event.

Far from cursing their luck, both Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) and Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) are relishing the opportunity to compete in both of this weekend's events.

Montoya, who won from the pole at Nazareth last year en route to the FedEx Championship Series championship as a rookie, also captured the pole for this year's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota last month with a lap of 176.868 miles per hour (19.255 seconds) on the one-mile oval.

"The chance to race in Nazareth and the Indy 500 in the same weekend is a great opportunity," said Montoya, who will start second at Indianapolis. "These are two separate events, and I will approach them like I do every race - trying to win."

Vasser, the 1996 series champion, heads to Nazareth looking to close the gap on FedEx Championship Series points leader Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green. Vasser is tied with Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing for second in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 42 points, 14 behind Tracy.

"I can't remember the last time I was this excited for a race weekend," said Vasser, who qualified seventh for the Indy 500. "This is going to be a lot of fun for Team Target. We've been running well this whole season and we're still improving. It would be amazing to win two races in one weekend. Heck, it's a great feeling to win one race in a weekend."

Both Vasser and Montoya are previous winners at Nazareth. Vasser captured the 1998 event while Montoya led 210 of 225 laps en route to last year's victory.

Other former Nazareth winners in the field include Tracy, who won in 1994 and '97 and is also a two-time pole winner (1996, '97); and Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), who claimed victories in 1987 and '96. Andretti arrives off his CART-leading 39th career victory at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan on May 14 that tied him with Al Unser for third place in career wins in all-time Champ Car history.

Like Tracy, Andretti also is a two-time pole winner at Nazareth (1987, '92), and has led 646 laps at the venue while scoring in 10 of 12 starts.

Following the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series travels to West Allis, Wis. for Round 6, the Miller Lite 225, Sunday, June 4 at The Milwaukee Mile.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) has finished sixth or better in all four FedEx Championship Series events this season, including a victory at Long Beach and podium finishes of third at Homestead and Rio de Janeiro. He holds a 56-42 lead over Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) in the FedEx Championship Series championship and joins Moreno as the only drivers to complete every lap (541) and mile (899.337) of competition to date.

* Roberto Moreno, like Tracy, is the only other driver to have scored in every event this season. He owns podium finishes of second at Homestead and third at Japan, in addition to efforts of ninth at Long Beach and sixth at Rio de Janeiro. He has scored points in six of his last seven starts, dating to last year's ninth-place result at Chicago.

* Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) owns a string of six consecutive top-three qualifying performances, and eight in the last 10 events, dating to last year's pole at Vancouver. Also included are poles at Houston last year and Nazareth and Japan this year.

* Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) has finished fourth in each of his past two FedEx Championship Series starts (Rio de Janeiro, Japan), matching a career best established at Nazareth last year. The efforts have moved him into a tie with Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) for fifth in the championship, with 25 points.

* Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) owns eight top-five finishes in 12 career starts at his "home" track - Nazareth Speedway - including victories in 1987 and '96. He also recorded runner-up finishes in 1988, '92 and '97, finished third in '91 and claimed the pole position in '87 and '92. He has scored points in 10 of 12 career starts and has led 646 career laps at Nazareth, over 10 percent of his CART-leading career total of 6,160.

* Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy owns five podium finishes in nine career starts at Nazareth, including victories in 1994 and '97. He also finished third in 1992, '93 and last year. He is a two-time polesitter (1996, '97) and has finished outside the top 10 only once (26th in 1995). Of his 2,335 career laps led in FedEx Championship Series competition, 536 - 23 percent - have come at Nazareth.

* Juan Montoya has already made an impact in his two career appearances at Nazareth Speedway, winning from the pole last year while leading 210 of 225 laps, and claiming the pole for this year's weather-delayed Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota. His victory at Nazareth last year moved him into the FedEx Championship Series points lead, which he held following 14 of the season's remaining 17 events en route to the FedEx Championship Series championship.

* Ford has won three of four FedEx Championship Series events contested this season with victories from Max Papis at Homestead, Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) at Rio de Janeiro and Michael Andretti at Japan. Counting Fernandez' victory in last year's season finale at California Speedway, Ford-powered drivers have now captured four FedEx Championship Series oval events in succession.

* Honda, courtesy of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, has won the past two FedEx Championship Series events contested at Nazareth Speedway. Jimmy Vasser won in 1998 and Juan Montoya was victorious last year. Montoya has also captured the two most recent pole positions at Nazareth, last year and this year.

* Toyota-powered Juan Montoya has won two of the past four pole positions contested in the FedEx Championship Series - at Nazareth and Japan - and has started among the top three drivers at every event this season.

* Tuesday marks the season debut of Inside CART, a magazine-style television show that will air on ESPN2 for the next 25 weeks, through the end of the FedEx Championship Series season. Inside CART will feature the personalities and behind-the-scenes activities that allow CART to take the FedEx Championship Series to five countries on four continents during the 2000 season. Co-hosted by Michelle Garforth and Chris Miles, the inaugural Inside CART broadcast will feature reviews of the 1999 FedEx Championship Series season and the 2000 season to date; a segment on the engine manufacturers (Honda, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz) competing in this year's FedEx Championship Series; and a profile of FedEx Championship Series leader Paul Tracy. Also included will be a segment on 1984 FedEx Championship Series champion Mario Andretti being honored as Driver of the Century last month at Nazareth Speedway, and a segment on the future stars of CART from the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the Toyota Atlantic Championship. CART Vice President of Broadcasting Keith Allo is serving as executive producer of the program, which will air on Tuesdays at either 5:30 or 6 p.m. ET, with the inaugural broadcast scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET.

* As the FedEx Championship Series returns to North America following its extended international swing, Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green leads not only the FedEx Championship Series drivers' standings but the season-long competition for the Budweiser Hard Charger Award. The Budweiser Hard Charger Award recognizes the driver who improves the most positions from start to finish at each event. Tracy has 44 points through four events, and is followed in the standings by Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports (39), Luiz Garcia Jr. (Hollywood/Tang/Embratel/Banco Sofisa Mercedes Reynard) of Arciero Project Racing Group (35) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) of PacWest Racing (34). Standings are being kept both race-by-race and throughout the season, with drivers receiving one point for each place gained. Tracy's teammate, Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) was the event winner at Japan for improving from his 17th starting position to a runner-up finish. The overall winner at the conclusion of the campaign will receive a cash award from Budweiser, the Official Beer of CART.

* Through the first four events of the FedEx Championship Series, the Patrick Racing crew for Roberto Moreno holds the lead in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge, a season-long pit stop competition that will pay $50,000 to the winning pit crew at the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway. Moreno's crew has collected 50 points and is followed by the defending champion crew for Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green, second with 46 points. Rounding out the top four are the crews for Cristiano da Matta of PPI Motorsports, third with 34 points and Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green, fourth with 33 points. Points in the Challenge, sponsored by Craftsman, the Official Tool of CART, are awarded according to the same scale used to determine the FedEx Championship Series champion (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1), 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 following Round 19 - the Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia - will qualify for a head-to-head battle for the top prize prior to the season finale.

* The entry list for the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota includes Player's Forsythe Racing driver Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), who has missed the past three events after sustaining a slight fracture of the left wrist in accident at his Las Vegas home last month. Carpentier recorded a strong fifth-place finish in his only FedEx Championship Series start in 2000, the season opener at Homestead.

* Della Penna Motorsports rookie driver Norberto Fontana (Della Penna VideoMatch Toyota Reynard) has been cleared to drive by Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, pending a test arranged by the Della Penna Motorsports team. Olvey said that the purpose of the test will be to ensure that Fontana will be comfortable in the car under racing conditions. Fontana briefly lost consciousness after an accident during practice for the May 14 Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. The date and site of Fontana's test has not been disclosed.

* Walker Racing driver Shinji Nakano (Avex Honda Reynard) will not compete in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, in the aftermath of his recovery from several small brain bruises sustained in a March 31 testing accident at The Milwaukee Mile. Nakano returned to FedEx Championship Series competition without incident in the May 14 Firestone Firehawk 500 at Motegi, Japan, but team owner Derrick Walker said that the compressed time schedule of the rescheduled Nazareth event made mounting a competitive effort impossible. "When the Nazareth race was postponed, there was a chance we would be able to test there after Shinji had recovered," Walker said. "Unfortunately, the rules don't allow us to test at that racetrack before the rescheduled race, and Shinji hadn't been cleared to drive in the timeframe we had.

"So, for us to make a serious attempt to qualify within 110 percent of the pole speed, and get a race setup in the one-hour practice that is allotted us at the rescheduled Nazareth race would be impossible," Walker said. "It's unfortunate that we will be unable to compete, however, we are going to spend the time wisely by continuing our testing program at Michigan [today and Wednesday] , since that is the next type of oval track [Nakano} hasn't yet experienced."

* The Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota will air 1 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN. The race will also air live on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website at www.cart.com

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Shinji Nakano , Mark Blundell , Mario Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Norberto Fontana , Cristiano da Matta , Al Unser , Luiz Garcia
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing