CHAMPCAR/CART: Press notes 96-03-05

NDY CAR WORLD SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes And Quotes From Around IndyCar, March 5, 1996 Parity may reign again in the PPG Indy Car World Series if the top finishers from the 1996 season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at...

NDY CAR WORLD SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes And Quotes From Around IndyCar, March 5, 1996

Parity may reign again in the PPG Indy Car World Series if the top finishers from the 1996 season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex are any indication.

Of Sunday's top-eight performers, none had the identical setup in regard to the engine, chassis and tire combinations. Jimmy Vasser (Target/Chip Ganassi Racing) and Gil de Ferran (Pennzoil/Hall Racing) finished 1-2 with Reynard Hondas, but Vasser was on Firestone tires and de Ferran on Goodyears.

Reynard also had three other teams using its chassis in the group. Robby Gordon (Valvoline/Walker Racing) gave the constructor a sweep of the top-three spots, but he opted for a Ford Cosworth engine and Goodyear tires. Bobby Rahal (Miller/Team Rahal), who finished fifth, and rookie Greg Moore (Player's Ltd./Forsythe Racing), who was seventh, did have identical Reynard Mercedes-Benz combinations, but Rahal was on Goodyears and Moore on Firestones.

Scott Pruett (Firestone-Patrick Racing), who was fourth, and Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Budweiser for Newman/Haas Racing), who took sixth, also had different tires on similar Lola Ford setups. Pruett was using Firestones and Fittipaldi had Goodyears. Al Unser Jr. (Malboro Team Penske), who finished eighth, represented the Penske chassis in the eight-driver mix and combined it with the Mercedes engine and Goodyears.

A quick rundown of the top-8 finishers' equipment - Chassis: Reynard (5), Lola (2), Penske (1); Engine: Mercedes-Benz and Ford (3), Honda (2). Tires: Goodyear (5), Firestone (3).

* SEASON OPENER AN OMEN FOR VASSER?

Vasser not only recorded his first career IndyCar victory in the season-opening event, but made himself an immediate candidate for the PPG Cup title judging from recent history. Two out of the past three seasons, the winner of the season-opening event went on to win the PPG Cup. Nigel Mansell won the opening race in Australia in 1993 en route to his championship, and Jacques Villeneuve captured the Miami season opener last year and went on to the crown. Michael Andretti was unable to convert, winning in Australia in '94 and finishing fourth in the points. Vasser's career-best PPG Cup showing was eighth last season.

* JOHNSTONE TO RETURN

Parker Johnstone, who missed the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota after sustaining a minor concussion and bruised right knee during a crash in Saturday's practice, is planning to return to competition at the inaugural Rio 400 set for March 17 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Johnstone, who drives the Motorola Reynard Honda for Brix Comptech Racing, was disappointed for all the sponsor-related fans who did not get an opportunity to see him race. "I just feel for all of the Motorola people who traveled to see me in the car," he said. "I was able to spend more time with them at hospitality, but I am sure, like myself, their preference would have been seeing me both in the cockpit and under the tent." Despite the crash, Johnstone never lost his sense of humour. When asked in the emergency room at South Miami Homestead Hospital if he was allergic to anything, he replied: "Not that I'm aware of, though after this morning, apparently concrete."

* EMMO HONOURED

Emerson Fittipaldi (Malboro Hogan Penske), a native Brazilian who was influential in getting an IndyCar event to Rio de Janeiro, recently was honoured by the race site. The Nelson Piquet International Raceway's new D-shaped oval has been christened the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway. The inaugural Rio 400 will be held March 17 and be broadcast stateside on ABC-TV beginning at 3:00 p.m.

* TRUCKIN' TO MEXICO

Gordon will use the off week in the PPG Indy Car World Series schedule to compete Saturday in the San Felipe 250 off-road truck race in San Felipe, Mexico. Gordon, who competes in the SCORE Trophy Truck Division with his Valvoline Ford F-150, already has a victory this year, having won the Parker (Ariz.) 400 in the season opener in January. Bob Gordon, Robby's dad, also will be competing in the event. He will participate in the Buggy Division, Class One.

* WELCOME TO THE SHOW

Dan Gurney's All American Racers debuted the new Toyota engine/Eagle chassis combination at the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota. Juan Manuel Fangio qualified 26th in the All American Racers Eagle Mk-V Toyota and went on to finish 21st in the race. Fangio retired from the race with 25 laps remaining because of fuel pressure problems, but Gurney remained optimistic after the inaugural outing. "We'll be fine. We know it's going to be a character-building year, but we have faith in all the elements -- the team, Toyota and Castrol," Gurney said. "We have a long way to go, but we're not so far out that we're concerned about it. We're just going to roll up our sleeves and get with it. Competing with a new chassis and engine at the same time may have been asking to compound the difficulties, but we've done it before and successfully." Arciero-Wells Racing, with rookie Jeff Krosnoff as its driver, also is using the Toyota engine this season. Krosnoff, who qualified 25th, was forced to retire six laps before Fangio because of engine misfire after a caution period. He finished 22nd. "It's a shame. I thought for sure we were going to finish the race," Krosnoff said. "We ran a good, hard race and we collected some race-condition data that will be useful. The car was great in the corners. I could really hold my own there."

* RIGHT ON TARGET

Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, with Vasset and rookie Alex Zanardi, will offer IndyCar fans and media a new toll-free information medium this season with the Team Target Fan Phone. It will provide complete practice, qualifying, race results and other pertinent news just moments after completion during race week. During the days between events, the Team Target Fan Phone will have reports such as upcoming race previews, PPG Cup point standings and television schedules. Gary Gerould will be the trackside voice of the Team Target Fan Phone, which also will feature guest spots by team owner Chip Ganassi, team partner Joe Montana and Vasser. The toll-free number, which also is accessible for Canadian fans and media, is 1-800-297-9590.

* ON-LINE WITH RAHAL

CompuServe will kick off its season-long, on-line IndyCar guest conferences for fans and media 7 p.m. tonight with driver/owner Bobby Rahal. Those interested in participating in the conference can enter CompuServe and reach the CompuServe Convention Centre by typing "Go Convention" and selecting the Bobby Rahal conference from the menu presented. "This is a first for me," Rahal said. "CompuServe has introduced us to a whole new area of computer services and a lot of race fans." Regular on-line conferences with other IndyCar stars are planned and will be announced on the service's "What's New" area and in "What's Hot" on the web page (www.compuserve.com).

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Alex Zanardi , Nigel Mansell , Scott Pruett , Dan Gurney , Nelson Piquet , Juan Manuel Fangio , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Jeff Krosnoff , Joe Montana , Greg Moore
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing