Motegi Diary: Time to Get Serious by Ron Richards Put on your game face. This is when it starts to get serious. All of the stuff that has been going on throughout the week is very important -- press conferences, promotional appearances, ...
Motegi Diary: Time to Get Serious
by Ron Richards
Put on your game face. This is when it starts to get serious. All of the stuff that has been going on throughout the week is very important -- press conferences, promotional appearances, sponsor dinners, autograph sessions. Each play a significant role in creating the presence and awareness needed for the FedEx Championship Series to be the worldwide success it has become.
But underneath all the activity that goes on in advance of each and every race is the reality that this is sport. And as with all sports the focus is on winning. Once they climb on the jumbo jets out of Tokyo's Narita airport to fly back to the States Sunday, 25 drivers and their teams will have a lot of time to think about the could've, would've, should've that prevented them from claiming the winner's trophy.
One driver and his team will celebrate late into the night Saturday and spend the flight home sleeping and dreaming about the spoils that go with victory.
Friday was qualifying day at Twin Ring Motegi. As with the other 19 races on the trail to the PPG Cup, the tension began to build. It was bright and sunny with temperatures in the 50s F. A good-sized crowd of 19,000 showed up to watch as Brazilian Gil de Ferran -- who finished third here a year ago -- copped the top spot in qualifying.
Being around the Champ Car series 20 times a season often puts one almost on an autopilot approach to a race weekend. The schedules are pretty much the same. The venues, while very different on the surface, are alike in many ways. The faces in the paddock and pit lane remain the same from week to week. What does change is the story. This driver did this, that crew did that. The pole sitter caught a break by going out when the sun was behind a cloud, giving him the opportunity to qualify when the track was a few degrees cooler. The stories all add up to a conclusion that, more often than not, changes from week to week.
Friday's top story involved tires. In the year's only race sponsored by a tire company -- the Firestone Firehawk 500 -- Goodyear slipped in to win the pole position. De Ferran's effort marked only the second time in the past 21 races that the Akron, Ohio-based tire manufacturer recorded the best qualifying effort.
The competition is something that everyone says they relish, especially when they are the one stepping to the top of the victory podium. Like other sports, the closer it gets to game day, the more serious the competitors become. It was very apparent for some. Tony Kanaan, the 1998 CART Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year, suffered a fuel-pressure problem during qualifying. He popped out of the McDonald's car's cockpit almost before it stopped rolling and walked up the pit lane like a man possessed. Serious stuff. He'll start 17th in the 1 p.m. race. Live ESPN coverage in the United States is at midnight ET.
Then there was Mauricio Gugelmin. Another week. Another story. Like de Ferran, he's a Brazilian. And like the pole sitter, he has been searching for the right combination. He has won once in his Champ Car career -- at Vancouver in 1997 -- and is probably best-known for holding the record for the world's fastest official closed-course lap: 240.942 mph at California Speedway in 1997. Gugelmin's story is one of progress and success. He and the Hollywood PacWest Mercedes team struggled much of last season. After notching the second-best lap during qualifying, it appears he and his team may have things pretty well figured out. We'll see in Saturday's race.
The competition is so close in this series that it shouldn't be surprising when a driver is 19th one week and on the front row the next. The top 22 drivers were within a second of each other in Friday's qualifying.
The word serious takes on a whole new meaning Saturday. When those 26 cars round Turn 4 for the final time and bear down on the green flag, it's real serious stuff. Only one will win.
Twenty-five others will quickly look to Long Beach and the opportunity it represents. It's another chance for a driver to crack a smile on that game face as he comes to take the checkered flag in the FedEx Championship Series.
Source: CART Online