CHAMPCAR/CART: Scott Pruett - Showing Steady Improvement

Motorsport News International Toronto Canada July 19 1998 Scott Pruett and the Visteon team show steady improvement in 1998. For Scott Pruett and the Visteon racing team (Visteon Reynard Ford/Firestone) there are some strong parallels in life.

Motorsport News International Toronto Canada July 19 1998

Scott Pruett and the Visteon team show steady improvement in 1998.

For Scott Pruett and the Visteon racing team (Visteon Reynard Ford/Firestone) there are some strong parallels in life. Scott has gone through a very significant redefining process in his life, and Visteon (previously known as Ford Electronics) is itself going through somewhat of a redefinition. Without doubt Visteon can draw inspiration from Scott's careful reconstruction of his career as they go about defining themselves in the public eye. Visteon is an 'Enterprise of the Ford Motor Company' and has burst on to the scene with little public understanding. They aim to change that quickly. But until then, even the team jokes about 'where do you buy a Visteon' as if it were some obscure consumer product.

In fact, Visteon is the old Ford Electronics division who are attempting to define themselves as parts supplier to the whole automotive industry in much the same way as GM did with AC Delco, or Delhi. With 82,000 employees and 80 plants they are not your typical 'start up company'. Like Scott in his career, Visteon's achievements are already significant and it is 'just' a matter of getting people to recognise it and the industry to accept them as more than just a Ford Division. Visteon provide technical support and telemetry products to Patrick Racing, Newman-Haas Racing, Della Penna Motorsports and Team Rahal. Patrick Racing is their primary technical partner and through the year they will be evaluating numerous products and processes that will be applied in future racing efforts.

Scott's effort at having his skills recognised are a matter of Champ Car record now, as everyone has heard the story of the terrible injuries he sustained in 1990, and the painful road to recovery. Of characteristic maturity is his allegiance to Firestone and Patrick racing (the original 'pilot team' for the Firestone Champ Car programme) that brought him back to the top echelons of the sport. "You couldn't ask for a better partner than Firestone. We have a very successful relationship." "We do a lot of testing with them. When you are testing, you're testing both for yourself and for everyone else". It is not something that he does just out of a sense of obligation, he enjoys the testing and gets the benefit directly to his team. "I am doing most of the testing, but Alex (Zanardi) does a lot, and Greg Moore also does a bit". It is a relationship that you sense he derives a great deal of satisfaction in being a part of. "If you had a company that you wanted to model for going from nothing to the top, Firestone is the one. Right now they can't build enough tyres for everyone who wants them".

If Firestone and Patrick racing have been instrumental in the Scott Pruett story in recent years, the stability of that relationship gives a basis for the improvements seen this year. While Scott has had two wins and three Pole positions in his CART career, he also had somewhat of a reputation for starting the year strongly, then fading as the season unfolds. It is interesting to note that this year could see the reverse of that trend. The last three races (Portland, Cleveland and Toronto) have seen his some of his best performances this year with second, fourth and sixth respectively. Put in terms of the earnings tables that are sometimes more illustrative than mere points: Of the total 1998 earning of $239,500 he has earned almost exactly half ($120,000) in the last three races.

Clearly the year is developing into one of steady performances as the (relatively) young lions 'win or bust' as we saw with Dario Franchitti in Toronto. Although Scott is only 7th in the championship points this year, he is ranked 5th in miles completed, probably indicative of his maturity and careful assessment of chances in races. In terms of road courses, Scott shows his heritage of karting and IMSA road racing experience. He is ranked only behind Alex Zanardi's and Jimmy Vasser's perfect finishing record on road courses this year, having failed to finish only one of the 470 laps this year in road courses up to the Toronto Molson Indy.

The mixed circuits in Champ Cars and a more ready access to mass market sponsors in the North American series seems to attract more than its share of up and coming, or soon to return Formula One drivers. These drivers seem to be falling into two characteristic types. There are the Alex Zanardis and Mark Blundells who, by coming to CART, can show their true form in a more technically even series. Scott is not aggrieved by these drivers 'passing through'. "That's fine. You look at Alex; he won last year, and looks like winning again this year. Going back to Formula One is a natural thing for him". "F1 drivers don't raise the standard of the series, the series raises itself because the competition is so ... close. In CART if you are a top driver coming in you have a lot of teams to choose from. In Formula One, there are Ferrari, Williams and McLaren."

This experienced group of new drivers is in contrast with some of the less experienced drivers in the series that may be holding back the Champ Car as a whole. "This series needs a (Formula One style) Superlicence-type concept desperately". With a jerk of his thumb Scott indicates the direction the drivers of lesser experience should go. "We have a great series in Lights, a great series in Atlantic and there are enough good, talented drivers that can make the step up". Certainly his suggestion merits closer examination. It would remove some of the 'mobile chicanes' much-derided by the race going public. These inexperienced drivers could in turn give the support, purpose and sponsorship pool that Indy Lights could benefit from.

There is no reason to think Scott's year will not continue as a steady accumulation of points. The upcoming US500 at Michigan has been good to him, with a pole position and a win at the event in recent years. But with six of the remaining eight races this year on road or street courses, Scott's car control and patient approach should pay big dividends, and be somewhat cheaper on Pat Patrick's wallet than other more vigorous and physical approaches used by some drivers.

Scott has the satisfaction this year of having one of his favourite circuits, Surfers Paradise in Australia, still to come. Instead of being early in the year it comes in the second half of the season and could well see a continued reversal of '...start strong then fade.'. Scott goes to the Surfers Paradise track as the reigning champion of the event. "Yes, they are both (Toronto & Australia) street circuits, but the feel, the speed are very different". No doubt though the ability to stay out of trouble, walls and tyre barriers will be helpful. "I really enjoy Australia. I plan to go out early and do some fishing" "No diving though... I have seen some of the things that come out of the water over there".

The Toronto Molson Indy weekend proved to be like the Pruett 1998 year in microcosm - work through problems and don't lose patience. The first day was terrible with poor settings and the worst first day performance of the year. But much consultation with Jim McGee and the team Saturday saw an improvement to eighth grid position. Sunday still more tweaking "..Nothing major, changed gearing, camber setting from Saturday..." and second fastest in the warm up.

The race saw a controlled and disciplined performance in a car that was less than perfect for the conditions. Rather than overdrive the car and lose places his steady performance gave the team a sixth place. It was interesting to see the contrast of a clearly less patient Richie Hearn who harassed the rear of Pruett's car before the first pitstop, only to spin down an escape road. Returning undamaged the best Richie could do in the race was to find himself following the Visteon car across the line. Scott will no doubt be looking to expand on that theory for the balance of the year. Steadily improve, take results as they come within reach and ... don't lose patience.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Greg Moore
Teams Williams