HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Dec. 16, 1998) - Seven top CART FedEx Championship Series teams completed a three-day Firestone tire test on Wednesday at Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex, preparing for the March 21 season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. Brian Herta was joined by new Team Rahal driver Max Papis for Wednesday's testing, joined by Arciero-Wells teammates Scott Pruett and Cristiano da Matta, and Tasman's Tony Kanaan. Also participating in the test were Jimmy Vasser and Juan Pablo Montoya of the defending series champion Target/Ganassi team; Team Kool Green's Paul Tracy; Patrick Racing teammates P.J. Jones and Adrian Fernandez; and Payton-Coyne drivers Michel Jourdain and Dennis Vitolo. "It's good to come down to Homestead early and put some miles on our new car before Christmas, so if we need to make some changes we've got some time to think about things before we come back to Homestead for Spring Training (Feb. 2-4)," explained Herta. "This is my first time with a (CART) team where we've returned with the same tire, engine and chassis package from the previous year. We've got some consistency to build on, instead of spending the winter relearning things." With car owner Bobby Rahal's "Last Ride" now history, Herta will be the team's lead driver, joined by new teammate Max Papis. "It's not going to be any different," Herta explained. "The pressure's the same, the job's the same. It will be different not having Bobby as a teammate, but as a car owner, he's obviously still going to be around." Herta scored his first career CART victory last season, holding off Formula One-bound nemesis Alex Zanardi at Laguna Seca. But Herta isn't spending much time looking back. "That's all history now. All that matters is what we do in the future," he said. "Without Zanardi here, obviously there will be a bit of a shakeup, that crown is very much up for grabs." Will Herta be a contender for the championship? "Me - and about 27 other guys," he said smiling. "At this time of year, that's everybody's goal on pit lane."
While Paul Tracy was testing for Team Kool Green, he currently is scheduled to miss the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota due to a one-race suspension. "We're hoping (to be able to race), but right now, things aren't looking too good," Tracy admitted. "If we don't make it, we'll just try to win the championship with one less race than everybody." While two-time CART champion Zanardi has left the series to race in Formula One, Tracy was impressed with his replacement at Target/Ganassi Racing, Juan Pablo Montoya. Nonetheless, Tracy feels he and teammate Dario Franchitti will be able to give the team that swept the last three CART titles a run for its money. "Our team's pretty strong," Tracy explained. "Dario's obviously very confident, and I'm feeling more confident about the car. We had a great test yesterday, so things are shaping up on this end. Maybe this green car can give the red (Target) car a run for its money." Tony Kanaan: Tasman showing improvement Tony Kanaan won the 1998 rookie of the year award for the FedEx Championship Car Series, but he's looking to improvement on his performance in the series' opener. "Homestead is like my hometown because I live near here, so I was really disappointed I didn't finish my first race," explained Kanaan, who finished last in the 1998 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. "But the way our test is going I think we're going to have a good car, so we can be competitive and try to run in the top six or top 10. "We're definitely going to try hard here," added Kanaan, who maintains residences in the Miami area and his native Brazil. "This is my second home, and we're going to try to win this race. While Kanaan is in his second year with Tasman in the FedEx Series, he drove for the team for two years in Indy Lights, winning the 1997 championship. 'We've got more confidence, more experience, because the team's been together for more than a year," Kanaan said. "I expect to do better than last year. We've been improving the car the last three days, and the great weather has been helping us. I'm expecting to be in the top six in the championship this year, but it's hard to say how it will work out. The Champ Car races are crazy, you don't know what's going to happen!" Scott Pruett encouraged with Toyota Scott Pruett and new Arciero-Wells/MCI Racing teammate Cristiano da Matta finished a six-day test which involved testing Firestone tires on both the oval and 2.21-mile road course. "It's been very encouraging," said Pruett. "We are having a few problems, but we've been fourth quickest overall. We're pleased with the performance of the Toyota, especially since it's come up to speed quite a bit." P.J. Jones completes first oval test P.J. Jones completed his first oval test with Patrick Racing, driving the Reynard the team raced in 1998. "The test went real well, and we ran some pretty good laps," Jones explained. "We're still getting our new Swift ready, and we'll come back here in January with our new car and then run some pretty good laps." Jones has a solid goal for 1999 - to win his first Championship Car race. "I want to win a race," Jones said firmly. "I want to be a contender week in and week out, but if we can win a race, that would be my goal. I think we can win here (at Homestead), we'll have to wait and see." Tickets are now on sale for the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota, the opening event of the 1999 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The weekend also includes Saturday's Florida Dodge Dealers 400, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series opener. For additional information, call (305) 230-7223, or visit the Speedway's official website at www.racemiami.com.