CHAMPCAR/CART: Toyota Cleveland preview

Not only will Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota) arrive in Cleveland this week as the defending race champion, but also as the hottest driver on the CART circuit. Moreno secured a second at Portland Sunday to go along with a third two weeks at...

Not only will Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota) arrive in Cleveland this week as the defending race champion, but also as the hottest driver on the CART circuit. Moreno secured a second at Portland Sunday to go along with a third two weeks at Detroit to make him the only FedEx Championship Series driver to have been on the podium each of the last two races. During that time, Moreno has jumped from 17th place with six points to 12th with 36 points - just five points out of ninth.

While Moreno may be the hottest driver on the Champ Car circuit, then Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota) runs a close second. Fittipaldi has earned top-five finishes in four of the last five races - including a third this past weekend at Portland after passing six cars late in the event. In addition, Fittipaldi would be a perfect five-for-five in the top-five if he hadn't been taken out by lapped traffic while running fourth late in the race at Milwaukee. Fittipaldi has moved into fifth-place overall as he pursues his first CART points championship.

There's no doubt that Cleveland is one of the favorite stops on the circuit for the Toyota-powered drivers and their teams. Patrick Racing drivers Jimmy Vasser and defending race champion Roberto Moreno hold the Burke Lakefront records for qualifying and fastest race, respectively.

In addition, current Toyota drivers or teams have won every Cleveland pole beginning in 1996 with Jimmy Vasser. The Target Ganassi team won four straight poles from 1996-1999 and then Moreno won in 2000 with Patrick Racing. Furthermore, current Toyota drivers/teams also have won each Cleveland race since 1997 (Target Ganassi in 1997-1999 and Patrick in 2000).

Patrick Racing's Roberto Moreno drove to his first career Champ Car victory at Cleveland a year ago - leading 91 of 100 laps after winning the pole. In addition, Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota) earned the first podium finish of his career with a third, despite falling well back in the field early after a first-turn incident.

Toyota continues to have great success on the road and street circuits after a second and third at Portland. At least one Toyota has been on the victory podium (top-three finishers) in each of the four road/street course events. The manufacturer has registered a victory, two seconds and two thirds in those four races, with Cristiano da Matta and Roberto Moreno each with a pair of podium finishes on road courses.

Twenty-year-old rookie Scott Dixon (PacWest Toyota) climbed into seventh-place overall this past weekend with his fourth top-10 finish in his last five races. His seventh-place showing in Portland was his best road course race to date in a Champ Car after earning a first, third and ninth on the ovals.

Not only has Dixon climbed well into the overall top-10, but he's also extended his lead in the battle for the Jim Trueman Award for CART rookies to 21 points over Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota). Junqueira has continued to run strong, but hasn't scored a championship point in his last two races, despite running in the top-10 at both Detroit and Portland. He suffered gearbox problems while running second in Detroit and then was inexplicably taken out by another driver while in the pits underyellow at Portland.

Cristiano da Matta (fourth) leads a quartet of Toyota-powered drivers in the top 10 in points heading into Cleveland. Da Matta's teammate, Christian Fittipaldi, is currently fifth, while Scott Dixon is seventh and Jimmy Vasser is 10th.

Roberto Moreno, #20 Visteon Toyota: "We had a slow start, but we're picking things up now. The Patrick Visteon team is giving me a very good, fast car. I'm learning to get the best out of the Toyota engine. We were very fast last year at Cleveland, and we've got a good shot at being fast right out of the box. TRD has done a lot of mapping work, and I'm learning to save fuel and still go fast."

Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports: "We made some gains this past week at Portland, and now we're really looking forward to getting to Cleveland. We've been strong on all of the road courses and I think we've got a great shot at winning in Cleveland. One of the keys to our recent success is that we're receiving contributions across the board from our teams - Roberto (Moreno), Christian (Fittipaldi), Cristiano (da Matta), Bruno (Junqueira), Jimmy (Vasser), Scott (Dixon) and Mauricio (Gugelmin) all have run toward the front in the past couple of races."

-TRD

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Series INDYCAR