Twenty-year-old rookie Scott Dixon has taken the FedEx Championship Series by storm in 2001 with a win and a third-place finish in the season's first five races - in addition to a seventh. The New Zealander's early success has left him just two...
Twenty-year-old rookie Scott Dixon has taken the FedEx Championship Series by storm in 2001 with a win and a third-place finish in the season's first five races - in addition to a seventh. The New Zealander's early success has left him just two points out of third-place and puts him in elite company among the top young drivers to enter CART in the last decade. Only Juan Montoya was able to win as quickly - while only Montoya and the late Greg Moore were able to earn two podium finishes in their first five races, although Moore didn't earn his first win until his 23rd race. One key for Dixon has been reliability, the reigning Indy Lights champion has finished 807 of 811 laps (99.5%) run this season. What makes Dixon's accomplishment even greater is that he's easily the youngest of the drivers in the comparison below.
<pre> Driver - 1st win 1st podium 2nd podium Age @1st win Team Juan Montoya 3rd race 3rd race 4th race 23 Target Ganassi Scott Dixon 3rd race 3rd race 5th race 20 PacWest Greg Moore 23rd race 3rd race 5th race 22 Forsythe Alex Zanardi 9th race 9th race 10th race 29 Target Ganassi J. Villeneuve 14th race 4th race 14th race 23 Forsythe-Green Gil de Ferran 17th race 16th race 17th race 27 Hall Kenny Brack 24th race 5th race 9th race 35 Rahal
After struggling at the season opener in Monterrey, Mexico Target Ganassi rookie Bruno Junqueira has registered top-10 finishes in four of his last five races including back-to-back top-five finishes at IRL's Indianapolis 500 (fifth) and last weekend at Milwaukee (fourth). In addition, the reigning FIA Formula 3000 champion won the pole at his first-ever oval race at Nazareth and qualified fifth at Japan. Making the feat even more impressive is that four of the five races have been run on ovals.
DIXON + JUNQUEIRA = ROOKIE BATTLE - With the above noted performances by Toyota-powered rookies Scott Dixon and Bruno Junqueira, the battle for the Jim Trueman Award as CART Rookie of the Year may be the most heated since Gil de Ferran edged out Christian Fittipaldi by two points in 1995. With Dixon sitting in sixth (just two points out of third) and Junqueira in 10th, it could mark the first time two rookies have finished in the CART top-10 since Alex Zanardi and Greg Moore placed third and ninth, respectively, in 1996.
Five different Toyota drivers have finished fourth or better in the season's first five events. Cristiano da Matta (first Monterrey, second at Long Beach), Scott Dixon (won Nazareth, third at Milwaukee), Jimmy Vasser (fourth at Nazareth), Christian Fittipaldi (fourth at Motegi) and Bruno Junqueira (fourth at Milwaukee) all have scored top-four finishes this season. The result of that great balance is five Toyota drivers currently ranking in the top-11 in FedEx Championship Series points a quarter of the way through the season. Cristiano da Matta and Jimmy Vasser remain in a tie for third; rookies Dixon and Junqueira are sixth and 10th, respectively, and Fittipaldi sits in 11th - just two points out of the top 10.
If this weekend's race were in Las Vegas rather than Detroit, the one "good" bet might be Jimmy Vasser to be running in the top six. Vasser's 2001 streak of finishing in the top six was snapped at five consecutive races at Milwaukee after he was taken out by another driver while handily running in third place past the midway point of the race. Had Vasser maintained his third-place position at Milwaukee, he would currently be in second place overall in the CART points race. To date this season, Vasser had finished sixth (Mexico), fifth (Long Beach), fourth (Nazareth), fifth (Japan) before his misfortune at Milwaukee. He also scored a fourth at the IRL's Indianapolis 500.
IF IT WASN'T FOR BAD LUCK, HE WOULD HAVE NO LUCK AT ALL - Three weeks ago, Cristiano da Matta arrived in Japan as the CART points leader. In the two races since, da Matta has yet to complete a full race lap at speed after getting caught up in other driver's incidents on the first lap at both Motegi and Milwaukee. Last week in Milwaukee, Da Matta started third only to see Helio Castroneves make contact with Kenny Brack in the first turn with Castroneves spinning in front of, and collecting, da Matta. Unfortunately, the early exits have dropped da Matta 30 points behind in the points race. While the 1998 Indy Lights champ has run strong on the oval tracks, the return to the road courses should favor him. He has scored a series-high 37 out of a possible 44 points at the road course races run this season with a win at Mexico and a second at Long Beach.
Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports: "We're pleased, although not satisfied, with how the season has gone to date. Our reliability has been sensational. We're really looking forward to going to Detroit. We should have won there a year ago when Juan Montoya led most of the race before his CV-joint failed. We've had a Toyota win and place second in the first two road course events, so we expect to run well in the upcoming road course events at Detroit, Portland, Cleveland and Toronto."
<pre> TENNECO AUTOMOTIVE DETROIT GRAND PRIX
Date: June 17, 2001 Broadcast: ABC, 2 p.m. ET/ 11 a.m. PT Race Length: 72 laps for 168.912 miles Track Length: 2.346-mile road/street course 2000 Winner: Helio Castroneves Toyota's Best Finish: 3rd, Oriol Servia, 2000 Toyota's Best Qualifying: 1st, Juan Montoya, 2000 Track Speed Records: Qualifying: 2000, J. Montoya, (115.604 mph) Race: 1998, Alex Zanardi (100.052 mph)
Manufacturer's Championship: 1. Honda 86 2. Toyota 84 3. Ford 73