US GP: Strong rookie class comes to Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2001 - No less than six of the 22 drivers entered in the second annual SAP United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis this year are rookies. They make up a diverse group, with last year's Indianapolis 500 ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2001 - No less than six of the 22 drivers entered in the second annual SAP United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis this year are rookies.

They make up a diverse group, with last year's Indianapolis 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia, heading the list that includes Brazil's Enrique Bernoldi, Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, Spain's Fernando Alonso, Malaysia's Alex Yoong and the Czech Republic's Tomas Enge. While this is Montoya's first F1 season, he is by far the most experienced of this year's rookies with the 1998 FIA Formula 3000 Championship, the 1999 CART championship, a victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and a victory in this year's Italian Grand Prix to his credit.

Born in Bogotá, Colombia, on Sept. 20, 1975, Montoya started racing karts in his home country in 1981 and spent 10 years in that discipline. In 1993, he won the Colombian Touring Car championship, and the following year he finished third in the Barber Saab championship in the United States. After spending 1996 in the British Formula 3 championship, in which he won two races, he moved up to the FIA F3000 Championship in 1997. He won three races that year, finished second in the points, and also began working as a test driver for Williams. Montoya won the championship the following year and then spent 1999 and 2000 racing and winning in the United States.

Montoya then got the call from the BMW WilliamsF1 Team to compete in the 2001 Formula One season. He arrives at Indy with three pole positions, two second places and one Grand Prix victory to his credit this year in F1.

Another rookie from South America this year is Brazil's Enrique Bernoldi, who drives for Orange Arrows-Asiatech. Born in Curitiba, Brazil, on Oct. 19, 1978, he competed in karts from 1987-95 and then won the European Formula Renault championship with nine victories in 1996. The following season, he scored six victories and ended up second in the competitive British Formula 3 championship. He spent 1999 and 2000 competing in the FIA F3000 Championship as well as working as Sauber's test driver last year.

Mechanical and other woes have kept him from the crossing the finishing line 10 times this year, but Bernoldi has three top-10 finishes-an eighth, a ninth and a 10th.

Vaulting into the top ranks of F1 after competing in just 23 car races, Kimi Raikkonen's rookie season has been the revelation of 2001.Born in Espoo, Finland, on Oct. 17, 1979, he raced in karts from 1987-98, during which he won the Finnish and Nordic International karting championships. He competed in the Formula Renault championship in 1999 and 2000 and won the title last year with seven victories.

Raikkonen was so inexperienced that he started the season under probation before being granted a F1 Super License. He also started the season with a sixth place in this Red Bull Sauber-Petronas in the Australian Grand Prix. Raikkonen also scored a pair of fourth-place finishes and a fifth place, and he and teammate Nick Heidfeld have earned enough points to put Sauber in fourth place in the Constructors Championship heading into this weekend's SAP United States Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso was just 19 when he made his F1 debut with the European Minardi team in this year's season opener in Australia. He was born on July 29, 1981 in Oviedo, Spain, and was racing karts by 1990. During the next eight years, he won many championships in Spain and Italy, as well as the 1996 World Junior Kart championship. He moved up to car racing in 1997 and won the Formula Open Moviestar by Nissan championship. Last year, he competed in the FIA F3000 Championship where he scored one victory and finished fourth in the points, and also worked as a test driver for Minardi.

While his Minardi-European has not had the speed to finish in the points this season, Alonso had done an impressive job with the equipment. His best finish so far was 10th in the German Grand Prix.

Tomas Enge and Alex Yoong made history in the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 16 when they became the first Czech and Malaysian drivers, respectively, to compete in a Grand Prix. The SAP United States Grand Prix will be only the second F1 race for these two rookies.

Enge, the test driver for Prost-Acer, was called in to replace Luciano Burti for the final three races of this season while Burti recovers from the concussion he suffered when he crashed in the Belgian Grand Prix. Born on Sept. 11, 1976, in Liberec in the Czech Republic, Enge is one of the few F1 drivers who did not start his racing career in karts. He raced in the Ford Fiesta Cup series in the Czech Republic in 1992 and 1993, and then competed in the Formula Ford Zetec Cup series in 1994 and 1995 and won the title in his second season. He followed that with three seasons in the German Formula 3 championship. In 1998, he competed in both Formula 3 and the FIA F3000 Championship, and he has continued to race in the latter series since then.

This year, Enge finished third in F3000 and won two races. Enge worked as a test driver for Benson & Hedges Jordan Mugen-Honda in 1999 and 2000 before taking up a similar post at Prost this year.

Yoong was born on July 20, 1976, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and started his racing career in motocross competition in 1984. Ten years later, he was competing in the Formula Asia International series, and he won that championship with eight victories in 1995. He began racing in Europe the following year in the British Formula Renault Sport championship. In 1998-99, Yoong raced in both the British Formula 3 and the FIA Formula 3000 championships, and he scored a second place in both series. This year, he competed in Formula Nippon championship in Japan.

Yoong made his F1 debut in the Italian Grand Prix, where he replaced Tarso Marques on the European Minardi team.

-IMS-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Sauber , Williams , Minardi , Jordan