CHAMPCAR/CART: Australian Honda Indy Preview

Clayton Bradford - motorsport.com A few days before the Surfers Paradise CART FedEx Honda Indy 300, the rush is on to put the finishing touches to the temporary Street Circuit used for this race. Each year the organisers have a well-drilled team...

Clayton Bradford - motorsport.com

A few days before the Surfers Paradise CART FedEx Honda Indy 300, the rush is on to put the finishing touches to the temporary Street Circuit used for this race. Each year the organisers have a well-drilled team place hundreds of concrete walls, temporary fencing by the mile and grandstands to accommodate the expected record crowd to this event.

This race began in 1991. Now it is an institution on the Gold Coast, Australia's premium holiday destination. (Living only 30 miles from surfers Paradise is really hard to take.....no really, its just so hard to take the beaches and the nightlife and the Indy Race every year ...).

With defending race champion Alex ZANARDI in Formula One, the Rookie, Juan MONTOYA, is pinning his championship hopes on Victory in Australia. The question is, can MONTOYA hold it together on a street track known to be brutal to all those who make the slightest errors, especially after his performance on street tracks this year and most recently in Houston. Dario FRANCHITTI, the second place contender is certainly well placed to take advantage of any mistakes MONTOYA may make in an effort to gain the million dollar championship bonus cheque. Dario's previous good performances on street tracks adds to his credibility on this circuit with a fine second place last year in surfers.

Given FRANCITTI's place in the championship at the moment, the pressure is also on Team KOOL green owner Aussie Barry GREEN on whether or not he will have to issue team orders during the race to get FRANCITTI in front of team mate Paul TRACY. Although seemingly not too worried about this eventuality, it would be difficult to imagine TRACY giving up a lead over anyone. Time will tell.

This tight track has been known to throw a few surprises. There are also many other serious contenders for the win such as Michael ANDRETTI, who has yet to repeat his win in Australia in 1994. ANDRETTI finished fifth in 1998 at the Surfers Paradise track, and will surely be hoping to avoid any more on track clashes with TRACY. Newman-Hass teammate Christian FITTIPALDI gained a podium finish after his horrific accident in 1997 and was also a strong qualifier last year, showing that he has the ability on this street course. After having his face plastered on almost every ticket last year, much to his mothers' delight, FITTIPALDI will be hoping to extend that third to a win, to make up for some of the bad luck he had in 1997.

The other contenders for honours this year include the Patrick Team's, Adrian FERNANDEZ. His engine package of Ford may not be the favourite this year, however, his record of top ten finishes and a win in Japan place him in serious contention. The only cloud over his head is the injury in Round 13, especially on a tight street circuit like Surfers Paradise.

Max PAPIS is expected to continue his form and possibly increase his current placing of 5th in the championship. Bryan HERTA has certainly improved his fortunes year, but apart from his win in Laguna Seca, he has been struggling to match his teammate. Qualified 5th last year in Surfers but failed to capitalise and finished 10th.

Gil De FERRAN takes the face-on-all-the-tickets honours this year from FITTIPALDI, and will surely be hoping to improve his 8th placing in the championship. De FERRANs' qualifying position of 8th in 1998 will have to be improved upon this year to make him a serious contender this year.

If I were a betting man, I would probably put my money on FRANCITTI to take the win, if only because of the errors that the GANASSI team has made this season. MONTOYA is certainly quick, but whether he can handle the pressure of a championship decider is still in doubt, and with such a tight, unforgiving track, mistakes will almost certainly decide this race.

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Series IndyCar