CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago's short oval will be tough

One year ago Kenny Brack recorded his third victory of the season at Chicago Motor Speedway, this year as the CART teams prepare for the two-day event at the Illinois circuit, the Swede is chasing his first win of the 2002 season. The story may...

One year ago Kenny Brack recorded his third victory of the season at Chicago Motor Speedway, this year as the CART teams prepare for the two-day event at the Illinois circuit, the Swede is chasing his first win of the 2002 season. The story may have been very different if his Target Chip Ganassi crew had not sent him back into the Portland race two weeks ago with a loose rear wheel. Brack's retirement from the event one turn later brought more frustration on last year's championship runner-up.

However, Brack remains upbeat ahead of this weekend's 250-lap event and is determined to put in a strong performance to move up from his current 11th place in the championship standings. "It's always great to return as the defending champion to a race," Brack said. "Chicago is no different. It's going to be exciting to get back to Chicago this weekend. We were so close to getting our first victory of the season in the last race in Portland. We really had the car to beat there [and] we should be pretty good in Chicago. There are a lot of strong cars out there and it's going to be a battle, that's for sure."

While Brack was out of luck in Portland two weeks ago, teammate Bruno Junqueira brought his Target car home under a second behind the race winner Cristiano da Matta. For the Brazilian, now in his second season of ChampCar racing, 2002 has been nothing but positive. Junqueira recorded his second win of his career earlier in the year at Motegi and has been a challenger for the race win at most circuits this year. A win at the Grand Prix of Chicago is what Junqueira wants and needs to close the 20-point deficit to championship leader da Matta who won at the circuit in 2000 with PPI motorsports.

"We're second in the points right now and we've been pretty consistent all year long," Junqueira said. "Our oval car setup is really good. We won the pole and won the race in Motegi, and we qualified fifth in Milwaukee. Hopefully, we'll have a fast car in Chicago as well and bring home another victory for Team Target--"

For da Matta and the Newman/Haas Racing team, the 1.029-mile Chicago oval represents a real challenge. The team have not performed well on oval circuits this year and this Sunday's race may well prove to be a case of damage limitation for da Matta before the series heads to a seven-race run of street and road course events. The team are confident that they will not struggle as badly as they did at Motegi, but another race win for da Matta or teammate Christian Fittipaldi seems unlikely unless the team can make major progress in the one and only practice session of the weekend on Saturday.

"The Chicago race will be tough," da Matta admitted. "Our goal was to collect as many points as possible on the road courses, which seems to be our strong point [but] I'll try to make 2002 as good as 2000 in Chicago was."

Michel Jourdain Jr now finds himself in third place in the championship, tied with Junqueira on 54-championship points. However, the Mexican has not shown race winning pace this year with Team Rahal but has proved to be remarkably consistent, finishing every round of the championship so far this year in the top nine positions. However, it seems that consistency is not the only key to leading the championship and he and teammate Jimmy Vasser need to find more speed from their Lola Ford Cosworth package.

Paul Tracy will be looking to repeat his last win which significantly came at Milwaukee, the last time ChampCars raced on a one-mile oval. The popular Canadian driver has suffered two straight non finishes since however, with a wheel departing his Lola Honda at Laguna Seca and Christian Fittipaldi proving that he would not give way in a racing situation at Portland. As a result Tracy now finds himself back in ninth position in the championship heading into the Chicago race weekend and 17-points behind his teammate Dario Franchitti who has scored consistently in recent races.

Franchitti did not have the pace to run with the Ganassi and Newman/Haas front runners in Portland but still drove a strong race to record third position ahead of Townsend Bell. Franchitti hopes that he can close the gap to the front-runners this weekend. "I think everyone at Team KOOL Green is looking forward to going back to an oval," the Scotsman explained. "We've had some good runs with the Lola on the ovals so far; hopefully this weekend will be no different and we'll be able to challenge for the win in Chicago. Now that the crew has several races under its belt with the new car, the learning curve isn't as steep at this point. With this event scheduled as a two-day race weekend, we're going to have to come out of the transporter with a fairly good car."

Townsend Bell should and could have finished in third position at Portland, but a stall in the pits ruined the American's chance of his first championship podium. The Patrick team were completely off the pace on the last oval race at Milwaukee, but Bell believes that his crew will be able to field a competitive Reynard this weekend. "We had some problems with the setup in Milwaukee," Bell said. "However, the engineering staff has worked very hard over the last three weeks analyzing the data and we feel we are headed in the right direction."

Of the remaining runners, Michael Andretti is always one worth keeping an eye on once the qualifying session is done and dusted and the race is underway, while the Team Players duo of Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier can never be discounted despite some awful reliability this season from their Reynard Ford Cosworth packages.

Another driver to watch out for is Adrian Fernandez who claimed the pole at Milwaukee and went on to finish in second position. The Mexican may be struggling with his setup on road and street circuits, but the Fernandez team are very strong on these short ovals.

Meanwhile, Max Papis will be on the sidelines for the second straight race as Sigma Autosport have failed to secure enough funding to pay Ford Cosworth for the release of their electronic systems. For the underrated Italian, it will be a case of watch and see before he heads back to Italy on Sunday morning. A real shame.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain