Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank Cleveland History "Rahal's Last Ride" visits the site where that illustrious journey began this weekend, when the FedEx Championship Series begins the second half of its season with...
Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank
"Rahal's Last Ride" visits the site where that illustrious journey began this weekend, when the FedEx Championship Series begins the second half of its season with the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank at Burke Lakefront Airport (12:30 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).
Three-time PPG Cup winner Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), in his last of 17 seasons as a FedEx Championship Series driver, earned the first of his 24 CART career victories in 1982 at the first CART event contested at Cleveland. A native of Medina, Ohio, roughly 35 miles south of Cleveland, Rahal returns to the scene of his first CART triumph this weekend as the only driver to have competed in all 16 Cleveland events to date.
Additionally, Rahal's Cleveland resume features nine top-five finishes, including consecutive podium performances in 1987 (second), '88 (second), '89 (third), '90 (second) and '91 (third). He has qualified third or better six times and won the pole position in 1985.
"Cleveland has always been very kind to me," Rahal said. "I've always been warmly welcomed by the fans there and, fortunately, had a fair amount of success on the track, too. Having won my very first CART race here, getting to come back and race here in my final season holds some very special significance for me."
While Rahal boasts the most extensive history at Cleveland of any FedEx Championship Series competitor, Alex Zanardi's record at Cleveland has been brief but spectacular. Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) finished second in 1996 in his inaugural appearance at Cleveland, then drove back from a pair of penalties - which relegated him to 22nd place on the 37th of 90 laps - to victory last year.
More than any of his series-leading five wins last year, Zanardi's victory at Cleveland served as a springboard to the season championship. It also represented the last time a FedEx Championship Series driver won from the pole, a dry spell which has now reached a series-record 17 events.
Zanardi comes to Cleveland looking for his third straight victory of this season, following wins at Detroit and Portland, respectively. He leads the FedEx Championship Series with 134 points, 38 ahead of Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), who has 96.
Zanardi's final rival in the bid for last year's victory at Cleveland was Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda), whom Zanardi passed with seven laps remaining to cap his remarkable comeback. De Ferran's history at Cleveland is nearly as impressive as Zanardi's. He won the pole during his rookie season in 1995, earned his second FedEx Championship Series career victory at Cleveland in '96 and finished second last year. In addition, de Ferran has led a race-high number of laps in each of his appearances at Cleveland, 67 in '95, 34 in '96 and 49 last year.
Rahal's teammate, Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) finished third at Cleveland last year and has scored two of his six career podium performances on the Burke Lakefront Airport runways. He finished third at Portland after claiming his fifth career pole position.
All told, the Cleveland entry list boasts six former winners. In addition to Rahal, Zanardi and de Ferran, two-time winner (1985, '94) Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) is in the field and joined by 1991 winner Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda), who won from the pole in 1993.
Tracy and Moore have been placed on probation by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach for driving infractions at Detroit and Portland, respectively. Moore's exit on the opening lap at Portland marked the first time this season he had not been running at the finish of an event.
That made Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) the only driver to complete every event to date this season. Vasser, the 1996 pole winner at Cleveland, has finished eighth or better in 13 of his past 14 FedEx Championship Series starts and has scored PPG Cup points in 46 of his last 53 appearances (87 percent), including the past eight in a row.
Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) comes to Cleveland off a runner-up effort at Portland, his best finish since last year's victory at Australia. Teammate Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) seeks to build on his career-high 75 PPG Cup points, which currently places him fourth in the championship.
Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) has collected back-to-back sixth-place finishes at Cleveland while Robby Gordon (Panasonic Duskin/MCI Reynard Toyota) has scored PPG Cup points in four of five appearances on the lakefront. Gordon also recorded the first lap led of his FedEx Championship Series career at Cleveland in 1992.
Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) earned a season-best seventh-place finish at Portland. Teammate Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) has generated back-to-back points-producing finishes at Cleveland and started third last year.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) finished 11th at Cleveland last year, making it one of four venues where he scored points during his rookie season. Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) finished 10th at Portland, giving him four top-10 efforts in his past six starts. Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) has qualified in the top 10 for all three of his career starts at Cleveland.
Patrick Carpentier (Player's Indeck Reynard Mercedes), last year's CART Rookie of the Year, finished ninth at Portland, the best road-course finish of his two-year FedEx Championship Series career. Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda), this year's rookie leader, recorded a career-best fourth place finish at Portland and extended his lead to 39-29 over Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) in the rookie points race.
Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) and Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford) scored their first PPG Cup points of the season at Portland, finishing 11th and 12th, respectively.
PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) makes his third CART career appearance at Cleveland while Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) makes his second. Rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) make their first starts at Cleveland as does eight-year veteran Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford).
ESPN airs its "Midseason Pit Stop," a review of the first half of the FedEx Championship Series season, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying for the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank airs 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day," ESPN2's pre-race show, airs noon ET Sunday, one-half hour prior to ABC-TV's live race telecast.
The Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank begins one of the busiest stretches of the FedEx Championship Series season with five events to be contested in the next six weeks. The series continues with the Molson Indy, July 19 from Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Source: CART Online