By Wendy-Ann Francis - Motorsport.com The excitement built at Rockingham as the drivers of the Champ car series were introduced to an English crowd. The sun came out as the cars were being brought out and the crowds took their seats in ...
By Wendy-Ann Francis - Motorsport.com
The excitement built at Rockingham as the drivers of the Champ car series were introduced to an English crowd. The sun came out as the cars were being brought out and the crowds took their seats in anticipation of the start. The cars went out for their installation laps at quarter to four. The only problem that showed up was with Michel Jourdain's car, which was black flagged for spray. Tony Kanaan was fastest in the warm up with Paul Tracy in second and Scott Dixon, a rookie, in third.
The pre-race activities continued with a lap of silence when Johnny Herbert took a black Bentley slowly around the track. This was followed by the American and British national anthems, then the drivers climbed into their cars.
There was a short delay in the start of the race as the cars were topped off with fuel but at 4:40 pm the command we had been waiting for was given: "Gentlemen start your engines" and most of the cars moved off for their warm up laps.
Kenny Brack was driving very hard on the pace laps and had to slow up quickly in order to allow the pack to form up behind him. When the green flag was thrown Gil de Ferran took the lead from Kenny Brack and the race was under way.
At the end of the first lap Max Papis spun on the front straight but managed to gather up his car and continue; behind him Vasser made contact with Takagi who spun; attempting to avoid all this Memo Gidley and Bruno Junqueira spun. Gidley, like Papis got his car under control but Junqueira hit the outside of the pit wall and the yellow flag was thrown in order to clear the track.
The race went green again at lap 9 and the front runners soon come up against back markers Memo Gidley and Max Wilson. Gil de Ferran had little trouble passing them but Brack had problems with Wilson who was given a blocking warning.
At lap 30 Dario Franchitti passes Helio Castroneves for 4th and latter on lap 45 Dario passes Andretti for 3rd and Kenny Brack uses the traffic to pass de Ferran for the lead.
On lap 50 Michel Jourdain Jr. spun on the entry to turn 4 and then slid down the track on the front straight. Dario Franchitti and Michael Andretti narrowly missed him and Jourdain managed to get the car under control but had to make a pit stop as he had lost some body work and, of course had flat spotted the tires. The pits opened on lap 53 and the leaders came in. Cristiano da Matta gained 4 places, taking 3rd but Franchitti, Castroneves and Scott Dixon lost several places in the pits. Christian Fittipaldi had come coasting into the pits before anyone else and got out of the car reporting gearbox failure
On the restart, lap 57, Franchitti tried to pass Andretti on the outside but could not get it done. The drivers then settled into a groove until lap 94 when Adrian Fernandez pulled of the course on the backstraight as smoke started to come from his car. The track went yellow to give the safety crews time to clean up the fluids left by Fernandez. As the spill had been near pit in the pit lane did not open until lap 100 and CART announced that due to the lateness of the day the race has been shortened to 140 laps; therefore this was the last pit stop of the race for most of the teams.
Gil de Ferran came out of the pits first, followed by Brack, Castroneves, da Matta, Andretti and Kanaan. Dario Franchitti again lost places, which was a disappointment to the British crowd. The race restarted on lap 103 and Kenny Brack tried to get past de Ferran but did not manage it. Scott Dixon pulled into the pits, possibly as a result of contact with Oriol Servia during the yellow and then his teammate Mauricio Gugelmin made his scheduled pit stop but acquired a pit lane speed violation and so had to come in for a drive through penalty and got another violation that brought him in again
On lap 137 de Ferran got past back marker Townsend Bell but then got caught behind Max Papis. De Ferran lost some speed and Brack passed him on lap 138.
This was not to last however, as Gil gave the fans what they had come for with a thrilling last lap, last turn pass on Kenny to take the checkered flag and win the inaugural champ car race at Rockingham Motor Speedway in front of approximately 35,000 people.