De Ferran Cites 3 Factors which Changed CART (September 21, 1998) - As CART begins the final lap of its 20th anniversary season with the upcoming Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on October 4, some paddock pundits have been assessing key moments in...
De Ferran Cites 3 Factors which Changed CART
(September 21, 1998) - As CART begins the final lap of its 20th anniversary season with the upcoming Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on October 4, some paddock pundits have been assessing key moments in the organization's history.
Even though he has been in CART only four years, Valvoline/Cummins Special driver Gil de Ferran cites three things which he believes has elevated the stature and competitiveness of the FedEx Championship Series.
1. The Mansell Effect:
When Nigel Mansell became the first reigning Formula One world champion to switch series, people everywhere took note, and paid much closer attention to what CART had to offer.
International television exposure jumped from a handful of nations to today's count of close to 200 countries. As Mansell went on to win five races (four on ovals) and the PPG Cup championship, other international drivers began to consider CART as an attractive venue to showcase their skills.
"One cannot underestimate the appeal of a world champion, especially a very popular world champion," says de Ferran. "Maybe the appeal inside America is varied but not for motor racing fans around the world, and the motor racing media. Nigel didn't even defend his title in Formula One. When he came here in 1993, it was like someone turned on the spotlights onto the series. All of a sudden, CART was talked about all over Europe, and elsewhere."
"Some of the internationalization you see now is as a consequence of that. It's what I call 'The Nigel Mansell Effect.' It certainly made me re-evaluate my opinion of CART. I'm sure that same happened to other drivers, sponsors and many millions of fans."
2. The Reynard Alternative:
When respected international racing car builder Reynard entered CART in 1994, starting fields for several years had been dominated by Lola chassis. Reynard won its first time out, with Michael Andretti reaching victory lane in Australia, and the company has gone on to claim three consecutive constructor's championships from 1995-1997.
"Reynard broadened the base of extremely competitive equipment available to the teams," said de Ferran. "Prior to Reynard entering the series, you had the Lola works team, which was Newman/Haas, you the Penske team, which runs its own chassis, and then you had everybody else running sometimes second-rate equipment. Reynard made available to a number of teams highly competitive equipment. That was one of the key developments in making the series more competitive as a whole. That was a big change and important for the series.
"The way Reynard does business is having no works team as such. Lola had Newman/Haas as the dominant force and from time-to-time one of the customers would bump up there. Now you see a lot of teams fighting up front. Somebody that can raise the budget can buy equipment to race competitively, whereas before, maybe it was a bit of a different situation."
3. Honda Horsepower and Marketing:
Honda, a long-time powerhouse in Formula One and other international motorsports series, entered CART as an engine supplier in 1994. It won for the first time the following year and claimed the manufacturer's title in 996. Honda-powered drivers finished 1-2-3 in the 1997 PPG Cup standings, with de Ferran in the Valvoline/Cummins Special the runner-up to Alex Zanardi.
"Honda had a similar influence to Reynard," said de Ferran. "That forced the other manufacturers to also supply more good equipment to more teams. Now, almost everybody has a good engine contract. You don't see very many people running 'B' engines. When you have a competitor like Honda, it wakes everyone up. Honda's reputation brings a lot of weight to the series, because if Honda didn't think this was worth anything, obviously, they wouldn't come in.
"What Honda has also done is wonders for the marketing of the series. They do a lot of advertising and promoting the series."