CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Event preview

CART FedEx Championship Series returns to Denver as crunch time starts for Vanderbilt Cup hopefuls. INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2002) - Coming on the heels of a hugely-successful first visit to Montreal last weekend, the CART FedEx Championship ...

CART FedEx Championship Series returns to Denver as crunch time starts for Vanderbilt Cup hopefuls.

INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2002) - Coming on the heels of a hugely-successful first visit to Montreal last weekend, the CART FedEx Championship Series will head to another new venue this weekend as a spirited speed soiree will take place in the streets of Denver.

The Shell Grand Prix of Denver will mark the first time that the 800-plus horsepower machines will unleash their roar in the Mile High City since 1991, but this year's edition of the street race will visit the heart of downtown on a 1.622-mile temporary street circuit that winds its way around the Pepsi Center - home to the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

It may be a new venue for the drivers and teams of Championship Auto Racing Teams but the view is the same as it has been since the opening of the season as the pack continues to chase Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), who widened his series lead to 55 points after claiming the pole and then rolling to a podium finish in last weekend's Molson Indy Montreal.

Da Matta has been nearly dominant on road and street courses this season, winning five times on the twisty tracks and leading at least one lap in each of the 10 races held on the road and street tracks. On eight of those occasions, da Matta has led at least 20 laps and missed adding to that total at Mid-Ohio when he paced 19 orbits before falling prey to mechanical trouble. He has led more than twice as many road and street course laps (444) than his nearest competitor (Patrick Carpentier, 159) and has claimed all six of his poles on tracks where both right- and left-hand turns are necessary.

But despite the dominance, there are still a number of drivers that are still on the hunt to unseat the Brazilian. Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) took the point in leading that hunt last weekend, storming to the win in Montreal for his second victory of the season. Franchitti led 43 laps and turned the fastest circuit of the day in taking the victory, and held off the series leader on a late restart to secure the win and vault into second place in the season standings.

The 1999 series runner-up will need to keep his momentum up if he is going to stay in the chase in what has been a rollercoaster year for the Team KOOL Green pilot. Franchitti has earned five podium finishes in the last 11 events to claim the second spot in the standings, but has failed to finish in the top 10 in any of the other six races in that stretch.

Franchitti's win knocked Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) out of the second spot as the two drivers suffered through a scoreless visit to Montreal. Junqueira needs to turn around his recent fortunes that have seen him finish only two of the last six races, while Carpentier looks to regain the form that carried him to wins at Mid-Ohio and Cleveland.

Things have gone the other way for Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) as the Mo Nunn Racing driver has finished in the top four in three of the last four events, scoring 40 points during that stretch. His point total is second to only da Matta (42) and Franchitti (41) during the last four races, allowing him to shake off a slow start and move to within 11 points of the top 10 in the season standings.

Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) maintained his status as CART's most consistent driver in Montreal, racing to a sixth-place finish that allowed him to keep his streak alive that has seen him score points in every race this season. Jourdain has set a new Team Rahal record with 13 consecutive placements in the points, and has knotted himself with Newman/Haas Racing's Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) for fifth place in the standings. The duo has amassed 88 markers to this point and both drivers are just a race win away from possibly climbing to the second spot in the standings.

Sitting in seventh in the standings is the only current driver to have any Champ Car experience in Denver as Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) returns to the city where he won the pole for the 1991 event. Andretti would lose a lap after a collision with Bobby Rahal left him with a flat tire, but the '91 CART champion came back to fill out the podium with a third-place finish. Andretti also earned a top-five placing in the 1990 Denver event, starting third and finishing fifth.

Andretti is tied for seventh in the standings with Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard Bridgestone) as the Canadian driver looks to extend his streak of consecutive points-paying finishes to 10 straight races. A finish in the points this weekend would give Tagliani a new Player's/Forsythe Racing record, eclipsing the current team mark of nine consecutive events in the points set by the late Greg Moore in 1998-99.

One point behind Tagliani and Andretti lurks Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), who claimed his 19th career CART win earlier in the year by taking the checkered flag at Milwaukee. Tracy was in his rookie season on the circuit when the Champ Cars last visited Denver in 1991, but did not make the start after breaking his left leg in a crash the previous weekend at Michigan.

Scott Dixon (#44 Coors Light Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) will have a different look this weekend as Coors Brewing will join the Target Chip Ganassi Racing squad for a one-off sponsorship in their home market. Dixon is another of the drivers that has fallen on problems in the last two months, earning two top-five placings in the last six events but failing to finish any of the other four races. His TCGR stablemate Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola Bridgestone) has had similar luck this year, failing to finish seven of the year's 13 races just one season after compiling just five DNFs during the entire 2001 schedule. Brack was taken out by contact on the first lap of the Montreal event in an accident not of his making, marking the fourth time this season that his race has ended due to a crash in the first two laps of a race.

Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has overcome a slow start that, like Brack, had its share of early contact. Vasser was 14th in the standings after seven events but has since gone on his best run of the season to move to within one point of Brack for 10th place in the title hunt. Vasser has put up fifth-place finishes in back-to-back races for the first time since Motegi and Nazareth last year, and will be looking to extend that streak to three this weekend.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Current points leader Cristiano da Matta, along with former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser, are among the stars battling for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title with championship-winning teams such as Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Newman/Haas Racing, Patrick Racing and Team KOOL Green. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 19-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.cart.com.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing