CHAMPCAR/CART: Detroit preview

The FedEx Championship Series hits the road in more ways than one this weekend, as the most grueling stretch of the 2001 campaign begins with the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit on The Raceway at Belle Isle. The Tenneco Automotive Grand...

The FedEx Championship Series hits the road in more ways than one this weekend, as the most grueling stretch of the 2001 campaign begins with the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit on The Raceway at Belle Isle.

The Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix kicks off a run that will see the series visit six venues in the next seven weeks, culminating with the July 29 Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway. Interim stops are scheduled for Portland (Freightliner G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco, June 24), Cleveland (Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar, July 1), Toronto (Molson Indy, July 15) and Michigan Speedway (Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, July 22), as the championship literally takes to the road, with seven of the next nine events scheduled to be contested on road or street courses.

That should be good news for defending Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit champion Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, whose victory at Detroit last year - the first win of his FedEx Championship Series career - gave him a taste of racing success he has sampled four times since then, including his win in this year's Indianapolis 500. Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) scored a series-high 110 of his 129 championship points on road or street circuits last season, and already owns a road/street victory this year, having won from the pole at Long Beach.

At present, Castroneves is looking up at Team Rahal's Kenny Brack in the championship chase. Brack (Shell Ford Lola), who broke through for his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Japan last month, followed up with a win at Milwaukee to take a 70-47 lead over Castroneves in championship points.

Though both of his victories have come on ovals, Brack is far from a novice in road- or street-course competition. His two best finishes as a rookie last year were runner-up efforts on temporary street circuits at Cleveland and Australia, respectively, and his first career pole position came in this year's season opener at Mexico.

Brack was able to put some distance between himself and his championship rivals when he drove to victory at Milwaukee and none of his four closest pursuers managed to score. Thus, he holds a 23-point advantage over Castroneves while Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing, Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green and Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing remain grouped at 40 points each.

A runner-up finish at Milwaukee - his 10th podium result in 17 starts at the venue, allowed Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola to move into eighth place in the championship with 36 points. Andretti is a two-time race winner (1990, '96) and four-time pole winner (1989-92) at Detroit and has finished among the top five drivers in seven of his 11 starts at the venue.

Other former winners on The Raceway at Belle Isle in this weekend's field are Tracy, who won in 1994, Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing, who won in '98 and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, who won in '99.

The Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit is Round 7 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the largest paydays in all of motorsports. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.

Following the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit, the FedEx Championship Series travels to the Northwest for Round 8, the Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco, June 22-24 at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway.

* FedEx Championship Series points leader Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal owns three consecutive podium finishes in his past three FedEx Championship Series starts, including back-to-back victories at Japan and Milwaukee, the first of his FedEx Championship Series career. He began the run with a runner-up finish at Nazareth last month. His recent success has propelled Brack into the championship lead with 70 points, 23 ahead of second-place Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske (47) Brack also owns three pole positions this season, at Mexico, Texas and Milwaukee, where the starting grid was based on championship points due to a rainout of qualifying. He has led a series-high 358 laps to date. Brack also finished third Saturday in the third round of the International Race of Champions (IROC) series at Michigan International Speedway.

* Helio Castroneves has scored championship points in nine of his past 10 FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to last year's victory at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca (Calif.). He has also scored in seven of his past eight starts on road or street courses, dating to last year's victory at Mid-Ohio.

* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in 10 of his past 12 FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a fifth-place finish at Road America last year. The run also includes a victory at Houston last year. Vasser, the 1996 FedEx Championship Series champion in his first year with Patrick Racing, owns points-paying finishes of sixth at Mexico, fifth at Long Beach and Japan, and fourth at Nazareth this season.

* Rookie Scott Dixon (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group owns podium finishes in two of his past three FedEx Championship Series starts. Included is his first career victory at Nazareth, which made him, at age 20 years, nine months and 14 days, the youngest driver ever to win a major open-wheel race. Dixon also finished third at Milwaukee and owns a three-race scoring streak, including a ninth-place effort at Japan. He has led at least one lap in four of his five starts to date. With 38 points, he stands sixth in the championship and holds a 38-23 lead over Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the race for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award. Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit

* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing has finished seventh or better in four of his five FedEx Championship Series starts this season, including a podium result of third at Japan. He also finished seventh at Mexico and Long Beach and sixth at Milwaukee. Kanaan has led a combined 112 laps in each of his past three starts, consisting of 64 at Nazareth, 40 at Japan and eight at Milwaukee. He stands ninth in the championship with 34 points.

* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has scored championship points in four of his five FedEx Championship Series starts this season, with finishes of sixth at Long Beach, eighth at Nazareth and ninth at Mexico and Milwaukee. He is 12th in the championship with 21 points.

* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola has finished fifth or better in seven of 11 career starts at Detroit, with victories in 1990 and '96 (the former triumph coming on the old downtown street course). The run also includes finishes of second in 1997, fourth in '92, '95 and '99, and fifth in '94. Andretti also earned four consecutive pole positions at Detroit from 1989-92.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green drove to victory at Detroit in 1994 and added a runner-up finish to teammate Dario Franchitti in 1999. Tracy also scored championship points at Detroit with finishes of ninth in 1993, eighth in '95 and seventh in '98.

* Defending FedEx Championship Series champion and 2000 Mario Andretti Award winner Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has scored championship points in four of six career starts at Detroit, with consecutive podium finishes of third in 1996, '97 and '98 and a ninth-place finish last year. De Ferran also won the pole on The Raceway at Belle Isle in 1997.

* Dario Franchitti owns three top-four finishes in four career starts at Detroit, highlighted by a victory in 1999. He also finished fourth in 1998 and last year, when he started on the outside pole.

* Jimmy Vasser has finished seventh or better in five of his past six starts at Detroit, encompassing finishes of second in 1995, fourth in '97, sixth in '98, fifth in '99 and seventh last year.

* Honda-powered drivers have won the past three events contested on The Raceway at Belle Isle, getting victories from Alex Zanardi in 1998, Dario Franchitti in 1999 and Helio Castroneves last year.

* FedEx Championship Series points leader Kenny Brack finished third in Round Three of the International Race of Champions (IROC) Series last Saturday at Michigan Speedway, and drew to one-point behind series leader and defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte entering the IROC season finale on August 4 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brack, who owns previous IROC finishes of fourth at Daytona and second at Talladega, trails Labonte, 44 points to 43 through three rounds in the championship. NASCAR'S Tony Stewart claimed the victory at Michigan, while Al Unser Jr. of the Indy Racing League finished just ahead of Brack for runner-up honors. The annual IROC series features 11 of motorsports' best drivers from a variety of disciplines competing against each other in identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds.

* Through five completed rounds of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series championship, the pit crew for Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske has taken the lead in the third annual Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge, which will award $50,000 at the conclusion of the season to the top pit crew in the FedEx Championship Series. Castroneves' crew has totaled 58 points to date and holds an eight-point advantage over the crew for Jimmy Vasser of Patrick Racing, which stands second with 50 points. The crew for Scott Dixon of the Pacwest Racing Group stands third with 39 points, followed by the crew for FedEx Championship Series leader Kenny Brack of Team Rahal, fourth with 38. Crews earn points at each event according to the same scale used to score FedEx Championship Series drivers (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1), with the maximum 20 points going to the crew whose car finishes the race and spends the least amount of time in the pits. The top four teams, plus a wildcard, heading into the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway will compete head-to-head for the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge trophy and a $50,000 cash prize. The crew for Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green is the two-time defending Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge champion.

* Championship Auto Racing Teams announced last week that effective with the Miller Lite 200,.Aug. 10-12 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, all Champ Car drivers must wear the HANS (Head and Neck Support) Device during all on-track testing and race event activities on ovals and road/street courses. CART had mandated use of the HANS Device at all oval track events prior to the beginning of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season.

* The first Fan Forum of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season will be held at this weekend's Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit. The Forum, a one-hour, uncensored question-and-answer session with FedEx Championship Series personalities, is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. Friday at the victory podium on The Raceway at Belle Isle. Guests will include CART President/CEO Joe Heitzler, CART Chief Steward Chris Kneifel, CART Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Steve Olvey and Marlboro Team Penske Advisor and three-time FedEx Championship Series champion (179, '81, '82) Rick Mears. The program will be hosted by veteran motorsports announcer Chris McClure.

* Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing driver Bryan Herta (Zakspeed/Forsythe Racing Ford Reynard) is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Comerica Park on Thursday when the Detroit Tigers host the Pittsburgh Pirates in an interleague major league baseball contest. Herta, a native of Warren, Mich. in suburban Detroit, will participate in an autograph session at Gate A of the stadium from 6-6:30 p.m. A CART Champ Car will be on display during the autograph session and throughout the game.

* CART.com, the Official Web Site of the FedEx Championship Series, will debut a new feature on the site following this weekend's Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit. CART ChampCam gives fans a "backstage pass" to the race winner's victory celebration, with video of the race-winning driver from the time he gets out of his car through the first few minutes of the post-race press conference. Fans will see the driver celebrate his win with his teammates, watch the driver participate in the victory podium ceremonies, and follow him in to meet the press following the race. CART ChampCam will be available beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET this Sunday at www.cart.com .

* Qualifying for the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit will air 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 2 p.m. ET. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN, and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

-CART

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Chris Kneifel , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Zakspeed