CHAMPCAR/CART: Elkhart Lake: Road America preview

Patrick Carpentier rides wave of momentum into Road America as field continues to close on series leader Cristiano Da Matta. INDIANAPOLIS (August 13, 2002) - Three consecutive mid-season wins from Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Patrick Carpentier rides wave of momentum into Road America as field continues to close on series leader Cristiano Da Matta.

INDIANAPOLIS (August 13, 2002) - Three consecutive mid-season wins from Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone threatened to turn the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series into a rout, but the Fates would soon turn da Matta's racing luck around for the worse, keeping him scoreless last weekend for the first time all year and allowing the field to climb back into the title chase.

Sensing the scent of the leader getting stronger after da Matta's misfortune in Mid-Ohio last weekend, the field resumes its pursuit of the Newman/Haas pilot this weekend as CART heads to Elkhart Lake for the Grand Prix at Road America Featuring the Motorola 220. The weekend's race will be the 21st CART event in the storied history of the venerable Wisconsin road course, and could see the championship battle rejoined in earnest.

Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) made the biggest gains on the points leader, backing up his Cleveland win with a victory at the CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio last weekend. Carpentier won his second event of the year by beating Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) to the line by 3.213 seconds, marking the first time in his career that the Player's/Forsythe driver has won multiple races in a single season.

Carpentier vaulted into second place in the standings with his Mid-Ohio win, bringing him to within 27 points of the series lead, which is the closest anyone has been to da Matta since the Round 7 event at Chicago. The Canadian driver will be facing a couple of formidable hurdles this week as he attempts to get closer to the diminutive Brazilian however, as Road America has not been one of the more successful stops on Carpentier's CART resume. He placed ninth on the 4.048-mile road course last season, marking the first time in his career that he has scored championship points at Elkhart Lake. Also stacked against him is the fact that the driver that has entered the race in second place in the points has failed to finish each of the last four events.

While Carpentier seemingly has additional forces stacking against him this coming weekend, third-placed Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) is looking to Road America to turn his title hunt around. The sophomore driver had been second in the points for most of the month of June before DNFs at Toronto, Cleveland and Vancouver. But looking to turn it around, Junqueira is returning to the site of his first career Champ Car win, as he outlasted the field on a rainy Wisconsin Sunday to take victory in last year's CART event at Elkhart Lake.

Fittipaldi is another title hopeful that is looking to relive some glory days at Road America as the Newman/Haas pilot returns to the site of his first CART victory. The 1999 race winner earned his fourth podium of the season last weekend with a second-place run at Mid-Ohio and is heading to an Elkhart Lake layout where he has had great success, even if the results don't bear that out. He has been running second on three separate occasions - including last year - when troubles have forced him out of the race. Last year, a late-race incident with Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) kept him out of Victory Lane and left him in 18th place.

Andretti has had more than his share of good fortune at Road America as well, as the Team KOOL Green pilot has earned three race wins and two poles on the Wisconsin circuit. Andretti has finished in the runner-up spot in two of the last three trips to Elkhart Lake and could take over as Road America's all-time Champ Car victory leader with a win this weekend.

Another driver that is hoping to build on past successes is Team KOOL Green's Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda Lola/Bridgestone). Tracy has a pair of wins to go with three poles at Road America, including a victory in the 2000 season in which he came from the seventh spot on the grid to take the checkered flag. His teammate Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) has also had his share of good fortune at Road America, winning the 1998 event and taking the pole for the 2000 race won by his teammate. Franchitti has sandwiched three DNFs around his emotional Vancouver win but is still just 38 points out of the championship lead and is holding down the fourth spot in the standings.

Carpentier may be the hottest driver in the last three events, but his Player's/Forsythe stablemate Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) has been the picture of consistency as he has made his way into the top 10 in the race for the Vanderbilt Cup. Tagliani has scored in seven consecutive events, matching the longest point-scoring streak of his Champ Car career, while Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola Bridgestone) extended his career-best points-paying skein to six races with a ninth-place run last weekend after starting 17th.

But as it has been all year, the model of CART consistency resides in the Team Rahal garage as Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) kept his streak alive of scoring championship points in every start this season. Jourdain's streak of 11 straight finishes in the points is the best to start a season since Al Unser Jr. went through the entire 16-race season in 1992 without going scoreless on a weekend. Jourdain's consistency has kept him in the fifth spot in the points despite the fact that he only has one top-five finish in the last seven races.

Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) will attempt to return to the cockpit this weekend at Road America after missing the Mid-Ohio event with injuries suffered in a late-race crash in Vancouver. Fernandez has a hairline fracture in his hip and still has serious bruising to his back and hip but intends to try the car out on Friday to determine if he can compete this weekend. If not, he will be replaced in the car by Max Papis, who drove the Fernandez Racing machine to a 15th-place finish in his debut with the team last weekend at Mid-Ohio. Fernandez has ample incentive to get back in the car this weekend as the Mexican veteran has earned top-five finishes in each of his last four visits to the Wisconsin circuit, a streak that includes his current run of three-straight Road America podiums. He came from 26th on the grid last season to place third and was the runner-up to Tracy in 2000.

Whoever comes out on top this weekend will have to endure the longest race that CART has ever run on the Road America circuit. Long known for races that were decided on fuel mileage - such as Hector Rebaque's win in the inaugural event in 1982 when four drivers ran out of gas while leading - this year's event has been lengthened to 60 laps (242.880 miles) to ensure that the race is decided on speed and handling instead of fuel conservation. As was the case in Mid-Ohio last weekend, drivers will also have the opportunity to resume the fight if they go off into a gravel trap. Last weekend saw da Matta pulled out of the Turn Two gravel by the Simple Green CART Safety Team and rejoin the fray, climbing back to the 13th spot by the end of the race.

The festivities will get underway with a Friday practice session, followed by provisional qualifying at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The final grid will be set on Saturday with a final qualifying run at 2:45 p.m., with fans able to follow the action on SPEED Channel or on www.cart.com. Sunday's CART FedEx Championship Series Grand Prix at Road America Featuring the Motorola 220 will be shown live on SPEED Channel with the green flag scheduled to fly at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

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 who will battle 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 American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, 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 , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Shinji Nakano , Hector Rebaque , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing