CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship Series happenings 2001-01-17

With 50 days remaining before the first practice session of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico, virtually every team is now focused on testing their 2002 machinery. Sebring International Raceway in ...

With 50 days remaining before the first practice session of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico, virtually every team is now focused on testing their 2002 machinery.

Sebring International Raceway in central Florida remains the popular testing destination for many teams, but Herdez Competition packed up its game and headed out west for a few days in "The Valley of the Sun" this week. The team's rookie driver, Mario Dominguez, continues to get acquainted with his 2002 Ford-Cosworth/Lola, and has posted competitive times in early testing at Sebring.

This week in Phoenix, however, was the Indy Lights grad's first chance to try out his new ride on an oval, as the team unloaded the car at Phoenix International Raceway on Wednesday. While the Mexican was initially surprised by the differences between the Champ Car and his previous Indy Lights machine, he quickly got more comfortable in his new surroundings.

"Things happen a lot quicker in a Champ Car than in Indy Lights," said Dominguez. "It's been two months since I've been on an oval, but this is much different. We were hitting 200 miles per hour around the Phoenix oval yesterday, compared to 180 or so at Fontana in the Lights car. Believe it or not, once you get used to the difference in speed, the Lola Champ Car is a lot easier to drive. It's a much better balanced car from a technical standpoint. I think that Herdez Competition's engineers really know the ovals. I don't think I've ever driven an oval car that was set up this well. It seems that I have made a good connection with the car--we're having a lot of fun together!"

While the oval test was a one day affair, the fun continues for Dominguez on Friday and Saturday when the team is scheduled to run on the Firebird East course.

Dominguez was also one of several drivers to get some seat time at Sebring at the end of last week. Also at Sebring were Team KOOL Green with driver Dario Franchitti, Team Rahal with Jimmy Vasser, Fernandez Racing with Shinji Nakano, Tony Kanaan and Mo Nunn Racing, and Christian Fittipaldi with Newman/Haas Racing.

Team Rahal and Vasser claimed the unofficial fastest lap time of the test, and the 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series champion put almost 300 miles on his new Ford-Cosworth/Lola. Perhaps most importantly, Vasser's first impression with the team was a good one.

"Things went real good for our first time out," Vasser said. "We didn't really try to go fast, but we went quick the first day and were able to run a lot of miles over the two days. This is a very strong group of people and I think we are well positioned to contend for the championship."

Likewise, Franchitti was glad to be back in the cockpit after some time off. The team reported turning a best lap of 51.62 seconds, and logged a total of 191 laps around the 1.6-mile circuit.

"I can't believe how much we got done here at our first test," Franchitti said. "I think this is the most I've run in one test at Sebring, and it was great to get back in the KOOL car after a couple of months off. I really like the new car, especially the gearbox, which is a definite improvement from last year. Working with my new engineer, Allen McDonald, for the first time was also exciting. I think we learned a lot. I sure know we ran a bunch of laps."

The Sebring test also represented the first testing laps of the off-season for Fittipaldi and Newman/Haas Racing. Like Franchitti, Fittipaldi was also working with a new engineer for the first time, as Craig Hampson has been promoted to Fittipaldi's race engineer after working as assistant race engineer for Newman/Haas' #6 machine driven by Cristiano da Matta in 2001.

"We had the usual first test problems, but overall we are happy with the fact that we learned some areas that we can work on before our next test," said the seven-year CART FedEx Championship Series veteran. "We ran over 200 trouble free miles today and have started to work on 2002, which is always a good time because there is so much optimism when the entire season is ahead of you. Our quickest time was a 51.7 (second lap), but I think there was more speed in the car if we would have put more laps together in a row. I spent some time relaxing with my family and friends since the season ended and I am completely focused and ready to start the 2002 season."

While the others were running at Sebring, 2001 FedEx Championship Series runner-up Kenny Brack was at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca getting more acquainted with his 2002 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Toyota Lola. He was a bit disappointed to miss one day of testing due to dense fog, but he still managed a day-and-a-half in the new car.

"It was a little frustrating to have to sit around all day on Wednesday waiting for the fog to clear," Brack said. "But it was a great time to sit and chat with the guys. We weren't able to run as much as we had hoped for, but we continue to learn about this car and where we need to improve on it. We'll get another chance here next month during Sneak Preview, hopefully without the fog. That should show us where we're at in comparison to the other teams. We have a very busy off-season testing program, and it feels good to have completed three tests already. I'm very pleased with what I've seen so far from this team."

While Brack didn't test the Champ Car this week, he did get some seat time of a different kind when he spent some time behind the wheel of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge Intrepid that the team fields in the NASCAR Winston Cup series.

*BRUNO'S BACK
While Brack has taken the lion's share of the headlines for Target Chip Ganassi Racing recently, the team announced today that Brazilian Bruno Junqueira is back for his second season in the cockpit of the Target Toyota/Lola. Junqueira scored his first career victory in the Motorola 220 at Road America and took the first pole position of his Champ Car career at the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway in 2001. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to drive for Team Target in 2002," said the 2001 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year runner-up. "Last year, I developed a good working relationship with my engineers and team members and I'm looking forward to working with them again. We had some good races, but I was hoping for better results than what we had. I'm looking forward to getting back in the seat of the Target car and winning some more races this year."

*TEAM USA LOOKING GOOD
Nineteen-year-old Bryan Sellers of Centerville, Ohio took a pair of victories in last weekend's Talley's New Zealand Formula Ford Championship races at Timaru International Motor Raceway, while 20-year-old A.J. Allmendinger from Hollister, Calif. took the pole position for the first of two races last Sunday. Both drivers are in New Zealand representing Team USA. In the first race, Sellers took the lead from Allmendinger at the start and led the entire race en route to a four-second victory over championship leader Fabian Coulthard in rainy conditions. The victory gave Sellers the pole position for the second heat, which was run under dry conditions, but the end result was the same, as Sellers went on to score the victory and the prestigious Timaru Challenge Cup. The trophy was first presented in 1967, and has been won by such names as Paul Tracy, Formula One pilot Jos Verstappen, and former Champ Car competitor Dean Hall. "Honestly, other than the Team USA Scholarship, this is the only other award I've ever won," said Sellers. "And to have so many esteemed names on there, it's hard to believe that my name's going to be on that trophy when they give it out next."


SIMPLE GREEN CART SAFETY TEAM HONORED AT AARWBA BANQUET
The Simple Green CART Safety Team became the first recipients of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) Photographic Committee's "Straight Shooter" Award at last weekend's 32nd Annual AARWBA Awards Banquet in Pomona, Calif. The Safety Team was chosen for the award because of its efforts in saving the life of two-time CART FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a crash during The American Memorial on Sept. 15 at EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany. On hand to accept the award was CART Director of Safety Lon Bromley.


INDY LIGHTS NAMES ALL-STAR TEAM
Three stars of the final Dayton Indy Lights Championship season will be honored one last time during the All-Star Extravaganza at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Thurs., Feb. 7, which is being held in conjunction with Sneak Preview, scheduled for Feb. 7-10 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The three drivers who will be honored as members of the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights All-Star Team are 2001 series champion and 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series rookie Townsend Bell, championship runner-up and 2001 Lights Rookie of the Year Dan Wheldon, and Bell's former Dorricott Racing teammate Damien Faulkner, who won two races en route to third place in the championship. The All-Star Extravaganza will also feature the five-member 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series All-Star team and the 2001 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship All-Star team.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Mario Dominguez , Chip Ganassi , Fabian Coulthard , Bryan Sellers , Felix Sabates , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing