CHAMPCAR/CART: Firestone Monterrey preview

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 8, 2001) - It's a new season in many ways for the FedEx Championship Series, not the least of which is the setting for the 2001 opener. For the first time in six seasons, Championship Auto Racing Teams competitors will...

MONTERREY, Mexico (March 8, 2001) - It's a new season in many ways for the FedEx Championship Series, not the least of which is the setting for the 2001 opener.

For the first time in six seasons, Championship Auto Racing Teams competitors will not open at the oval in Homestead, Fla. Instead, the series heads south of the border to Fundidora Park for the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. The brand new road course is one of four venues that will debut on the 21-race CART schedule in 2001.

"Everyone at Firestone Racing is excited that CART is venturing back to Mexico for the first time in two decades," said Al Speyer, Bridgestone/Firestone Motorsports Director. "It provides us an excellent chance to showcase the superior technological abilities of the Firestone Firehawk race tires to a nation very important to the Bridgestone/Firestone family. We are thrilled with the opportunity."

Being a new venue, Monterrey also provides additional challenges for the Firestone Racing group. Namely, producing tires for a course that will not see a Champ car on it until the green flag waves for practice Friday morning. As usual, the Firestone engineers and race tire development staff have risen to the challenge.

"Perhaps the most difficult assignment our engineers can take on is deciding the proper tire compound/construction combination for a circuit from which they have no actual accumulated data," Speyer explained. "We can make assessments from track maps and eyewitness accounts of the course, factor in the type of track surface and likely ambient temperatures on race weekend, and add in results from off-season testing simulations on courses with similar characteristics to the new venue."

That said, Firestone has a pretty clear picture of the Fundidora Park course. According to Speyer, the 2.1-mile Monterrey circuit is more of a hybrid between a road course and a street course, bearing characteristics of many current CART venues.

"It is obviously a road course," Speyer said, "but has some extremely tight turns, several at 90 degrees or more like some street courses. The track is very wide, like Cleveland, which should provide for a lot of passing. It features elevation changes around the circuit, like Mid-Ohio. It sounds like an interesting track with a unique combination of features: wide track, chicanes, elevation changes, tight turns, wide sweeping turns. To best accommodate all of this, we are taking our softest road course tire to Mexico."

This, most know, is the beginning of the second season in which Firestone will supply all teams and drivers in the FedEx Championship Series. The series remains open to any manufacturer willing to take on Firestone, which won 48 of the last 50 races before the former competitor bailed after the 1999 season. Firestone went on to claim its fifth consecutive CART driver's championship in 2000 with Team Penske's Gil de Ferran.

"Firestone is extremely pleased with what we've been able to accomplish since returning to open-wheel racing just five years ago," Speyer said. "We'll continue aspiring to greater heights in tire performance while we await the return of a worthy adversary.

"We are equally pleased to open the 2001 season in Monterrey," Speyer added. "Several hundred employees and associates of Bridgestone/Firestone Mexico will be on hand this weekend, most seeing the Champ cars in person for the first time. We'll do our best to make sure they see a good show."

-FR

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran
Teams Team Penske