CHAMPCAR/CART: Gateway Will it be 6 for 6?

Motorola 300 6 For 6? Madison, IL (May 19, 1998) -- The current climate of the FedEx Championship Series is such that relentlessly advancing technology makes many records obsolete within a year of being set. But a ...

Motorola 300

6 For 6?

Madison, IL (May 19, 1998) -- The current climate of the FedEx Championship Series is such that relentlessly advancing technology makes many records obsolete within a year of being set. But a series standard which has stood for seven years could be tied in Saturday's Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.

However, Michael Andretti, Adrian Fernandez, Alex Zanardi, Jimmy Vasser and Greg Moore, in particular, are hoping that doesn't happen.

The first five races of the season have produced five different winners, namely the above-mentioned quintet, marking only the fourth time in series history it has occurred (the others were 1987, '91 and '95). If Saturday's 236-lap, 300-mile test (1 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV) produces a sixth winner, it would tie the FedEx Championship Series record for different winners at the outset of the season, set in 1991.

This year opened with Michael Andretti's (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) triumph at Homestead, followed by victories by Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) at Japan, Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) at Long Beach, Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) at Nazareth and Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) at Rio de Janeiro.

Candidates to join that quintet are numerous as the series heads to the 1.27-mile Gateway oval, located just outside St. Louis. Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) comes to Gateway as defending champion, having capped off a three-race winning streak with a victory last Memorial Day weekend. Tracy will reach a career milestone if he takes the green flag Saturday, giving him the 100th start of his eight-year career.

Tracy will be looking for a strong finish at Gateway to improve his current 10th-place standing in the PPG Cup championship, currently led by fellow Canadian Moore. Moore, coming off his third FedEx Championship Series career victory at Rio de Janeiro, leads defending PPG Cup champion Zanardi, 71-67, in championship points. Fernandez is third at 55, followed by Vasser at 39.

Among the top five drivers in the championship, only fifth-place Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) has not yet won a race this year. However, he currently ranks higher in the PPG Cup race than at any other time in his five years in the series.

Other candidates for victory at Gateway include Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda), last year's PPG Cup runnerup and third-place finisher at Gateway; Andretti, CART's career victory leader with 37, and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), Tracy's teammate who garnered his second career pole position at Rio and led the first 31 laps of his FedEx Championship Series career at Gateway as a rookie last year.

Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) will be looking to regain the form which nearly brought him victory at Gateway last year. His runnerup finish was the best in the 13-year history of Bettenhausen Motorsports. He moved to Player's Forsythe Racing at the conclusion of last season.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) continues "Rahal's Last Ride," his final season as a CART driver, and arrives at Gateway off PPG Cup points-producing performances at Nazareth (sixth) and Rio (eighth). Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) recorded a season-best runnerup finish on the oval at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan, the venue most often compared to Gateway by FedEx Championship Series drivers.

The Motorola 300 marks the return of Robby Gordon (Panasonic/Duskin Reynard Toyota) as a full-time FedEx Championship Series participant. Gordon, who replaces the retired Hiro Matsushita, has already made his mark on the season with a seventh-place finish at Nazareth in his only previous start. It was the best finish for a Toyota-powered entrant in the engine manufacturer's three years in the series.

Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) and Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) delivered strong performances in the Swift chassis at Rio. Fittipaldi was running second through 78 of 133 laps before being sidelined by fuel system problems. Hearn started last in the 28-car field and fought off a pit lane violation-penalty to finish a career-high seventh.

PacWest Racing Group teammates Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) and Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) have combined for seven points-paying efforts in 10 starts this season, but none higher than seventh. Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) finished fifth in the season opener at Homestead, but has scored only once in the four starts since.

Rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) scored the first PPG Cup points of their careers with finishes of 10th, and 12th, respectively, at Rio.

Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) qualified a career-best third at Rio, and continues to lead the Rookie of the Year standings with 22 points, followed by Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes), with six.

Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), a three-time winner on ovals, looks to make it back-to-back victories for Marlboro Team Penske at Gateway, following the since-departed Tracy's triumph in '97. PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota), Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota), and Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) all gained valuable experience competing on the Gateway oval last year.

Arnd Meier (BAAN Business Software/Total Tel Lola Ford) qualified for last year's race at Gateway, but was unable to start after damaging his car in the race-day morning warmup. Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) makes his first career start at Gateway.

Qualifying for the Motorola 300 will air 5 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day," ESPN2's pre-race program, airs 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, one-half hour prior to ABC-TV's live race broadcast.

The FedEx Championship Series continues with the Miller Lite 200, May 31 from The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Michel Jourdain , JJ Lehto
Teams Team Penske