CHAMPCAR/CART: Homestead Preview

New Looks Abound Michael Andretti Michael Andretti CART Online (March 10, 1998) -- New looks predominate as Championship Auto Racing Teams kicks off its 20th season of Champ Car competition this weekend with the Marlboro Grand ...

New Looks Abound Michael Andretti Michael Andretti CART Online (March 10, 1998) -- New looks predominate as Championship Auto Racing Teams kicks off its 20th season of Champ Car competition this weekend with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota from the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Fla. The new look begins with the arrival of Federal Express as title sponsor for the series, now known as the FedEx Championship Series. The series includes a record 19 events in five countries, beginning with Sunday's 150-lap, 225-mile season opener from Homestead (1:30 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV). An impressive field of 29 drivers is expected to participate full-time in the series this season. There's also a new look on the Homestead oval, which has been reconfigured into a 1.5-mile, continuous radius circuit courtesy of an $8.2 million facelift last spring and summer. Based on last month's third annual CART Spring Training at Homestead, Saturday's qualifying speeds are expected to be some 15 mph higher than Paul Tracy's 1996 track record of 198.590 mph. "They did a great job with the new track layout," said Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), defending champion at Homestead. "They did a great job making two long corners instead of four short corners and reducing the banking [from eight to six degrees]. I think we'll be able to see some side-by-side running if there aren't any marbles [clumps of tire rubber in the racing line]." Andretti launched the 1997 season by driving the Swift to victory in the chassis' debuts, becoming the first driver in 14 years to win a CART event in an American-made chassis. Though that day belonged to Andretti and his Newman/Haas Racing teammates, the season belonged to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, whose Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) won the team's second consecutive PPG Cup championship, following teammate Jimmy Vasser's (Target Reynard Honda) 1996 crown. Only once in CART history has a team won three consecutive championships. Penske Racing took three in a row from 1981-83, with Rick Mears winning the first two and Al Unser capping off the triple. Vasser offered a glimpse at Target/Ganassi's dedication to its mission when, for the third year in a row, he posted the fastest lap of Spring Training, at 212.039 mph. Vasser, the 1996 winner in CART's first event at Homestead, finished the 1997 season with three consecutive top-two finishes, including a victory at Laguna Seca. Zanardi, meanwhile, led the series with five victories and four pole positions, including Homestead, while following reigning Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve (1994-95) as the only drivers in CART history to win the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award, followed by the PPG Cup in their first two years in the series. A number of FedEx Championship Series teams have also adopted new looks as they attempt to challenge Target/Ganassi's supremacy this season. It began when Marlboro Team Penske released Tracy from his contract and hired Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) from Tasman Motorsports to team with Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) this season. Tracy, a three-time winner in 1997, wasn't idle long. Shortly after his departure from Marlboro Team Penske, he reached an agreement to team with promising sophomore Dario Franchitti at Team KOOL Green, both in KOOL Reynard Hondas. A couple of weeks after Tracy and Ribeiro changed teams, 1997 CART Rookie of the Year Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) moved from Bettenhausen Motorsports/Team Alumax to Player's Forsythe Racing, where he'll team with Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), winner of two CART events last season, to launch a two-pronged attack on the Target/Ganassi tandem. Another lineup change occurred at Patrick Racing, where Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) joined Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) after making the move from the Tasman Motorsports Group. Of course, several strong teams maintained status quo heading into 1998, among them the PacWest Racing Group, which vaulted into the upper echelon of CART teams with four victories last year, including the first career victories for both Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes), who won three of the season's final nine events. Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) finished second in the championship last season behind seven podium finishes, which tied Zanardi for the series lead. De Ferran was remarkably consistent, scoring PPG Cup points in 14 of 17 events, but was kept out of victory circle by a run of tough luck, including at Homestead where he was forced to exit due to contact while leading the race. Newman/Haas Racing's lineup also remains the same this year, headed by Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), CART's all-time victory leader with 36. Teammate Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford), fully recovered from a broken leg which kept him out of seven events last season, appears on the verge of breaking through for the first career CART victory which has thus far eluded his grasp. Team Rahal figures to draw a multitude of media attention this season with "Rahal's Last Ride," as owner/driver Bobby Rahal's (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) final competitive season has been dubbed. Rahal, a 17-year veteran and CART's all-time leader in career starts (245), will be looking to highlight his farewell campaign with his first victory since 1992. Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford), another driver on the brink of his first CART career triumph, teams with Rahal for the third season. Team Rahal has made one significant change to its package for 1998. After a long-standing relationship with Goodyear, the team switches to Firestone tires, which won 13 of 17 events last season, including the last 11 in succession. Promising drivers poised for breakout seasons include Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford), Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) and Max Papis (MCI Racing Reynard Toyota). Jourdain received the STP Most Improved Driver award by vote of his peers last year, while Hearn is counting on his team's switch from a Lola to a Swift chassis and from Goodyear to Firestone tires to help him fulfill the promise he has shown in 20 series starts. Papis earned top-15 finishes in six of his final seven starts last season as the Toyota engine became increasingly reliable in the final half of the campaign. He scored PPG Cup points in both 500-mile events, finishing eighth at Michigan and 12th at California, and will be looking to build on that momentum in 1998. The 1998 FedEx Championship Series rookie crop is among the most impressive in recent memory. It includes Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda), the 1997 PPG-Firestone Indy Lights champion who was promoted to the Tasman Motorsports Group's Champ Car ride. Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes), the 1997 Indy Lights runner-up, moves from Tasman's Lights program to Bettenhausen Motorsports. Bettenhausen has also formed a working relationship with PPG Cup champion Emerson Fittipaldi, Castro-Neves' mentor, with the intention of expanding the team in the future. Formula One veteran JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) takes over for Franchitti at Hogan Racing while KOOL/Toyota Atlantic champion Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) steps into the seat vacated by the retirement of Juan Fangio II. Barron's teammate, PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota), battled through a frustrating 1997 campaign and finished on a high note with a season-best 10th-place finish at California. Other two-car efforts are being mounted at Payton Coyne Racing, where Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Consumer Reynard Ford) will team with Jourdain; and at Arciero-Wells Racing, where veteran Hiro Matsushita (Panasonic Duskin Reynard Toyota) joins Papis. Davis Racing has tabbed second-year driver Arnd Meier (BAAN Business Software/Total Tel Lola Ford) to pilot its FedEx Championship Series entry this season. Veteran Roberto Moreno will pilot a (Hawaiian Tropic Reynard Mercedes)for Project Indy after splitting nine starts between Payton Coyne Racing, Newman/Haas Racing and Bettenhausen Motorsports last year. Qualifying for the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota will be broadcast 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. It will be followed at 4:30 p.m. ET by "Before They Go Green," ESPN2's preview of the 1998 FedEx Championship Series season. "CART 2Day" airs on ESPN at 1 p.m. ET. ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. ET. The FedEx Championship Series continues with CART's first-ever visit to Japan for the March 28 Budweiser 500 on the new Twin Ring Motegi oval at Motegi, Japan. Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Rick Mears , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Al Unser , Michel Jourdain , JJ Lehto
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske