CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston GP Toyota preview

<pre> Date: Oct. 1, 2000 Broadcast: ABC, 4 p.m. ET Race Length: 100 laps for 152.7 miles Track Length: 1.527-mile street course 1999 Winner: Paul...

<pre> Date: Oct. 1, 2000 Broadcast: ABC, 4 p.m. ET Race Length: 100 laps for 152.7 miles Track Length: 1.527-mile street course 1999 Winner: Paul Tracy Toyota's Best Finish: 5th, Max Papis, 1998 Toyota's Best Qualifying: 14th, Max Papis, 1998 Track Speed Records: Qualifying: 1999, Juan Montoya, 93.651 mph Race: 1999, Paul Tracy, 78.960 mph

Manufacturer Points: Ford 285; Honda 274; Toyota 237; Mercedes 63

</pre> ONE FOR THE ROAD - After four consecutive oval track wins, Toyota's Champ Car program heads to Houston with its sights set clearly on earning the manufacturer's first road course win. To date, three different drivers have put Toyota on to the victory podium at road courses (Jimmy Vasser, third at Long Beach; Oriol Servia, third at Detroit and Cristiano da Matta, third at Cleveland).

Unfortunately, a series of misfortune has kept defending CART FedEx Champ Juan Montoya out of the winner's circle on the road courses. It certainly hasn't been for a lack of effort, though, as Montoya handily led at both Detroit (CV joint failure) and Road America (gearbox) before mechanical woes sidelined him. In addition, Montoya also was running in the top five at Toronto (crash), Vancouver (fuel pump) and Laguna Seca (air jack failure) when maladies hit.

JUAN FOR THE AGES - While Juan Montoya's stay in CART apparently will last only two years, his career should be considered among the all-time best.

With three races remaining in just his second year, Montoya has already led 1,742 laps in his 37-race career to rank eighth all-time in that category. How impressive is that? Each of the seven drivers that rank above him raced in at least 111 more races than Montoya. The 25-year-old also ranks eighth in career poles and 10th in career victories.

DA MATTA EYES ANOTHER TOP FIVE - While Juan Montoya has the most wins of any Toyota driver this season, it's been Cristiano da Matta that has consistently finished in the top five. The Pioneer Electronics driver has registered seven top-five finishes this season including his first-ever Champ Car victory. The 1998 Indy Lights champion also has been the top Toyota performer on the road courses this season with 45 points and three top-five finishes.

VASSER MAKES LATE-SEASON RESURGENCE - After mid-season struggles dropped him from championship contention, Jimmy Vasser has bounced back to register four consecutive top-eight finishes heading into Houston. The 1996 FedEx Series champion has finished fifth, sixth and eighth in his last three road course events to go along with a seventh last race at Gateway. For the season, Vasser has 12 top-10 finishes in 17 races. In addition, he led a personal-season best 27 laps last week in St. Louis.

RICE ARRIVES AS TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMP - Buddy Rice clinched the Toyota Atlantic Championship with a second at Gateway. Since then, the 24-year-old Arizona-native has kept busy with a test with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Rice has won five races and finished on the podium nine times in 11 races this season. In the two races that he didn't register podium finishes, he was running in the top two when he was knocked out of each race. Rookies Daniel Wheldon and Martin Basso enter the season finale at Houston in a battle for both second in the championship and rookie of the year honors.

Jim Aust, Toyota vice president of motorsports: "We've proven that we can be awfully strong on the oval tracks, now it's time to get that first road course win. We really should have had a couple road course wins already. Juan dominated Detroit and then was leading by more than 10 seconds at Road America only to have car problems. With two street course races coming up, we're confident since Jimmy, Cristiano and Oriol all have had podium finishes on street courses this season."

Juan Montoya , #1 Target Toyota: "I'm not sure we're in the thick of things being 31 points behind, but we are getting closer. We might still be able to make this interesting."

Cristiano da Matta , #97 Pioneer Electronics Toyota: "We have had a very good street circuit car all year long. We've run in the top five at Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Vancouver, so we have high hopes for Houston, as well."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Martin Basso , Buddy Rice , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing