CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Pre Race Notes

Dario Franchitti is the defending Texaco Grand Prix of Houston champion and has claimed four of his five career FedEx Championship Series victories on temporary street circuits. In addition to last year's win at Houston, the run also includes ...

Dario Franchitti is the defending Texaco Grand Prix of Houston champion and has claimed four of his five career FedEx Championship Series victories on temporary street circuits. In addition to last year's win at Houston, the run also includes victories at Vancouver last year, and Toronto and Detroit this year.

Juan Montoya has collected three of his FedEx Championship Series-leading seven victories on temporary street circuits (Long Beach, Cleveland, Vancouver) In his victories at Cleveland and Vancouver, Montoya swept the maximum 22 PPG Cup points for winning from the pole and leading the most laps.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in four of five starts on temporary street circuits this season, topped by a third-place finish at Vancouver. Also included are finishes of 10th at Long Beach, eighth at Toronto and fifth at Detroit.

Honda, which clinched its third CART Manufacturer's Championship in four years at Laguna Seca, has won 12 consecutive FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street circuits, dating to the start of the 1998 season. The streak includes victories last year by Alex Zanardi at Long Beach, Detroit, Cleveland and Australia; Dario Franchitti at Vancouver and Houston; and this year by Juan Montoya at Long Beach, Cleveland and Vancouver and Franchitti at Toronto and Detroit. The last non-Honda-powered driver to win a FedEx Championship Series street race was Mauricio Gugelmin, who piloted a Mercedes to victory at Vancouver in 1997.

Firestone has won 16 of 17 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and 34 of 35 overall, dating to Adrian Fernandez' victory at Japan last year.

With two events remaining for FedEx Championship Series pit crews to qualify as finalists for the inaugural Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge, there's a new leader atop the point standings as the crew for rookie Juan Montoya has taken the lead with 148 points. Montoya's crew moved past the crew for Max Papis at Laguna Seca, dropping Papis' crew into second place with 141 points. Pit crews are bidding for a chance at the top prize of $50,000, which will be awarded during the FedEx Championship Series season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway. On the strength of a 20-point performance at Laguna Seca, the crew for Paul Tracy vaulted into third place with 133 points, followed by the crew for Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) with 123 points. Points are awarded according to the same scale used to determine the FedEx Championship Series champion, but based on total time spent in the pits at each event. Points will be accumulated through the first 19 events of the season, and the top four teams will compete in a specially staged pit stop competition at the season finale to determine the winner of the $50,000 grand prize presented by Craftsman. Still contending for one of the top four spots are the crews for Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift), with 117 points; Christian Fittipaldi/Roberto Moreno (Big Kmart Ford Swift), with 113; Jimmy Vasser, with 103 and Dario Franchitti, with 102.

Bryan Herta's (Shell Ford Reynard) Sept. 12 victory in the Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway pulled the United States into second place in its bid to retain undisputed control of the Nation's Cup, an award which the U.S. has won in each of its four years of existence. Brazil maintains the lead in the Nation's Cup with 241 points, but the U.S., which trailed Brazil by 20 points (225-205) entering Round 17, has closed the gap to 14 (241-227) with three events remaining. Canada remains an outside contender with 221 points, as does Colombia with 199. Points in the Nation's Cup competition are scored according to the same scale used to determine the FedEx Championship Series champion (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1), but only the highest-finishing driver representing a given nation scores at any event. Single points are also awarded to the nation whose driver wins the pole position or leads the most laps.

Promotional activity surrounding The 500 at California Speedway, season finale of the FedEx Championship Series, began last week at Firestone retailers, Penske Auto Centers, Penske Truck Leasing Centers and Southern California Toyota dealers. CART, California Speedway, FedEx, Pioneer Electronics and Circuit City are also partners in the promotion, which offers fans across the country the opportunity to win hundreds of special prizes in conjunction with the season-ending 500-mile event at Fontana, Calif., which will pay $1 million to the winning driver. The grand prize is a Toyota Tundra pickup truck equipped with a top-of-the-line Pioneer car audio system. Other prizes include trips for two, courtesy of Firestone, to next year's Champ Car events on each of the four continents where FedEx Championship Series races are contested; a Pioneer Home Theater system; 500 Kmart $50 cash cards; 100 full-year supplies of Penske Auto Center Crew Chief oil changes as well as 150 gift certificates for automotive service valued at $100; 30 Pioneer Simple Solution home theatre speaker packages; 10 sets of Firestone Firehawk tires and 100 Firestone racing jackets. Eight million entry forms have been made available for the promotion, which runs through Oct. 20. Thanks to the support of Quokka Sports, CART's Internet partner, fans may enter on the CART website, at .

A package of unique auction items is being assembled for Runway Madness II Presented by FedEx, the annual fundraiser which benefits Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary (CARA) Charities. The second annual event is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 29 at Ontario (Calif.) Airport, two days prior to the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, season finale of the FedEx Championship Series. The Halloween-themed event will include food, carnival games, celebrity guests, live and silent auction items, a raffle and entertainment. Among the items available for bid are a day on the set of NBC's "ER" television series, including lunch with star Anthony Edwards; a ride on the Goodyear Blimp; a PPG Pace Car ride with three-time FedEx Championship Series champion Rick Mears; a "Year of Beer" from the Miller Brewing Company; an opportunity to compete in a Chrysler Neon Celebrity series event, including three days of instruction at the Skip Barber Racing School; and a one-year lease on a Shelby 289 FIA street car. Last year's inaugural Runway Madness drew a crowd of more than 1,200 guests. Tickets and sponsorship information are available from CARA Charities at (317) 299-2277.

The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston will witness the unveiling of the Toyota Solara specially painted with contest-winning design in the CART/Toyota PPG Kids Coloring Contest. The 11-year-old winner will be introduced to the media during a photo opportunity with FedEx Championship Series drivers Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard), Cristiano da Matta (MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard), Robby Gordon (Johns Manville/Panasonic/Menards Toyota Eagle) and Richie Hearn (Budweiser Toyota Reynard) 1:45 p.m. Friday at the start/finish line for the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. The first-ever contest invited children up to age 14 to color a schematic of a Solara, with the winning design being featured on the pace car this weekend, and the winning designer and his or her guardian receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to see the design in action.

CART Chairman and CEO Andrew Craig will be a featured presenter at the 1999 International Motorsports Marketing Summit, Wednesday and Thursday at the Rio Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Craig's presentation, titled "CART - Building the Nation's Premier Open-Wheel Racing Series," is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Wednesday. The Summit, an international conference on the marketing and sponsorship of professional motorsports, will also include featured presentations by representatives of NASCAR, NHRA and Indy Racing League, as well as some of the top executives in motorsports. Derrick Walker, team owner of Walker Racing, will participate in a special panel discussion on the state of team ownership in motorsports at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The family of Gonzalo Rodriguez, who lost his life in a Sept. 11 accident during Champ Car practice at Laguna Seca Raceway, has established a fund in his memory to support race car drivers in Gonzalo's native country of Uruguay. "So that Gonzalo's dream of representing and elevating the colors of his country does not go in vain, we have decided to make his wishes happen," Rodriguez' parents, Jorge Rodriguez and Lillian Bongoll, said in a statement. "We have appointed his sister, Ms. Fernanda Rodriguez, to administer a fund which will be used to promote up-and-coming talented Uruguayan race car drivers with the appropriate guidance. Thanks to everyone and regards." Donations to the fund may be made to: Deutsche Bank-New York, Account # 709088-2 for Banco de Montevideo, 31 West 52nd St. # 900, New York, NY 10019. Checks should be made payable to Maria Fernanda Rodriguez Bongoll. Letters of condolence may be sent to the Rodriguez Family at Millington Drake, 1914 - cp. 11500, Montevideo, Uruguay, or sent via e-mail to PMU@ADINET.COM.UY .

With a victory at the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, rookie Juan Montoya could tie the FedEx Championship Series record of eight victories in a season established by Michael Andretti in 1991 and matched by Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Montoya already owns the series rookie record of seven victories and could tie Nigel Mansell's 1993 rookie mark of seven pole positions by claiming the pole in one of the season's three remaining events.

By starting the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, Scott Pruett will move into sole possession of 10th place on the CART career starts list, with 143. He enters the weekend tied for 10th with Arie Luyendyk, who made 142 career starts.

Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) brings a streak of 105 consecutive starts to the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston and stands to move into a tie with Mario Andretti for fifth place on the CART consecutive starts list by starting his 106th consecutive event on Sunday. Al Unser Jr. holds the CART record with 192 consecutive starts from 1983 to 1995.

Qualifying for the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston will air 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, with ABC-TV's live race broadcast slated to begin at 4 p.m. ET. The race will also air on the CART Radio Network and both qualifying and the erace will be broadcast on the CART website, at .


JUAN MONTOYA (Target Honda Reynard), on the challenges of learning a new circuit: "I kind of like going to races where I've never driven on the course before. It's a fun challenge for me to see how quickly I can learn the course and improve. I've had a lot of help from my team and from [teammate] Jimmy [Vasser]. They do a good job letting me know what to expect at each new race, but you never really know what it's like until you get there and race around. I've tried not to think about the points. I haven't even checked to see exactly how far I'm ahead. All I know is that I have to race well in Houston, and that's what I plan to do."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), on the importance of a strong performance in Houston to his hopes for the championship: "We're running out of time to catch Juan [Montoya, who holds a 199-171 points lead over Franchitti in the FedEx Championship Series points race]. Obviously, we have to have a great race in Houston again this year. At this point, we also need Juan to experience some gremlins or a hiccup if we're going to stay in the hunt for the championship. Team KOOL Green will play its part. We've run really well on the street circuits this season [victories in Toronto and Detroit]. Last year's victory in Houston brings back a lot of great memories. The fans were incredible, staying to the very end in all that wet weather. It was a very interesting race, to say the least. The incident with the two KOOL cars touching stirred it up a bit, but there's no problem between Paul and myself. The fact is we have equally fast cars and we are both capable of winning. It's only natural that at some point in a race, we'll find ourselves trying to pass each other. We just need to use our heads in doing it."

PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on returning to his status as a contender for the FedEx Championship Series championship: "What a difference a year makes! Team KOOL Green is stronger than ever with a great shot of winning most weekends. Thanks to a solid team effort all season long, Dario is second and I'm third in the championship. We're the dominant team on street courses, which certainly gives us a lot of confidence going into Houston. Dario and I have run real close on the streets this year [finishing 1-2 at Toronto & Detroit], but we'll try to avoid getting as close in Houston as we did last season! Everybody remembers how Dario and I made contact. We're both fierce competitors and neither of us wanted to give ground that day. It was a mistake and an unfortunate thing to have happened."

MAX PAPIS (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), on his fond memories of last year's inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "Houston will always hold a special meaning for me because of the what we were able to accomplish last season [Papis finished fifth, the highest road-course finish ever for a Toyota-powered driver]. All the hours of development paid off in that top-five finish and it was a tribute to a lot of hard work by my team."

BRYAN HERTA (Shell Ford Reynard), on the importance of doing well in his primary sponsor's hometown: "The course in Houston is nice and tight and it is a real challenge to drive. Last year, we not only had to battle each other but the monsoon made the race even more difficult. Hopefully we will catch a break with the weather this year. From my standpoint the race in Houston is one of the busiest of the year. With Shell based in Houston, Team Rahal has a number of functions for the sponsor that will keep me on the go."

JIMMY VASSER (Target Honda Reynard), on his precocious rookie teammate and FedEx Championship Series points leader, Juan Montoya: "The kid has nerves of steel. Maybe someone should remind him that he's 23 and on the brink of winning a PPG Cup. He really has the right attitude. He hasn't changed a thing about how he's approaching races. I'm proud to be his teammate, but that doesn't mean I don't plan on cruising by him this weekend in Houston. I'm still going to win a race this year."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), on continuing his recovery from a fractured radius bone in his right wrist which caused him to miss four FedEx Championship Series events prior to his return at Laguna Seca: "My arm is getting better. I am working hard to get the strength and flexibility back. It will be better than at Laguna Seca, but not 100 percent. Because of the injury the championship is not a possibility, so my goal now is to finish third in the standings. To do that, the Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing team has to have strong showings at all three of the remaining races. The Houston race is like a home race for me because of all the fans that come from Mexico. I don't feel any more pressure, but I want to perform well and put on a good show for the fans. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate this year."

GREG MOORE (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard), hoping for drier weather at this year's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston: "We're hoping for better weather conditions this year in Houston. Last year, in our first race there, it rained so hard that the 100-lap race was stopped after 70 laps. I spun out early, which was a shame because I had won the pole and felt I could really do well on this street course. I like the layout in Houston and winning the pole last year is a positive factor for our Player's team heading into this year's event. Now, if only the weather will cooperate."

AL UNSER JR. (Marlboro Mercedes Lola), on the loyalty of the Houston race fans: "Houston is an important race market. I'm glad to be going back for our second run on the city streets. I remember all of the fans staying in their seats last year, even though the rain came down pretty hard. Hopefully, this year we'll have beautiful weather so we can show what the Champ Cars can really do and put on a great race for the fans."

PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard), on putting together a strong stretch run to conclude his FedEx Championship Series season: "With three races to go, the goal right now is to finish in the top 10 in the overall series' standings, and I think we have a fair chance of doing that. We're going to have to be high up in the points in each of these races and if we can continue the successful streak we've had in recent weeks, it's a goal we can achieve. Houston is a street course where you can make up some ground, regardless of where you are on the starting grid. Last year, I went from 25th to 10th by Lap 36, before the rain started to affect the race. This year, hopefully, we'll be able to have dry conditions all the way."

ROBBY GORDON (Johns Manville/Panasonic/Menards Toyota Eagle), on his enjoyment of racing on temporary street circuits: "The streets of Houston were tough last year, but for a first-year event, I think it was a great success. Like all of the downtown races we have on the schedule, attendance was incredible. I always get a good feeling from the street races; people are happy, there

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Arie Luyendyk , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Greg Moore , Cristiano da Matta , Gonzalo Rodriguez