CART'S BRAZILIAN ROOKIES: BEST OF FRIENDS, BEST OF RIVALS CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 6) -- Should it be so surprising that after racing each other for 10 years, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castro-Neves have a lot in common? Perhaps not. After all,...
CART'S BRAZILIAN ROOKIES: BEST OF FRIENDS, BEST OF RIVALS
CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 6) -- Should it be so surprising that after racing each other for 10 years, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castro-Neves have a lot in common?
Perhaps not. After all, both are rookies in the CART FedEx Championship Series. They are both from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Both were teammates in Indy Lights for Tasman Motorsports for two years, dominating the 1997 season with Kanaan edging Castro-Neves for the championship. Kanaan clinched that title in the final race of the season and his four-point margin in the final standings over Castro-Neves proved to be the closest in the history of Indy Lights.
And it continues this season. Having graduated to CART, the two young drivers find themselves embroiled in yet another battle, running neck-and-neck for the "Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award". Kanaan is with Tasman Motorsports and LCI while Castro-Neves drives for Bettenhausen Motorsports and Alumax.
Cleveland fans can witness this rivalry when the CART FedEx Series makes its stop with Sunday's Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront Airport.
After impressive performances in CART's annual spring training session at Homestead, Kanaan struck first, finishing sixth at Motegi and fifth at Long Beach to take a healthy lead in the rookie standings. But Castro-Neves began to make some headlines of his own by leading and nearly winning at Long Beach and then reaching the podium with a strong second-place finish at Milwaukee. Undeterred, Kanaan closed the gap by finishing eighth at Detroit and reclaimed the top spot with a fourth at Portland, his fifth points-paying finish of 1998.
Despite the intensity of the sport, the pair remain good friends, albeit rivals.
"Helio and I have been battling since 1996 in Indy Lights and our battles actually go back to 1988," says Kanaan. "It's like we have competed against each other all of our lives. Nothing has changed except we're racing with the big guys."
"Tony is a very good driver and I have learned a lot from him," adds Castro-Neves. "I'm happy to have him as my friend and I'm happy we're both in such a competitive series as CART."
Steve Horne, owner of Tasman Motorsports, and Tony Bettenhausen, owner of Bettenhausen Motorsports, are certainly pleased with their young charges.
"The level of competition in CART is so high now that the quality and speed of the drivers is extremely important," says Horne. "And both of these kids are going to be stars of the future."
"This year's group of rookie drivers is exceptional," adds Bettenhausen. "And I think our drivers have already shown everyone how capable they are."