CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca pivotal in season championship

LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY - Monterey, Calif. (September 6, 2000) - The Honda Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300 could be the one. It’s only the 16th race on Championship Auto Racing Teams’ (CART) 20-race schedule, but it could be the...

LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY - Monterey, Calif. (September 6, 2000) - The Honda Grand Prix of Monterey featuring the Shell 300 could be the one. It’s only the 16th race on Championship Auto Racing Teams’ (CART) 20-race schedule, but it could be the one that decides the title.

The points race is heating up with at least half a dozen drivers still in the running for the FedEx Championship Series title, and defending champ and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Montoya isn’t even among them. Coming into this weekend’s race, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Adrian Fernandez, Gil de Ferran, Roberto Moreno and Kenny Brack are all separated by just 20 points. Success in the Shell 300 may mean the title while failure could spell the end of the chase. “The closer you get to the end, the more important the races are going to be,” said Andretti, who currently sits in first place with 126 points. “Laguna is going to be a key race.”

THE TEST

If the recent CART test at Laguna Seca is any indication, then Andretti and the rest of the contenders will have to deal with Marlboro Team Penske, and drivers Helio Castroneves and de Ferran. During the August test, Castroneves set an unofficial track record with a time of 67.602, eclipsing the official track record of 67.895 set by Bryan Herta in 1997.

“I’m kind of surprised really,” said Castroneves after learning that he’d bested the track record. “We had lots of problems with the car and that’s the good thing about a test like this, you’re able to take the time and fix the problems. We worked to get the car where it needed to be and now it’s really, really fast.”

That result immediately made Castroneves and his #3 Marlboro Honda Reynard the team to beat Sunday. And if Castroneves is the favorite, teammate Gil de Ferran is a close second thanks to a fast time of 67.896 (just 1/1000 of a second behind Herta’s mark) during the test.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” said de Ferran. “We tried a lot of things that we set out to try and the most important thing is that we tested well here over the two days which bodes well for the race weekend.”

The Brazilian currently holds fourth place in the points race and could make a serious move in the standings if he can continue his impressive performances at Laguna Seca which includes his first CART victory in 1995. "I really like coming (to Laguna Seca),” said de Ferran. “It's one of the most traditional tracks we have on the circuit. The course has always been one of my personal favorites. The most important thing is that we tested well here so things look good. I'm pretty excited about the race."

THE CONTENDERS

One of the strongest, most evenly matched fields in Champ Car history will counter Castroneves and de Ferran - over this season’s 15 races, nine different drivers have claimed victory. This group is led by Andretti of Newman Haas Racing, who took checkered flags in Toronto and Japan; Tracy of Team Kool Green, who raced to wins at Long Beach, Road America and Vancouver; and Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, who added victories in Michigan and Milwaukee to his title at the Indy 500.

The big question is: will Bryan Herta be on track to defend his back-to-back Laguna Seca victories? After parting ways with Team Rahal during the off-season, Herta signed on to race the Swift Honda of Forsythe Championship Racing in 2000. Unfortunately, the team withdrew its entry in March leaving Herta without a ride, but rumors have been rampant that Forsythe and Herta will be up and running just in time for Laguna.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Roberto Moreno , Paul Tracy , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing