CHAMPCAR/CART: Lexington: Mid-Ohio preview

CART FedEx Championship Series field continues chase of Cristiano da Matta as circuit heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. INDIANAPOLIS (August 6, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

CART FedEx Championship Series field continues chase of Cristiano da Matta as circuit heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

INDIANAPOLIS (August 6, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) has used his blistering start to the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season to build a formidable lead in the standings, but the field has picked up his scent after a pair of DNFs and will be nipping at his heels as the series prepares for this weekend's CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.

Da Matta failed to finish for the second consecutive event when his car developed driveshaft trouble at the Molson Indy Vancouver, marking the first time that the Newman/Haas driver earned back-to-back DNFs since failing to finish at Vancouver and Germany last season. He did earn a pair of points on the weekend after winning the pole and placing 12th in the final standings, but saw his series lead shrink from 50 to 38 points as Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team KOOL Green used his Vancouver win to move into second place, holding 84 points to da Matta's 122.

Da Matta will be looking for his first taste of success on the 2.258-mile Lexington, Ohio road course, having never finished higher than ninth in his three previous starts. The Brazilian has led a series-high 468 laps this season and has 696 for his career, but has never paced a single trip around Mid-Ohio. He will also be carrying an added bit of pressure from his powerplant manufacturer as Toyota has yet to taste Champ Car victory at Mid-Ohio.

Conversely, his closest competitor brings a wealth of experience and Mid-Ohio success into the weekend as Franchitti tries to chew into da Matta's 38-point advantage. The polewinner for the 1998 and 1999 Mid-Ohio events, Franchitti has yet to transfer his qualifying success into race-day glory. His '98 pole run ended after one lap after contact with Bryan Herta, and his third-place run in '99 has been the only points-paying effort in the last four trips for the Scotsman.

As is the case with most tracks on the Champ Car trail, Mid-Ohio has seen its share of Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) over the years as CART's all-time victory leader has earned a pair of his 42 race wins and three of his 32 poles at the Central Ohio circuit. The only driver ever to win three consecutive Mid-Ohio poles (1990-92), Andretti converted two of those poles into wins ('90-91) and is the only current CART driver to have a Mid-Ohio win on his resume.

The other current driver to have won at the road course that Les Griebling built will be watching from the sidelines this weekend as 1998 race winner Adrian Fernandez will miss this weekend's event after suffering a hairline fracture of the left hip during a late-race crash at the Molson Indy Vancouver. Fernandez will turn control of his #51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone to Max Papis for the weekend, putting the popular Papis back in the car for the first time since Laguna Seca. Papis has a pair of top-five finishes at Mid-Ohio in his CART career and will be looking for his third podium in six 2002 races, having placed third this season at Long Beach and Milwaukee while driving for Sigma Autosport.

The drivers holding down the third spot in the points chase will have to erase their dubious Mid-Ohio history if they are to stay in the championship chase. Both Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Rahal are just 10 points (74) behind second-place Franchitti (84) in the standings, but neither have ever left Lexington after having added points to their total.

Junqueira will be making just his second start at Mid-Ohio, having finished just out of the points in 13th in his rookie visit. Jourdain has been less fortunate, with his 2000 finish of 15th serving as his best in five trips. The two will have added pressure to perform as the last two events have tightened the field that is chasing them, as Cleveland winner Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Player's/Forsythe Racing has used top-fives in five of his last eight starts to close to within two points of Junqueira and Jourdain, while Milwaukee winner Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) is just four markers behind Carpentier - who will be making his 100th career Champ Car start this weekend.

Tracy could be the most successful Champ Car driver never to have won at Mid-Ohio, having earned top-five finishes in three of the last four races. The Canadian driver has finished in the second spot a maddening four times, coming up short to a list of drivers that reads like a Who's Who of CART Racing, including Juan Montoya (1999), Al Unser Jr. ('94, '95) and Emerson Fittipaldi ('92).

Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) will be looking to keep his momentum going as the Mo Nunn Racing pilot hopes to build on his Vancouver podium with a strong Mid-Ohio run. Kanaan took home the third-place trophy from Vancouver for his best finish of the year just two weeks ago, and is coming off of his best-ever Mid-Ohio effort after posting a fifth-place run last season.

Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) is another driver that will be looking to keep momentum on his side as the Player's/Forsythe Racing pilot will look to build on a streak of six consecutive points-paying finishes to stay in the title hunt. Tagliani would appear to be in good shape to continue his streak, having earned top-10 placings in each of his previous two visits.

Tagliani is tied for ninth in the point standings with Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) at 58 points, but while Tagliani's star is on the rise, Fittipaldi will be looking to end a streak that has seen him fail to earn a top-10 finish in four of the last five races. The skein was broken by a third-place run at Toronto - a finish that the Brazilian has also previously earned at Mid-Ohio when he took third in 2000.

Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) will be going into the weekend on the finest roll of his CART career, having scored championship points in each of the last five races, a streak that is unmatched in his previous two seasons on the circuit. He will need to show improvement this weekend in order to keep that streak alive however, as he has finished 18th and 19th respectively in his last two visits to Mid-Ohio.

The festivities will get underway with a Friday practice session, followed by provisional qualifying at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The final grid will be set on Saturday with a final qualifying run at 1:45 p.m., with fans able to follow the action on SPEED Channel or on www.CART.com. Sunday's CART FedEx Championship Series CART Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will be shown live on CBS Sports with the green flag scheduled to fly at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Current points leader Cristiano da Matta, along with former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser, are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title with championship-winning teams such as Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team KOOL Green. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 19-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.CART.com.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , ART Grand Prix