CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Beach GP Notebook

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH NOTEBOOK Patrick Racing announced Tuesday that Adrian Fernandez and teammate PJ Jones would compete in 1999 Swift chassis at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The team had planned to open the ...

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH NOTEBOOK Patrick Racing announced Tuesday that Adrian Fernandez and teammate PJ Jones would compete in 1999 Swift chassis at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The team had planned to open the season with the Swift as its primary chassis. But when off-season testing and development did not progress as quickly as anticipated, the decision was made to have both drivers campaign 1998 Reynard chassis in the first two events of the FedEx Championship Series season and to give Swift time to further refine its package.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Swift) drove a Reynard to victory in last Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. Jones (Visteon Ford Reynard) qualified a career-best ninth at Japan last week as well. However, with the season's first street race coming up this weekend, the team felt that some significant new refinements to the Swift merited a look.

"We tested the Swift in its new configuration out in Nazareth before Japan and felt they had made considerable improvements to the car," said Patrick Racing General Manager Jim McGee. "Unfortunately, we were not able to do a road test before Long Beach, but Newman/Haas [Racing] tested the new configuration in Sebring and we are satisfied with the results. In our January pre-season testing with the car, prior to the improvements, we were pleased with the road-course results. We feel the car should be very competitive at Long Beach."

"We don't know much about the Swift with the new configuration on road courses, so I am going to have to get used how this car reacts," said Fernandez, who has qualified among the top four drivers for each of the season's first two races in the Reynard. "We are on a roll right now and I am confident that the Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing team will make the maximum effort to make the car as competitive as possible. I just have to go out and drive the car to the best of my abilities. Hopefully, with the new improvements to the car, we can produce a good result."

"We are going to try the Swift for the Long Beach race. If we are not satisfied with the results, we will then, probably, switch Adrian back to the Reynard," said team owner U. E. "Pat" Patrick. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will sport a new look during its 25th anniversary weekend, as the 1.85-mile temporary street circuit has been reconfigured to include four new turns near the recently constructed Aquarium of the Pacific, as well as a longer front straightaway on Shoreline Drive. "Over the last 24 years, all of us associated with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach have taken great pride in providing a world-class facility for our competitors, sponsors and spectators," said Dwight Tanaka, vice president of operations for the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, who oversees construction of the temporary street circuit each year. "The new course for 1999 will present a challenging and exciting circuit for the drivers and fans. With a longer front straight down Shoreline Drive, an opportunity is present to reach higher speeds, then, going into Turn One, drivers will have to brake hard to turn left and go around the Aquarium's parking facility. With the additional turns, there will be more competitive racing to really test the skill of CART drivers." Despite race-day results that have ranged from simple bad luck to bitter disappointment, Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) retains his affection for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "I think Long Beach is CART's premier event," he said. "It's certainly now the most traditional event, and a very famous event not only in America, but worldwide. Everybody has heard of the Long Beach Grand Prix. It's alive. You can feel the atmosphere from Wednesday onward." During the past three years, de Ferran has won two pole positions (1996, '97) and led a combined 177 of a possible 315 laps - 56.2 percent - but victory, or even an appearance on the podium, has eluded his grasp. He led 100 of 105 laps from the pole at Long Beach in 1996, but was relegated to a fifth-place finish when an exhaust hose disconnected from the turbocharger, handing the victory to Jimmy Vasser. He came back with another pole-winning effort in '97 and led 26 laps before an accident ended his day while he was running second. Last year, shook off the adversity of an early flat tire and fought his way into the lead for a race-high 51 laps, but while he held the advantage with 14 laps remaining, transmission problems victimized him once again. "I have enjoyed tremendous success in Long Beach, or shall I say, partially tremendous success," de Ferran said. "I've run there four years and I could have won three years in a row, but I've come up empty-handed. It's a race I've never finished particularly well, but it's a race that's very dear to my heart, to have come so close so many times." Marlboro Team Penske owner Roger S. Penske announced Monday that rookie Tarso Marques (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) will continue as a substitute driver for the injured Al Unser Jr. at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Marques made his FedEx Championship Series career debut with the team at last weekend's Firestone Firehawk 500 in Japan, where he qualified 22nd and finished 14th. "Tarso has impressed everyone on the team with his consistent driving style and technical feedback," Penske said in making the announcement. "After just four days in our car [two days of testing at Nazareth Speedway and two days of practice and qualifying at Japan], he was able to get up to speed quickly and run a good, clean race for us in Japan." Said Marques, "Everything has happened so quickly. Two weeks ago, I never would've thought I'd be testing for Marlboro Team Penske, much less starting my second race. But the opportunity was there, and I'm very grateful to have the chance to run for them." Unser Jr. continues his recovery from a broken right ankle sustained in the March 21 FedEx Championship Series season-opening event at Homestead, Fla. He owns six career victories in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (1988-91, '94, '95), more than any FedEx Championship Series driver has posted at any active venue. As was the case last year, the first two rounds of the FedEx Championship Series have produced six different podium finishers. Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) won the March 21 season opener at Homestead, finishing ahead of Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard). Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) followed with a victory at last Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 in Japan, with Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) finishing second and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) taking third. Last year saw Andretti win at Homestead, with Moore finishing second and Alex Zanardi third before Fernandez drove to victory at Japan, followed by Al Unser Jr. and de Ferran, respectively. Four FedEx Championship Series team owners will be guests at this week's Friday Forum scheduled for 11:45 a.m. at the Long Beach media center. The Friday Forum, which has been incorporated as a regular feature of FedEx Championship Series weekends for media members only, offers the opportunity for representatives of each of the four engine manufacturers in the series to meet with the media. This week's guests consist of team owners Barry Green of Team KOOL Green (Honda), Bobby Rahal of Team Rahal (Ford-Cosworth), Gerald Forsythe of Player's Forsythe Racing and Forsythe Championship Racing (Mercedes-Benz) and John Della Penna of Della Penna Motorsports (Toyota). With the victory at the Firestone Firehawk 500, Patrick Racing General Manager Jim McGee tied George Bignotti for most wins by a General-Team Manager/Chief Mechanic in Champ Car competition. McGee and Bignotti both have 85 career victories. McGee is the only General-Team Manager/Chief Mechanic to win a championship in four consecutive decades (1960's, '70s, '80s and '90s) and has at least one victory in each of his last five decades (ages 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60+). Newman/Haas Racing drivers Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) will be among the participants in a Kmart "Kids Race Against Drugs" celebrity race Thursday at a Kmart store in Carson, Calif. Joining the two drivers as celebrity participants will be actresses Kathy Ireland and Jaclyn Smith; football players Deion Sanders and Herschel Walker; country music singer Lee Ann Rimes and child actor Bryton McClure, among others. The event is just one in a busy week of appearances for the two drivers. On Wednesday, Michael and his father Mario will be in-studio guests on ESPN's "Up Close" interview program, which airs at 6 p.m. ET. Fittipaldi is scheduled to do an on-line chat session for CBS SportsLine at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. That same evening, Andretti will be a special guest at a West Hollywood party hosted by Omega, the official timekeeper of the FedEx Championship Series.

Source: CART Online

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Tarso Marques , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Barry Green , Gerald Forsythe , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske