CHAMPCAR/CART: Michigan preview

Will Race Day Bring Yet Another Spellbinding Finish To Michigan 500 Presented By Toyota? DETROIT (July 17, 2001) - Michigan International Speedway, which has played host to two of the three closest finishes in Champ Car history during the past...

Will Race Day Bring Yet Another Spellbinding Finish To Michigan 500 Presented By Toyota?

DETROIT (July 17, 2001) - Michigan International Speedway, which has played host to two of the three closest finishes in Champ Car history during the past two years, will be primed for another this weekend as the FedEx Championship Series returns for the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota (1:30 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).

The two-mile oval located in the Irish Hills of southeast Michigan has hosted some storied Champ Car events of late, beginning with Tony Kanaan's 0.032-second victory over Juan Montoya in 1999, which stands as the second-closest finish in Champ Car history. Kanaan had inherited the lead two turns from the checkered flag when Max Papis of Team Rahal, who had led a race-high 143 laps, ran out of fuel.

Montoya was again a principal in last year's FedEx Championship Series event at Michigan, as he and Michael Andretti waged a dazzling wheel-to-wheel duel over the final 20 laps before Montoya nudged ahead for a 0.040-second victory at the checkered flag. The race featured a whopping 52 lead changes at the start/finish line - third in CART history - and an unofficial 162 on the race track overall, and Montoya's margin of victory stands as the third-closest in Champ Car history.

As the series prepares for its final visit to Michigan, Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) arrives looking to reverse last year's outcome. He claimed his record-41st CART victory in spectacular last-to-first fashion on the streets of Toronto last week, a triumph that moved him from sixth into second place in the FedEx Championship Series championship. With 73 points, Andretti trails championship leader Kenny Brack (84 points) of Team Rahal by 11 as the season approaches its midway point.

Andretti is a two-time winner at Michigan Speedway (1987, '89) and has led 705 laps in 20 career starts at the venue. He is one of four former Michigan winners in the field this weekend, and the only one among the top five contenders for the FedEx Championship Series championship.

Brack (Shell Ford Lola) has built his championship lead on a pair of victories at Japan and Milwaukee -the first two of his FedEx Championship Series career - and a consistent record of finish that has seen him score championship points in seven of nine completed events this season. He leads the series in points scored on ovals, with 59, and has also collected 330 of his series-leading 359 laps led on oval circuits.

Brack qualified 10th and finished 22nd due to contact in his inaugural appearance at Michigan International Speedway as a rookie last year.

Andretti's victory at Toronto extended a run that has seen him finish among the top eight drivers in four of his past five starts, including a podium result of second at Milwaukee. Of the other three former Michigan winners in this year's field, two are currently driving for Mo Nunn Racing: Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard), whose 1999 Michigan victory came as a member of McDonald's Championship Racing; and Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard), who won at Michigan in 1997 en route to his first of two consecutive FedEx Championship Series championships for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

The other former Michigan winner in this weekend's field is Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing, who won The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996.

The weekend's entry list also includes one driver who already has a 500-mile victory to his credit this season, reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske. Castroneves stands third to Brack and Andretti in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 70 points.

Rounding out the top five drivers in the championship chase are Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, fourth with 65 points, and defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, fifth with 58. Franchitti recorded a podium finish of third to Montoya and Andretti at Michigan last year, while de Ferran was runner up to his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Castroneves at this year's Indianapolis 500 in May.

All FedEx Championship Series entries ride on Firestone Tires, the Official Tire of CART.

The Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota is Round 11 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the richest paydays in all of motorsports. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.

Following the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series completes a run of six events in seven weeks with Round 12, the Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer, July 27-29 at Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Ill.

WHO'S HOT

* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola has finished eighth or better in four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a runner-up finish at Milwaukee and including a victory last weekend at Toronto. The run also includes finishes of fourth at Detroit and eighth at Portland, and has moved Andretti into second place in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 73 points, 11 behind championship leader Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal, who leads with 84 points. Andretti's victory last Sunday was the 41st of his career, tops on CART's all-time list and gave him at least one win in 14 different seasons - also a CART record - including the past eight in a row.

* FedEx Championship Series championship leader Kenny Brack of Team Rahal has scored championship points in six of his past seven starts, dating to a runner-up result at Nazareth and including back-to-back victories at Japan and Milwaukee, the first of his FedEx Championship Series career. He also finished ninth at Detroit, 11th at Portland and sixth at Cleveland and enters this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota as the FedEx Championship Series championship leader, with 84 points. Brack has also qualified third or better in six of 10 qualifying performances this season, with poles at Mexico, Texas and Milwaukee and outside poles at Long Beach and Nazareth.

* Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing finished 12th at Toronto to extend a run that has seen him score championship points in six of his past seven starts, dating to a fifth-place finish at Nazareth. He also finished fourth at Japan, fifth at Detroit, third at Portland and 11th at Cleveland. Fittipaldi has improved from 22nd when the run began to ninth in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 49 points.

* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) of Team Rahal owns points-paying finishes in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, including a victory from the pole at Portland. The run also includes finishes of sixth at Japan, eighth at Milwaukee and Toronto and 11th at Detroit. He stands 11th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 43 points.

* Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing has collected championship points with seven of his past eight FedEx Championship Series finishes, including podium results of second at Detroit and third at Portland. The run also includes finishes of eighth at Cleveland, 10th at Japan, 11th at Long Beach and Toronto and 12th at Nazareth. Moreno stands 12th in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 43 points.

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group has scored championship points in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts. He comes to this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota off a season-best finish of seventh at Toronto last weekend. Gugelmin's current run also includes finishes of 10th at Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland and 12th at Japan. He also owns a pole position at Cleveland, his first establishing a world closed-course speed record of 240.941 miles per hour in the 1997 season finale at California Speedway. Gugelmin stands 20th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 17 points.

* Alex Tagliani (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing finished second to Michael Andretti at Toronto, the best result of his two-year FedEx Championship Series career. He has scored championship points in three of four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a 12th-place effort at Milwaukee and including finishes of 12th at Portland and ninth at Cleveland.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Michael Andretti has made 20 CART career starts at Michigan Speedway, including 17 in 500-mile events. He owns victories in 1987 and '89 and a pole position in 1987. He also finished on the podium in 1986, when he was second at 250 miles, '88, when he was third, and last year, when he finished 0.04 seconds behind Juan Montoya in the third-closest race in Champ Car history. He has started among the top three six times and has led 705 laps in his career at Michigan, including 58 last year.

* Jimmy Vasser (Visteon Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing drove to victory from the pole at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996, then set a track qualifying record of 234.665 miles per hour later that summer during qualifying for the Marlboro 500. He also won the pole in 1999, giving him a victory and three pole positions in his Michigan Speedway career. Vasser started on the outside pole en route to a runner-up finish in 1998 and also owns points-paying finishes of seventh in 1995 and ninth in 1999.

* Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing owns podium finishes in two of his three career appearances at Michigan Speedway, including a 31-second victory during his FedEx Championship Series championship season of 1997. His other podium result at Michigan is third in 1998, when he claimed his second consecutive series title. Zanardi has led 208 of a possible 750 laps in his Michigan career, including a race-high 104 in 1997.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has scored championship points in six of nine career appearances at Michigan Speedway, topped by a runner-up finish in 1992. He also finished third in 1999, seventh at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996, fourth in '97, ninth in '98 and seventh last year. Tracy owns the track qualifying record of 234.949 miles per hour (30.645 seconds), established last year.

* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green owns two top-five finishes in four career appearances at Michigan International Speedway, topped by third last year. He also finished fifth in 1999.

* Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing Has scored championship points in three of four career appearances at Michigan, including a best of fourth last year. He also finished eighth in 1998 and 10th in 1999.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Ford-powered drivers have won three of the past four FedEx Championship Series events contested on ovals, dating to Christian Fittipaldi's victory in last year's season finale at California Speedway. The other victories have come from Kenny Brack at Japan and Milwaukee this year.

* Honda-powered drivers have captured four of CART's past six 500-mile events contested at Michigan Speedway. The run consists of victories by Jimmy Vasser at The Inaugural U.S. 500 and Andre Ribeiro at the Marlboro 500 in 1996; Alex Zanardi at the 1997 U.S. 500 and Tony Kanaan at the 1999 U.S. 500. Honda has also claimed four of the past six poles at Michigan, as Vasser (1996 U.S. 500, 1996 Marlboro 500, 1999 U.S. 500) and Paul Tracy (2000 U.S. 500) did the honors.

NOTEWORTHY

* With an eye toward performance containment, CART has implemented a number of changes to the race car specifications for this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota. The maximum manifold pressure for the event will be 36 inches of mercury absolute, and the ¾-inch case extension for the manifold pressure relief valve shall be required beginning with this event and for the remainder of the FedEx Championship Series season. In addition, CART has mandated that the back plate of the Handford Mk1 device has been extended downward an additional three inches and that all body work and aerodynamic devices, save for the rear wing, shall terminate forward of a transverse plane perpendicular to the reference plane 11 inches aft of the differential center line.

* The first finalist in the 2001 Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge will be set this weekend during the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota. The pit crew whose car finishes the race and spends the least time in the pits will receive a "wild card" entry into the season-ending championship finals at California Speedway in November. There, the "wild card" entry will join four others in competing for the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge trophy and a $50,000 cash award. Now in its third year, the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge is intended to recognize the efforts of motorsports' unsung heroes, the mechanics that build, maintain and service the race cars. For the first 19 races of the FedEx Championship Series season, pit crews will collect points based on the least amount of time spent in the pits. Points are awarded according to the same scale used to score FedEx Championship Series drivers (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1). The top four finishers, plus the wildcard will compete head-to-head at the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota for the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge championship. The crew for Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green is the two-time defending Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge champion. Entering this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, the crew for Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) leads the standings with 68 points, followed by the crew for Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing, with 64. Rounding out the top four pit crews in the current standings are the crew for Jimmy Vasser (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, third with 60 points, and the crew for Scott Dixon (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group, fourth with 59.

* Team Rahal driver Max Papis will be the featured driver for the CART Wheels For Kids program set for 1 p.m. Thursday in Jackson, Mich. He will speak with more than 200 children at the Jackson YMCA about automobile, helmet and seatbelt safety, as well as life as a professional race car driver in the FedEx Championship Series. This will be the second CART Wheels For Kids appearance for Papis, who debuted before 300 campers at the YMCA in Livonia, Mich. in June; and the fourth for the program that is co-sponsored by CART, Ford Racing, Shell and Simple Green. The CART Wheels For Kids program has made race-week stops in Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland and has scheduled future visits in Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and Houston.

ON THE AIR

* Qualifying for the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota will air 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 1:30 p.m. ET. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN, and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing