CHAMPCAR/CART: Mo Nunn Racing notes post-Monterrey, Mexico

TONY KANAAN ...

TONY KANAAN
#55 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard
Qualified 12th; Finished 7th

** MONTERREY'S FASTEST BRAZILIAN -- Kanaan was the fastest Brazilian on the track during Sunday's Tecate/Telmex Grand Prix of Monterrey and was second overall only to Dario Franchitti's fast lap of 75.403 seconds (100.452 mph). Kanaan's best lap of 75.476 (100.355 mph) came on Lap 55 of 78 laps completed, and was bested four laps later by Franchitti. "Hey, I'd have to say it was as good a weekend as we were going to have. It was great to have a teammate to exchange information with. Coming into the season, before we got into the meat of our testing schedule, I'll admit that I was a little worried that I was going to have to share Morris' (Nunn's) attention. That may be the case, but I think I gain more by having a teammate ... especially a teammate like Alex. It definitely benefited us this weekend to have two of us out there on the track, and then exchanging information. We definitely worked together all weekend. Some corners he was quicker than I was, others I was quicker than he was. So we helped each other. Unfortunately, Alex didn't enjoy himself quite as much as I did. People might be tempted to take him for granted after that weekend. But he's going to come back stronger than ever. You can bet on it."

** TOUGH GOING EVEN FOR BEST OF 'SLOW GROUP' QUALIFIERS -- Kanaan was quick all weekend, running eighth in Friday practice, fourth in Saturday morning practice, and comfortably fastest in the first of two qualifying groups to take to the track Saturday afternoon. He was relegated to that first ("slow") qualifying group before the weekend even began because CART for the first time grouped its qualifiers based on last year's season-ending driver points standings. "That was the only down side to our entire weekend. I knew it coming in, that I was going to be in the slow group. I knew that the track was only going to get better and better each and every session. And I knew that (almost) everybody in the qualifying group after us was going to go faster no matter what. You know, I could hang my head and make myself crazy wondering how well we would have done in the race if we didn't have to start so far back on such a new track that was going to be so slippery off-line and so difficult to pass on. But we knew all of that coming in. Really, we did everything we could do. My team was very together. I was really happy about that. We have a couple of new guys, but everything went very well. Good pit stops, everything. That's the way it's supposed to be. If you want to win a championship, you have to be consistent in all areas and not make any mistakes. I'd say we did that."

** THE TRACK IMPROVES ... MORE ON QUALIFYING FORMAT -- To illustrate how the brand new 2.1-mile road course in Monterrey's Fundidora Park got better and better each session, Kanaan's fast-lap was more than four seconds (more than 5 mph) faster than his best practice time on opening-day Friday. His fast race lap was more than 1.2 seconds (almost 2 mph) faster than his qualifying time. "That is exactly why I didn't like that qualifying rule this weekend. We knew that was how it was going to be. I think they should change the rule. The only fair way to qualify is to put every car out on the track at the same time and limit the number of laps, so every team has a fair chance. Anything less than that and you're going to put some teams at a disadvantage. I think CART is going to consider changing the rule sometime in the next few weeks. I don't know if they will or not, but now I don't care because I'm in the fast group at Long Beach. Now the guys who didn't support us when we tried to change the qualifying procedure to make it fair at Mexico ... and basically just laughed at us ... we'll see who's laughing, at Long Beach."

** ELECTRICITY IN THE AIR -- Looking back on Monterrey, Kanaan felt it was an extraordinary event in its very first year. "To be a first-time event, it was very well organized. Every time you do something new, you expect to have problems. They covered up really well. It went pretty smooth the whole weekend. One thing we should take as an example was the crowd. I felt really proud of myself to be racing with that many people watching. We should take that as an example and go to places where people really like our racing. Track-wise, it was new, dirty, but that's the price you pay when you race on a freshly paved surface. But definitely, next year, they will make some improvements and listen to our suggestions. I loved that crowd. My transporter didn't have my name on it, but people were still screaming at me in the paddock and in the stands, screaming my name, so they knew who I was. That was great."

** TONY'S CONSOLATION PRIZE -- Kanaan was particularly animated during the cool-down lap after Sunday's finish when his friend, Brazilian countryman, Miami neighbor, workout buddy and Sunday's race-winner Cristiano da Matta pulled up alongside him. The wild clapping and arm waving and thumbs-up wasn't an attempt to lure the TV camera, but rather to celebrate the winning of a brand new bike in a friendly bet with da Matta. Seems Cristiano and Tony agreed that the first one to win a race this season buys the other the bike of his choice. (Kanaan quote below.) "People thought I was doing that for the TV cameras, but I was really happy not just for Cristiano's win, but because I'm getting a really cool bike. But I also told him to watch out because I'm going to have to get him a bike, next time."

** DON'T BLAME IT ON RIO -- The next race on the schedule, until it was cancelled last month, was to take place in Rio de Janeiro the weekend of March 23-25. Kanaan, a Brazilian who is sponsored by Rio-based tobacco company Hollywood, is particularly upset to not be racing in his home country in front of his sponsor. "That makes me really said. Losing that race was a big loss for all of the Brazilian drivers. And I'm the only one sponsored by a Brazilian company, so it's very disappointing for me. I don't know exactly why it all had to happen. Politics. I really don't want to know, I guess, because it will make me even more disappointed. We had a great weekend in Mexico, all things considered. And I know we could have gone to Rio and maybe won the race. But now we're not going, and that makes me upset. I have to concentrate extra hard on Long Beach, and get through the next month."

** CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO 'THE BEACH' -- The next race on the schedule, and he has to wait almost an entire month before it, is the Long Beach Grand Prix where, when he last raced with a Honda-Reynard-Firestone package, Kanaan drove to his first career Champ Car pole position. He also won the Dayton Indy Lights race there in 1997 enroute to the series championship over then-teammate Helio Castroneves. "Monterrey is behind us, and we'll have to live without the Rio race this year. We'll just have to keep our heads in the game for the next month doing other things. I'm going to the shop (in Indianapolis) this week to give some extra pump to the boys, try to help them stay fired up for when we go to Long Beach. I'm really excited. Probably more than ever before in my career. When I was flying home from Mexico, I was thinking I just couldn't wait to go to Long Beach already. But we still have a month to go. I'm going to do a lot of go-karting this month. And I'm going to bring my trainer here from Brazil. I want to be ready."

ALEX ZANARDI
#66 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard
Qualified 22nd; Finished 24th (contact on Lap 40)

** THE LONG VIEW -- Things didn't go quite as smoothly for Zanardi, the two-time champion who strapped himself into a Champ Car on a race weekend for the first time since winning the second of his back-to-back titles in 1998. It wasn't completely unexpected, for the 34-year-old Italian who is commuting to the first five and the final six CART events this season from his home in Monte Carlo. After qualifying a disappointing 22nd, Zanardi worked his way up to 10th position early in the race on pit stop strategy, got off-line and spun on Lap 28 while trying to get by Michael Andretti, but shortly thereafter turned it up a notch and began turning the fastest laps of the race on consecutive tours around the track. As he was gaining ground, he got together with Shinji Nakano on Lap 40 and had to retire with a damaged front suspension. "The final result (24th place on Sunday) is what will stand out the most in people's minds and I have to take responsibility for that. I feel when I'm driving out there on Sunday afternoon, I want to be racing. I cannot just drive around. Therefore, we had a very good strategy, which helped us to come back from the back of the tail to where we could comfortably score points. But that's not me. And so I wasn't happy with that. I tried to pass Michael, coming out of Turn 5, and I made a little mistake. I ran on the dirty part of the circuit. I lost the car, and that was it. So that compromised what could have been a result. Having said that, I think everybody on the team knows now that we have worked one weekend together, and we all know what we have to do to improve our organization. To be constructive, we are all new people, all very, very talented people, and we just need time together. I'm sure we will be stronger in Long Beach. But I suspect we will be even stronger at the following event, and hopefully soon get rid of our misfortunes and take advantage of our talents, which are very high. We had a series of problems. You can probably say that when the mechanism is rolling well, and it's well lubricated because everybody is working together seamlessly, then you can encounter problems along the way but build this capability of solving the problems right away. So instead of being a victim, you end up attacking all of the problems in no time, and it looks like you didn't have problems at all. Right now, you certainly suffer whenever you have a problem. I know that next race will be much, much better. We've been together for one weekend. Everybody realizes it's not a bad beast that is scaring everybody now. Probably now everybody is realizing that this is just racing, and we want to work hard, have fun, and go out and win races. I think we're not a bunch of kids who are totally inexperienced. It's understandable that everybody was a little anxious and scared to start, at the same time. Now we've gone through it. Yeah, it would be nice to go racing next weekend, but also nice to reorganize and turn our misfortunes around."

** HANS TURNS OUT TO BE QUITE COMFORTABLE -- Zanardi was one of a small handful of drivers to use the HANS (head-and-neck support) device on the Monterrey road course, even though CART only mandates use of the safety advancement on oval tracks. "I tried it out at one of our tests at Sebring earlier this year, and it felt comfortable right away. They tell us we only have to use it on the ovals, but it really does not cause any problems driving even on the road courses. So I could find no reason why I shouldn't wear it on road courses starting at Monterrey."

** BATHROOM HUMOR, HONDA-STYLE -- No sooner did Zanardi return to the series, and to the Honda family of drivers, than was he featured in the company's first CART TV commercial aired during Sunday's race broadcast. The commercial features Zanardi and new Honda competitor Michael Andretti. During a break at a test session, both Zanardi and Andretti arrive at the same Port-O-Let at the same time and politely exchange a few "after yous" before Zanardi finally is the first to use it. Waiting outside, Andretti notices a metal rod lying on the ground. He decides to use it to lock Zanardi, in and walks away. "Competition usually brings out the best in us," says the voiceover, while Zanardi can be seen shaking the Port-O-Let from inside and heard screaming in Italian. "I'm saying, 'Hey, mi ha chiuso dentro,' Italian for 'Hey, you locked me in.' That was fun."

** WHO'S STANDING ON THE MUTE BUTTON? -- In the opening laps of Sunday's event, it was discovered that Zanardi's radio was malfunctioning. He was able to hear his team, but they could not hear him. Informed of this, Mo Nunn Racing team manager Brad Filbey said, tongue in cheek, of course: "That's probably a good thing!" Never had the crew experienced such a lengthy silence while "wired" to the normally talkative Zanardi on a workday!

** ON THE NEWSSTANDS -- Zanardi's return to the CART FedEx Championship Series is a hot topic this month. He's featured in an article by Sean Assael in the current (March 19) issue of ESPN MAGAZINE. Writer Jerry Garrett also chronicled the Zanardi's CART comeback in the March 2001 issue of CAR AND DRIVER magazine.

MORRIS NUNN QUOTES

"As for the new qualifying rule, like we said coming into the weekend, the guy who would be first in the first qualifying session (as Kanaan was) would be around 14th on the grid. That's pretty much how it went for Tony. It was the only downside to Tony's weekend as he showed in the race he had the second-fast lap and a competitive car all weekend. If he had started closer to the front, it would have made all the difference in the world.

"On Alex's side, there was definitely a new learning curve to get through. He probably would have qualified six-tenths of a second quicker had it not been for some issues that we had to deal with, not the least of which was switching to his back-up car. Because of where we started in the race, we played a different strategy, which moved us up to 10th place. At that stage, it looked pretty good. In his own words, though, Alex got a little impatient. He was charging to the front. He was one of the first cars to get into the 77s (77 seconds-per-lap range). He did it several laps in a row. But then he got a bit excited and attempted a couple of moves that didn't come off. It was another of those racetracks where it's very difficult to overtake. He probably got really angry with himself when he spun, accounting for why he started turning the hottest laps of the race at the time. Confidence-wise, it helped him to respond like that. But in the final outcome, maybe it helped him too much. Overall, the crew did an excellent job. Handling-wise, we just didn't get the car quite to where Alex would like it. But now he and we have done our first race together. And now we have some time before the next one, which is a good thing for us at this point.

-www.monunnracing.com

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Shinji Nakano , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn