Defending Race Champion Looking To Continue Winning Streak As 2002 Cart Fedex Championship Series Gets Underway In Season-Opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix DETROIT (March 5, 2002) - After an off season of changes and thousands of...
Defending Race Champion Looking To Continue Winning Streak As 2002 Cart Fedex Championship Series Gets Underway In Season-Opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix
DETROIT (March 5, 2002) - After an off season of changes and thousands of testing miles, the CART FedEx Championship Series combatants are ready to start the 2002 war with this weekend's first of what will be 20 battles, the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico (SPEED Channel; Sunday, March 10; 4:00 p.m. ET).
While the chase for the 2002 Vanderbilt Cup figures to be up for grabs, one driver who may have an upper hand coming into the opening weekend is Newman/Haas Racing pilot Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola). For starters, the 28-year-old Brazilian comes into the season-opener riding a two-race winning streak from the end of the 2001 season.
Couple that with the fact that he was one of the fastest drivers throughout off-season testing, and the fact that he is the defending champion of the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, and it is crystal clear that da Matta not only has the credentials to take this weekend's race, but he also rates among the favorites to take the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series title as well.
However, da Matta is not alone in his quest to open the 2002 season with a victory. 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series runner-up Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola) is poised to take a page from da Matta's book and start his first season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing in Fundidora Park's Victory Circle, just as da Matta did when he began his relationship with Newman/Haas Racing one year ago.
Brack qualified on the pole position for the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in 2001, so he obviously knows how to get around the 2.104-mile permanent road course quickly, especially for one lap. If he's able to put together 85 good laps on Sunday afternoon, he could walk away with his first career road course victory.
When looking for favorites, one can't overlook the winningest driver in CART history, Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Reynard). The racing legend opens his 19th season of Champ Car competition in Fundidora Park this weekend looking to pick up his 42nd career CART victory, and add to his record total of 14 seasons with at least one victory.
One year ago, Andretti debuted with Team Motorola in the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix and turned in a solid performance throughout the weekend with a fifth place showing in qualifying and a fourth place result on race day. With one full season together under their belts, Andretti and Team Motorola figure to be tough to beat come Sunday.
Let's also not forget about the Team Motorola technical partners at Team KOOL Green. After all, Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard) scored his best result of 2001 when he came home third in the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, a result that was equaled at Nazareth Speedway in May.
The two third place finishes, however, were the lone bright spots in a tough 2001 season for Tracy. During the off-season, Tracy underwent a dramatic physical transformation and arrived at last month's Sneak Preview at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca looking like a lean, mean, racing machine, and appears ready to challenge for the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series title.
Likewise, Tracy's Team KOOL Green mate, Dario Franchitti, also had a significant off-season development he got married to actress Ashley Judd and comes into the 2002 season focused on getting the CART FedEx Championship Series title that has eluded him in each of his first six seasons.
While all of the competitors in this weekend's Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix are hungry to get a win, CART's "Three Amigos" Mexican drivers Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola), Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola), and rookie Mario Dominguez (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola) definitely have extra motivation to win the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix.
Fernandez, who has a Michael Jordan-esque following in his homeland of Mexico, would love nothing more than to win in front of his countrymen. Fernandez was instrumental in getting Champ Car racing to return to Mexico for the first time since 1981 last year, and comes into 2002 looking to put a rough 2001 season behind him.
With one full year as an owner/driver under his belt and a new Lola chassis, he may have the winning combination when all is said and done on Sunday. Let's not forget that Fernandez has already won Champ Car races in five different countries (Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and the United States); a win in Mexico would add to his impressive resume.
Jourdain - a Mexico City native - also comes into the 2002 season full of optimism as he has joined forces with Team Rahal for the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series. Many believe that the move to Team Rahal will prove to be the catalyst for Jourdain to realize his full potential, and a victory in Monterrey would be wildly popular.
Meanwhile, Dominguez comes into the weekend in Monterrey looking to do what has only been accomplished by 1993 CART FedEx Championship Series champion and Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year, Nigel Mansell, and that is to emerge victorious in his first career Champ Car start. Dominguez seemingly has the weight of the world on his shoulders this weekend, what with making his Champ Car debut in front of his fellow Mexicans, but he did score a victory in his first-ever oval start in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship in ???
Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola), the 1996 CART FedEx Championship Series champion, is another driver who has everything it takes to reach Victory Circle on Sunday. Vasser has been energized by his off-season switch to the winningest team of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series season - Team Rahal, and cannot be discounted this weekend.
Player's/Forsythe Racing drivers Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola) and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola) also cannot be overlooked. Carpentier got his elusive first career victory in 2001, and Tagliani finished the season with two straight podium finishes (at Surfers Paradise and California Speedway) and the pole position for the season finale at Fontana to close the year out strong. A consistent effort from both drivers will keep them in the hunt throughout the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series.
While da Matta and the Mexican drivers might grab a lot of headlines prior to race weekend, they're definitely going to be challenged by some of their cohorts from Latin America. For starters, Brazilian Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Reynard) enters his third year with Mo Nunn Racing and has caught the eye of many pundits with solid preseason testing results.
Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola), a native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, returns for his second season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and knows a thing or two about winning on permanent road circuits as evidenced by his performance at Road America in 2001. Speaking of drivers who picked up their first career victory at Road America, Brazil's Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Newman/Haas Racing Toyota/Lola) is always a threat to win, particularly on road circuits.
The team formerly known as PacWest Racing Group will be looking to debut PWR Championship Racing at Number One this weekend, and comes to battle equipped with two of the brightest young talents of the CART FedEx Championship Series. In a glimpse of things to come, Scott Dixon (#7 PWR Championship Racing Toyota/Lola) actually led 14 laps of the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in 2001, before going on to become the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history at Nazareth and winning the 2001 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award. The New Zealander clearly rates among the favorites in Monterrey.
Dixon, who won the Dayton Indy Lights title in 2000, is joined at PWR by the 1999 Indy Lights champion, Oriol Servia (#17 PWR Championship Racing Toyota/Lola), who begins his third CART FedEx Championship Series season with his third different team. Servia was also competitive in the 2001 Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in the first start for Sigma Autosport, so he figures to be a tough competitor this weekend as well.
One can also not forget about the man who replaced Servia at Sigma Autosport, Max Papis (#22 ROCKWELL FIRST POINT Ford-Cosworth/Lola). The Italian is a three-time winner in Champ Car competition, with two of those victories coming on permanent road courses. Papis will also be tough to beat.
Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard) embarks on his first full season of CART FedEx Championship Series competition this weekend, but he's certainly no stranger to the Champ Car cockpit or Monterrey's Fundidora Park. In addition to hundreds of testing miles, Bell made two starts in a Patrick Racing Champ Car in Europe last September, posting a best finish of 12th in England. He also kicked off his 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship-winning season with a second place run in the opener at Monterrey. Add to that the vast experience of Patrick Racing, and it's clear that Bell cannot be counted out.
One driver who made a good first impression in his Champ Car debut in Monterrey last season was Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard). Takagi is back for a second season with Walker Racing and appears to be a strong challenger with a full year of experience under his belt. Likewise, Takagi's Japanese countryman Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola) - who is now in his third year of Champ Car competition - also figures to be competitive this weekend, and would love nothing more than to score the first victory for Fernandez Racing in Mexico.
This weekend will also mark the official CART FedEx Championship Series debut of the Bridgestone Potenza racing tires, as every car in the field will ride on Bridgestone tires.
Extensive television coverage of the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix will air in the United States on SPEED Channel. In addition to live coverage of Sunday's race beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET, coverage of first-round qualifying airs Friday, March 8 at 9:00 p.m. ET, and final round qualifying coverage airs at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 9. The event coverage will also be enhanced by the magazine-style "CART Friday Night" program, which makes its debut at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, March 8, as well as a 30-minute pre-race broadcast which airs at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 10.
Live audio coverage of both qualifying rounds as well as the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix will air on the official web site of the CART FedEx Championship series, www.CART.com. The Internet audio broadcast of Friday's qualifying session airs at 3:00 p.m. ET, with the broadcast of the final round of qualifying on Saturday slated for 2:30 p.m. ET. The Internet broadcast of the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix airs at 4:00 p.m. ET.
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. The 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season kicks off March 10 at Monterrey, Mexico and the 19-race schedule 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.