CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Open Test

Thanks to CART Online CART Online (October 29) -- The PPG CART World Series celebrated the 1997 season last Saturday at its annual awards banquet in Century City, California and now preparation for the 1998 campaign begins in earnest this ...

Thanks to CART Online

CART Online (October 29) -- The PPG CART World Series celebrated the 1997 season last Saturday at its annual awards banquet in Century City, California and now preparation for the 1998 campaign begins in earnest this Saturday and Sunday, with the inaugural CART open test at the new Twin Ring Motegi motorsports complex in Motegi, Japan.

The test has been scheduled to help teams prepare for next season's inaugural PPG CART World Series event in Japan, the March 28 Budweiser 500 on the newly-constructed 1.5-mile oval at Twin Ring Motegi, roughly 60 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Test results and information from Japan will be available right here on CART.com during the weekend.

Fourteen drivers representing 10 teams will participate in two days of open testing beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday and continuing through 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The field includes former PPG Cup champions Al Unser Jr. of Marlboro Team Penske and Jimmy Vasser of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, as well as the second-through-seventh place finishers in this season's PPG Cup competition.

"The Motegi test marks the first step leading to the Budweiser 500 on March 28," said CART President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig. "It is an important step for our company as we continue to grow the worldwide appeal of our racing series."

As he prepares for his 17th season in the series, Unser Jr. looks forward to a full weekend of testing.

"We'll be able to showcase the most exciting form of racing in the United States, which will give the Japanese fans a true taste of what's to come when we return in March," Unser Jr. said. "Expanding to the Japanese market is a great opportunity for everyone and proves just how strong the PPG CART World Series really is."

Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing is one of several test participants who has previously competed in Japan. He arrived two days ahead of schedule to reacquaint himself with Japanese culture.

"I haven't driven there since I was in Formula One [1992-94], so I'm really looking forward to it," Fittipaldi said. In contrast to the 1996-97 off-season, when the Newman/Haas team awaited delivery of its new Swift chassis, Fittipaldi has been involved in extensive testing this off-season, having already completed sessions at Sebring and Gateway International Raceway. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to do so much testing to help prepare for the 1998 season."

Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing heads to Japan following his runner-up finish to Alex Zanardi in this year's PPG Cup championship. De Ferran had seven podium finishes earned pole positions at Long Beach and Detroit en route to a career-best finish in the championship.

Vasser followed his 1996 PPG Cup championship with a third-place effort this season, built on nine top-five finishes. He finished second (Vancouver), first (Laguna Seca) and second (California Speedway) in the season's final three events.

PacWest Racing Group teammates Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell will test at Motegi following breakout performances during the 1997 campaign. Gugelmin, who finished fourth in the championship, earned his first PPG CART World Series victory at Vancouver and collected poles at Rio de Janeiro, Road America and California Speedway. His pole performance at California, at an average speed of 240.942 mph, was the fastest official lap in auto racing history.

Blundell was the winner at California Speedway and also claimed victories at Portland and Toronto on his way to sixth place in the championship. His victory over de Ferran at Portland, by 0.027 seconds, came in the closest finish in Indy car history.

The new Team KOOL Green pairing of Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti takes to the short oval at Twin Ring Motegi following a 1997 season in which Tracy was dominant on the short ovals. Driving for Marlboro Team Penske, Tracy won consecutive events at Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro and Gateway International Raceway, and earned 87 of his 121 PPG Cup points on short ovals en route to fifth-place in the championship.

Franchitti, driving for Hogan Racing, finished third in the Rookie of the Year competition and earned his first career pole position at Toronto.

Greg Moore of Player's Forsythe Racing finished seventh in the championship in his second season in the PPG CART World Series. He became the youngest driver ever to win a PPG Cup event when he claimed victory at Milwaukee at the age of 22 years, one month and 10 days, and earned his second career victory at Detroit a week later.

Other drivers expected to participate in the open test include Andre Ribeiro, who replaced Tracy at Marlboro Team Penske; Richie Hearn of Della Penna Motorsports; Juan Fangio II of All American Racers; and Max Papis and Japanese native Hiro Matsushita of Arciero-Wells Racing.

Testing is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. each day. In addition to helping competitors prepare for next season's inaugural event at Twin Ring Motegi, the test will also help teams get ready for the 1998 season opener, the March 15 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Fla.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing