CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland Preview

Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco/Havoline Portland, OR-- Other venues may hold longer tenure as hosts of FedEx Championship Series events, but consider the history that's been made at Portland International Raceway, host of...

Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco/Havoline

Portland, OR-- Other venues may hold longer tenure as hosts of FedEx Championship Series events, but consider the history that's been made at Portland International Raceway, host of Sunday's Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco/Havoline (5 p.m. ET, live, ESPN).

As Portland celebrates its 15th year as a FedEx Championship Series venue, it has made Championship Auto Racing Teams history both distant and recent. Portland was the site of Al Unser Jr.'s (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) first career FedEx Championship Series victory, in 1984. At the time, he was the youngest race winner in CART history, a distinction he held until Greg Moore's (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) victory last year at Milwaukee.

Portland was also the site of Alex Zanardi's (Target Reynard Honda) first CART career victory, from the pole in 1996. Few knew then that he would add 10 more in his next 32 starts, winning last year's series championship in the process and taking the lead in the chase for this year's title.

But since 1984, Portland had never hosted a finish as dramatic as last year's when Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) finished a scant 0.027 seconds - about seven feet - ahead of Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard) to claim his first CART career victory in the closest finish in Champ Car history. Blundell had been denied that victory two weeks earlier at Detroit, when he ran out of fuel while leading the final lap and coasted to a stop within sight of the checkered flag.

So history says to expect something memorable when the FedEx Championship Series visits Portland this weekend for Round 9 of this year's title chase. Coming off his series-high third victory of the season at Detroit in Round 8, Zanardi holds a 113-96 lead over Moore in the battle for the series championship.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) is third with 80 points, but has experienced mild disappointment at Portland in each of the past two years. His 13th-place finish in 1996 accounted for the only non-scoring effort of his championship season while his 19th-place showing last year denied him the opportunity to set a FedEx Championship Series record with his 26th consecutive race finish, a mark he now shares with Unser Jr. at 25.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) continues to enjoy his most successful season in the FedEx Championship Series. Following a runnerup effort at Detroit, he brings a career-high 75 points to Portland, good for fourth in the championship.

De Ferran rounds out the top five, looking to erase last year's disappointment while stepping up from back-to-back runnerup finishes at Portland. He matched a season high with a third-place finish at Detroit.

Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) are the career victory leaders at Portland with three each. Unser Jr. added back-to-back victories in 1994 and '95 to his first career triumph in '84 while Andretti scored three straight triumphs at Portland from 1990-92.

Secondary to the thrilling finish provided by Blundell and de Ferran last year was the courageous comeback of Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford), who qualified third and finished fourth in his return from a broken leg sustained 11 weeks earlier at Australia. He has scored PPG Cup points in all three career appearances at Portland.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) joins Unser. Jr., Andretti, Zanardi and Blundell as a previous winner at Portland. He drove to victory at the venue during his PPG Cup-winning campaign of 1987.

Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) sat on the pole at Portland last year, one of three poles Pruett has earned in his career. He, Zanardi and Unser Jr. are the only Portland pole winners still active in the series.

Team KOOL Green drivers Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) posted top-10 finishes at Detroit, with Franchitti finishing fourth and Tracy seventh.

Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) tested well at Portland in the off-season and has scored PPG Cup points in four of his past six starts. Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) led a race-high 38 laps at Portland last year en route to a sixth-place finish.

Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) and Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) come to Portland off career qualifying highlights at Detroit. Papis sat on the provisional pole after first-day qualifying, Toyota's first provisional pole in the engine manufacturer's three years in the FedEx Championship Series. Hearn recorded a career-best qualifying effort of fourth, the first top-10 start of his three-year career.

Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) finished 16th at Detroit, but his improvement of nine places from start to finish was the best among the 28 drivers who started the event. Robby Gordon (Panasonic-Duskin Reynard Toyota) makes his first start at Portland since '96, but owns top-10 finishes in his four most recent starts at the venue.

The Rookie of the Year battle has become the most closely contested of all the points races in the FedEx Championship Series. Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) has scored in three consecutive events, but holds just a two-point lead (29-27) over Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) in the rookie race. JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) remain within reach of the rookie title as well, with seven points and one point, respectively.

Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) looks to translate th e success which has brought him two pole positions into strong finishes on race day. Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) scored the best road course finish of his career, 12th, at Portland last year.

PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) seeks to score PPG Cup points for the third time this season while Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/Total Tel Lola Ford) and Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) seek their first scoring finishes of the season.

Qualifying for the Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco/Havoline will air 1:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast.

After two full weekends off, the FedEx Championship Series resumes July 12 with the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Star Bank at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio.

Source: CART Online

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Michel Jourdain , JJ Lehto