CHAMPCAR/CART: Rio de Janeiro preview

INAUGURAL RIO 400 PROVIDES HOMECOMING FOR SEVERAL BRAZILIAN DRIVERS IN THE PPG INDY CAR WORLD SERIES DETROIT (March 3, 1996) IndyCar racing has been a complete export business in Brazil over the years as the South American country has had many...

INAUGURAL RIO 400 PROVIDES HOMECOMING FOR SEVERAL BRAZILIAN DRIVERS IN THE PPG INDY CAR WORLD SERIES

DETROIT (March 3, 1996) IndyCar racing has been a complete export business in Brazil over the years as the South American country has had many of its premier drivers depart to thrive in the PPG Indy Car World Series. Now Brazil can boast an import side as well as the series will make its inaugural appearance in the country March 17 with the Rio 400 in Rio de Janeiro.

Eight drivers will return to their native country in this history-making event at Nelson Piquet International Raceway's 1.868-mile D-shaped oval. It will be a homecoming in the truest sense for Rio native Roberto Moreno (Data Control/Mi-Jack Lola Ford), but the core of the group hails from Sao Paulo.

The leader is Emerson Fittipaldi (Malboro Hogan Penske Mercedes), who played an influential role in getting an IndyCar event to his homeland. He recently was honoured by raceway officials when they christened the oval the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway. Also hailing from the country's largest city that is situated about 250 miles southwest of Rio are Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart/Budweiser Lola Ford), Gil de Ferran (Pennzoil Reynard Honda), Andre Ribeiro (LCI International Lola Honda) and Marco Greco (International Sports Ltd./Perry Ellis/Samyang/CEC Lola Ford).

Rounding out the Brazilian contingent is Raul Boesel (Brahma Sports Reynard Ford) of Curitiba and Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood Reynard Ford) of Joinville.

American Jimmy Vasser (Target/Chip Ganassi Reynard Honda) also is anxious to get to Brazil as he is coming off the jubilation of his first career IndyCar victory. Vasser captured the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex on March 3, defeating Ferran by 3.156 seconds.

Robby Gordon (Valvoline/Cummins/Craftsman Reynard Ford) grabbed the other podium finish, his ninth in 55 starts. Scott Goodyear (Valvoline DuraBlend Reynard Ford), Gordon'' Walker Racing teammate, also had a strong run with a 12th-place finish after starting 22nd.

Scott Pruett (Firestone-Patrick Racing Lola Ford) had his best performance – fourth – since winning the Marlboro 500 last July to fuel his optimism heading to another oval.

Team Rahal also arrives full of optimism as both Bobby Rahal (Miller Reynard Mercedes) and Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Mercedes) had top-10 performances at Miami. Rahal parlayed one of his three-best qualifying efforts since 1994 (fifth) into a fifth-place finish in his debut as the series' only driver/owner. Herta, in his first year associated with Rahal, took 10th.

Newman/Haas Racing also placed both its drivers in the top 10. Christian Fittipaldi took sixth, his best showing since a second at Indy last season, and Michael Andretti (Kmart Texaco/Havoline Lola Ford) grapped ninth despite an early brush with Mauricio Gugelman (Hollywodd Reynard Ford).

Marlboro Team Penske also appeared primed to land a pair of top 10s, but had to settle for only Al Unser Jr.'s eighth-place effort in the Marlboro Penske Mercedes. Teammate Paul Tracy (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) owned the most dominant car as he captured the pole and then proceeded to lead the first 83 laps of the event. Tracy, however, was victimized by a transmission problem and retired on the very next lap for a 23rd-place finish.

Canadian rookie Greg Moore (Player's Ltd./Indeck Reynard Mercedes) became the second-youngest ever to start an IndyCar event at Homestead, but his performance belied his age. He finished seventh after making up a black-flag penalty and secured the best outing among first-year driving contingent of Eddie Lawson (Delco Electronics High Tech Team Galles Lola Mercedes), Jeff Krosnoff (Arciero-Wells Racing Reynard Toyota), Mark Blundell (PacWest Racing Group Reynard Ford) and Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda). Lawson finished 15th, Blundell 17th, Krosnoff 22nd and Zanardi 24th. The race was the first on an oval by Europeans Blundell and Zanardi.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate Beer/Quaker State Lola Honda) had a solid debut for his new Tasman Motorsports team as he finished 11th at Miami. Also making a debut with a new team was Hiro Matsushita (Panasonic Lola Ford). Matsushita finished 18th for the two-car Payton/Coyne operation.

Stefan Johansson (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes), adjusting to a new Penske chassis this season, is coming off a 19th-place showing at Miami. Carlos Guerrero (Herdez/Perry Ellis/ALTA Natural Spring Water Lola Ford), who finished 20th, comes to Rio looking to top his career-best finish of 11th set during his 1995 rookie season.

Toyota made its debut as the series' newest engine manufacturer and Eagle as the latest chassis builder at Miami. Juan Manuel Fangio II unveiled the new engine and chassis for Dan Gurney's Castrol/All American Racers and finished 21st. His day ended early when his car retired because of fuel pressure problems.

Gugelmin plans to bounce back from a difficult outing in which he was the second car to retire. He made contact with Andretti and the wall on lap 6 and eventually had to park his car after 53 laps for a 26th-place finish.

Parker Johnstone (Motorola Reynard Honda) will look to make his first start of the season after missing the Miami event. Johnstone sustained a minor concussion and bruised knee in a practice accident the day before the race and was not cleared to compete on race day. He has completely recovered from the incident.

The Rio 400, which will be broadcast on ABC at 3 p.m. EST, begins the international tour of the PPG Indy Car World Series. IndyCar will travel to Australia for its next event, the IndyCar Australia at Surfers Paradise in Queensland on March 31.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Goodyear , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Raul Boesel , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Dan Gurney , Nelson Piquet , Juan Manuel Fangio , Emerson Fittipaldi , Eddie Lawson , Chip Ganassi , Jeff Krosnoff , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske