CHAMPCAR/CART: Rio GP Pre-Race Notes

GP Telemar Rio 200 Notebook This weekend's GP Telemar Rio 200 will feature a historic first for the sporting world when the command to start engines is given live from outer space. The command will be given by a Russian cosmonaut on the...

GP Telemar Rio 200 Notebook

This weekend's GP Telemar Rio 200 will feature a historic first for the sporting world when the command to start engines is given live from outer space.

The command will be given by a Russian cosmonaut on the space station MIR. The image and sound from the space station will be seen on a large video screen placed in front of the start/finish line.

The unique command was arranged by OMEGA, official timekeeper of the FedEx Championship Series. Event promoter Emerson Fittipaldi, the 1998 FedEx Championship Series champion, had originally planned to invite supermodel Cindy Crawford to give the command, but she had to decline the invitation due to her pregnancy.

That's when executives at OMEGA, which has a partnership with MIR, suggested the first-of-its-kind command.

"At first, we wanted to bring the lunar module, but we decided on the live broadcast from MIR," said Fittipaldi, who, along with Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve, is one of four drivers to have won both the FedEx Championship Series championship and the Formula One driving title. "It will be the first time a sporting event will be given its start from space."

* ANSWERING THE BELL FedEx Championship Series drivers Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) are due to make significant starts at this weekend's GP Telemar Rio 200. Pruett's start will be the 130th of his career, which began in 1988, breaking a tie with Tom Sneva and moving him into sole possession of 11th place on the CART career list. Tracy's next start will be the 117th of a career which began in 1991, moving him into a tie for 14th in CART annals with Kevin Cogan and Hiro Matsushita. Both Pruett and Tracy have enjoyed great success at Rio, Pruett with third-place finishes in 1996 and '97, and Tracy with a victory in '97.

"Rio is a driver's oval," Pruett said. "You can't really compare it to Nazareth, because neither of them are true ovals. Rio has one long straight[away] where we'll find the most speed, and very different corners. Set-up is usually the key on ovals, but it's trickier in Rio because you have to prepare the car in a very segmented way. Rather than focusing on one sweeping, flat-out run, we have to look at the car's performance through decreasing and increasing radius turns and down one long straightaway." Tracy looks to continue the momentum generated by his third-place finish at Nazareth, his first podium result since winning at Gateway in 1997. "We're into my favorite part of the season," he said. "My last two wins were at the next two tracks [Rio de Janeiro and Gateway], and the chemistry at Team KOOL Green is the best I've ever seen. We're always moving forward making the car better and faster. Of course, so are all the other good teams. That's part of what drives us. But I'm cautiously optimistic that our podium finish at Nazareth won't be the last." * A WIN WOULD BE SPECIAL For the large contingent of Brazilian drivers competing in this weekend's GP Rio Telemar 200, a victory would be the highlight of their FedEx Championship Series careers. All of them remember the celebration touched off by native son Andre Ribeiro's victory in the inaugural FedEx Championship Series event contested at Rio de Janeiro in 1996. A victory would be particularly memorable, though, for native Brazilian Helio Castro-Neves, a protigi of event promoter and 1989 FedEx Championship Series champion Emerson Fittipaldi. "To win my first race in CART would be a dream come true," says Castro-Neves, who led 15 laps at Nazareth and has recorded the fastest race lap at Japan and Nazareth this season. "To win my first race in Rio would be the icing on the cake.

"Based on what we've done on the ovals up to this point in the season, I have every reason to believe that we will continue producing the same strong results," Castro-Neves continued. "Being at home in Brazil is a calming factor for me. I've got my family and friends around and I feel very supported. Emerson, too, has done so much for the sport, and for me."

* SPEEDVISION PROFILES MARIO ANDRETTI The Speedvision cable network will air a profile of 1984 FedEx Championship Series champion Mario Andretti at 8 p.m. ET Sunday as the next installment in its "Champions" series. The hour-long profile will focus on Andretti's lengthy career in Champ Cars, in which he posted 52 victories, second all-time, including 19 in the FedEx Championship Series. He also closed his career with a Champ Car-record 67 pole positions, including 30 in the FedEx Championship Series, and won the 1978 Formula One driving championship. Andretti will be prominently featured on Speedvision throughout the month of May. The network will begin a Mario Andretti Week on Monday, May 24, continuing through Friday, May 28, with daily features airing at 6:30 p.m. ET. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Andretti's 1969 victory at the Indianapolis 500.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Paul Tracy , Nigel Mansell , Scott Pruett , Mario Andretti , Tom Sneva , Emerson Fittipaldi , Kevin Cogan , Andre Ribeiro