Hilliard, OH . . . The 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series kicks off this weekend with the inaugural Monterrey Grand Prix in Mexico Sunday (Live-ABC 4:00 PM EST). What a difference a year makes for Team Rahal and drivers Kenny Brack and Max...
Hilliard, OH . . . The 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series kicks off this weekend with the inaugural Monterrey Grand Prix in Mexico Sunday (Live-ABC 4:00 PM EST). What a difference a year makes for Team Rahal and drivers Kenny Brack and Max Papis. One year ago Kenny Brack was preparing to start his first season as the driver of the Shell car for Team Rahal and his first season in CART. Although Brack was the most anticipated rookie to come to CART since Nigel Mansell, there were also plenty of critics who questioned Brack's chances in CART. After all he was coming from the Indy Racing League where he had raced exclusively on ovals for the three previous seasons. Conventional wisdom dictated that an "oval specialist" would have trouble adjusting to the CART series with 11 races on road or street circuits. Brack proved his critics wrong posting more points on the road courses than on the ovals (81-54). After leading the series in top-five results (9) and finishing fourth in the championship with 135 points, Brack captured the Jim Truman Rookie of the Year honors as the series top newcomer. Still Brack looks at last season with mixed emotions. "My biggest regret is we didn't win a race," said Brack. "I was surprised at how quickly we became competitive and consistent on each of the track types. It was funny to me to hear the people questioning if I could be successful on the road courses because some of them were the same people who three years prior were questioning if I could be competitive in the IRL because I had limited oval experience. The biggest part of the learning curve for me last season was getting to know the tracks. I spent a good portion of each weekend learning the circuit and looking for the little nuances that make each track special. This year I can focus on the set-up from the time we get to the track. The exception is of course the new tracks and every other driver in the series faces the same challenge at those venues." For Max Papis the 2000 season started as a dream but ended as a personal nightmare. Papis was coming off a breakout year in 1999 season which saw him finish fifth in the championship and lead the series in running finishes, laps and miles completed and finish second in laps led. Papis dominated several races including both 500-mile events only to be denied a victory in 1999. That was rectified in at Homestead in the 2000 opener when Papis took the lead with ten laps remaining and held off Paul Tracy for his first Champ Car win. Although it appeared Papis was ready to pick up where he left off in his all-star year that lone victory would be the highlight of Papis season.
For Papis the year was marked by frustration as "Murphy's Law" seemingly prevailed each week. What could go wrong did. Through it all Papis remained upbeat, positive and focused on the job at hand, but his championship hopes were dashed with ten DNF's. Thus for Papis 2001 is a new season, a new chance for a championship run and a chance at redemption after the frustration of the 2000 season. "I truly believe the problems of last year have made me a stronger person and a more focused individual," said Papis. "I worked very hard this off season preparing for the challenges ahead and I know I am ready to pick up where I left off in 1999. We have a strong team of engineers and mechanics and we know what has to be done to be successful. The Ford-Cosworth engine has made great strides improving dramatically from last season and last year the XF was a championship engine. I have been part of an engine developmental program before, but the dedication and commitment of Cosworth to this engine and to the series is remarkable." One of the biggest challenges that Papis and Brack and the entire Team Rahal organization faced this off season was the switch to the Lola B1/00 chassis after having run the Reynard for the last five seasons.
"One of the reasons we made the switch to Lola was that we felt over the course of last season the Lola had an advantage on the ovals over the competition," said Team Rahal Director of Operations Mark Johnson. "Our belief in the Lola was reconfirmed in our off-season testing." The change to the Lola prompted a busy off season as drivers, engineers and mechanics all came to terms with the new chassis. "With the reduction in testing we certainly didn't do ourselves any favors in switching chassis," said Brack. "There is a steep learning curve with a new chassis, but after talking with Bobby I was confident that this was the right move and that it would pay off for us in the long run. We have a lot of depth at Team Rahal and that depth has helped us make significant progress with each test."
Rahal ready for his second season opener
Bobby Rahal's expanded 2001 race season is already under way. Last week in Australia, his debut race as CEO of Jaguar Racing, Rahal saw his F1 team net an 8th and an 11th place results. Luciano Burti drove his Jaguar to eighth place after starting twenty-first, while veteran Eddie Irvine finished eleventh. "Our cars were reliable on Sunday, apart from a fuel pickup problem on one of the cars," said Rahal. "The biggest thing that hurt us was both cars being at the end of line after the first lap which made it very hard to comeback. The cars went well and we benefited from the high attrition rate in the race. From here we need to step up the pace and work relentlessly in an effort to move this team forward." Rahal will be in attendance at the Grand Prix of Monterrey this weekend, and he is excited about the outlook for Team Rahal in 2001. "We have assembled what we feel is a championship combination with the Ford-Cosworth engine, the Lola chassis and Firestone tires. We felt the move to Lola would give us an advantage and what we have learned in off season testing has verified our hunch. Max and Kenny have proven that they are capable of running competitively on any type of course and that we feel will put them in the championship picture this season."