CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Rahal Motegi weekend notes

Thursday, May 11, 2000 ...

Thursday, May 11, 2000

#7 Max Papis - Miller Lite Ford Cosworth/Reynard

Papis and the Miller Lite crew ran among the leaders in the opening practice session despite fighting some wicked understeer. The Miller car finished tenth in the morning with a fast lap of 207.486 mph. Papis improved in the afternoon turning a lap of 211.099 mph, which left him seventh overall for the day.

"It is nice to be back in Japan after racing here earlier in my career in Formula Three," said Papis. "As for our day on the track our car is not in Kenny's class but we are improving. The car had some understeer in the morning session. We were able to work on the race setup this afternoon and that will help us come Saturday. We need a little bit more speed for qualifying on Friday afternoon. Last year we were third in qualifying so we know what we have to do to be successful here."

#8 Kenny Brack - Shell Ford Cosworth/Reynard

Brack set the pace through the opening day of practice for the Firestone Firehawk 500 posting the fast lap in the morning session at 211.123 mph. Through the chaotic afternoon session, which saw several lengthy caution periods, Brack remained among the leaders and he finally posted the fast lap of the day at 213.885 mph late in the session.

"It's very early in the weekend but I would rather be at the top of the list than at the bottom," said Brack. "This is the first time this year that we haven't had a problem on the first day of a race weekend. Obviously this is only practice and the most important moment of the weekend comes on the last lap of the race. A lot of things can change over the next two days but I feel pretty good about how the weekend has started. This is a fantastic facility and the track is a lot of fun. We spent the bulk of the afternoon session working on our race set-up and we found the Firestone tires were quite durable and that allowed us to run some consistently fast laps on some older tires. I think we have a good base for our qualifying run."

"We primarily worked on getting a baseline with the chassis today," said Brack. "The wind was a big factor in how the car handled. The wind caused the car to push entering the turns and it caused it to be loose leaving the turns. Still the team is working very well. We spent the day running on old tires and full tanks working on our race setup. We are not where we sant to be right now but we are getting there. When you are battling wind like today it is a fine line. When you add in green track conditions like we had this morning you end up with a lot of sliding around."

Friday, May 12th

#7 Max Papis - Miller Lite Ford Cosworth/Reynard

Papis continued the fine tuning process in the morning session running middle of the pack for the majority of the session as the team focused on the race set-up. Late in the session as the team began the speed runs, Papis experienced problems with the engine on his primary car. With less than ten minutes in the session, the Miller Lite crew rolled out the back-up car and Papis posted his fast lap of the morning at 26.601 sec/209.631 mph.

Because of the problems with the primary car Papis morning speed was the marker which counted for qualifying and that ranked him in the middle of the qualifying order. The afternoon qualifying session was held under heavy clouds, cooling temperatures and increasing winds, in short radically different weather than the previous three practices. Papis qualifying effort finished 12th overall at 26.732 sec/208.604 mph.

"The wind was a factor for me on the qualifying run," said Papis. "The car actually felt better today than last year when we qualified third. However we lost a lot of time entering turns one and two. It felt like someone was pulling a hand brake. I am really puzzled by the run because the car felt really good through those corners. We have had to come from behind before and I think we can do it again here."

Papis Notable: Papis has 12 career top-five results, eight of which have come when he started in 11th or higher. That includes the 2000 CART opener at Miami where he started 13th and won the race.

#8 Kenny Brack - Shell Ford Cosworth/Reynard

Pardon Kenny Brack if he wanted to skip Friday's from now until the end of time. At each of the previous four CART events, Friday has had a way of testing Brack and the Shell team's patience. Friday at Motegi would be no different.

Brack continued to run fast in the morning session posting a lap of 26.113 sec/213.549 mph. The only other driver to post a 26.1 was defending CART champion Juan Montoya. Having posted the fastest lap of the weekend practice Brack was the last driver to take the track for qualifying.

The afternoon session's weather conditions held the times in check, still when Brack took the track Montoya held the pole (26.237 sec) followed by Vasser (26.455 sec). Brack clicked off impressive warm-up laps with his final pre-qualifying lap being quick enough he would have secured the sixth spot on the grid. As Brack took the green flag for his qualifying attempt, his engine expired in a trail of smoke.

Brack wisely steered the car to the top of the track out of the racing line. The Shell crew sprang into action pulling out the back-up car while Brack got a lift from CART safety to the pits. Brack's engine expired with 15 minutes remaining in the qualifying session. Brack reached the pits with six minutes remaining. With less than two minutes till the session would end, Brack's yellow, red and white Shell car rolled onto the track. Because he has taken the green on his first attempt, Brack could warm-up the car, but would only be allowed one timed lap. All Brack did was manage to post the second fastest qualifying lap at 26.393 sec/211.283 mph. The position on the grid was remarkable considering the tight timeframe under which the initial accident took place."

"I guess Friday just isn't our day," said Brack. "We haven't had good luck on a single Friday all season long. The Shell crew did a fantastic job getting the back-up car ready. I had a feeling in the morning session that something might go wrong with the engine, but we didn't have time to change it out. You can never give up and my Shell team didn't. I really wish we would have had time to put on a fresh set of Firestone tires on my second qualifying run. We made the run with used tires. That speaks volumes about the quality of the Firestone Firehawk that I could take a used set and still nearly put the car on pole position. We can put the problems of Friday behind us and focus on Saturday. Saturday has been a great day for us at each stop this season so since we kept the Friday luck alive I want to keep the Saturday karma alive as well. Finally we can prepare for the race."

Brack Notable: Brack has never posted a pole position in Indy/Champ Car racing. Kenny's last pole position came at Silverstone in 1996 when he was racing Formula 3000.

Saturday, May 13th

The scheduled start of the Firestone Firehawk 500 was delayed by intermittent showers throughout the morning and afternoon. Following a shortened morning warm-up of 15 minutes the cars were placed on the grid and the race was ready to begin. Just moments before the command to start engines was to be given the skies opened and the rains began falling again. At 3:00 PM the race was officially postponed until Sunday morning at 11:30 AM.

Sunday, May 14th

Heavy clouds and the threat of rain hung over Motegi on Sunday morning and the forecast was ominous, but by 11:00 AM the skies had cleared and bright sunshine was basking the Twin Ring Motegi complex.

The field of 25 took the green flag behind the pole sitter Juan Montoya and Kenny Brack. Montoya took the lead into turn one with Brack falling into second place. On the start Michael Andretti took the high line and drove from eighth to third past Vasser, Moreno, de Ferran, Fittipaldi and Gugelmin. Papis started 12th and moved to ninth on the opening lap. As the back of the field crossed the starting line, rookie Oriol Servia spun bringing the first caution flag of the day.

On lap seven the field went green with Montoya leading Brack and Andretti. Papis continued to run in the top-ten shuffling between eighth and tenth. The early story of the race proved to be the blistering pace Montoya set as the leader. By lap 20 Montoya had built a nearly five second advantage over the second place Shell car of Kenny Brack. By lap 30 the lead was over seven seconds. Montoya would carry the race lead into the first round of pit stops.

As the first round of stops approached Brack and Papis called to the pits with their adjustments to the car. Both drivers were reporting problems with push. Brack had in fact already addressed some of the problem by using the weight jacker in the Shell car while Papis was asking for more front wing.

The first round of stops was triggered by the second caution of the day when debris was spotted on the Motegi track.

Both Brack and Papis rolled into the pits with the leaders. Brack entered the pits in second and would exit in sixth while Papis entered in tenth and exited in 14th.

As the race went green on lap 39 the running order was Montoya as the leader followed by Vasser, Andretti and Moreno. Brack was sixth and Papis 14th. Under green flag conditions, Brack reported a bigger push in the car. As he tried to adjust the weight jacker the device failed to move. Brack couldn't adjust the weight jacker and was basically locked into the current set-up for the duration of the race.

Papis found that the car was running much better and he turned some of his best laps of the race during this segment.

On lap 78 just prior to the second round of pit stops Montoya led Vasser, Andretti and Moreno. Brack was running sixth and Papis 13th.

On lap 79 Mark Blundell made light contact with the outside wall bringing out the third caution of the day.

Trying to address the push, Brack's crew added extra front wing to the car. Papis' crew lowered the pressure in the front tires to address a push the Miller car was now fighting in traffic.

Brack entered the pits in sixth place and left in seventh. Papis entered in 13th and left in 12th. Immediately Brack called back to report the changes had made the car looser. Without the ability to adjust the weight jacker, Brack's car would run the range of conditions. With full fuel the car would be very loose. Near the middle of the run the car was neutral and by the end of the run it was pushing very badly. Brack knew he was in for a fight but the feisty Swede battled on.

When the race went green on lap 85, Montoya led Vasser, Moreno and Andretti. Brack was now seventh and Papis 12th.

Over the next few laps Brack really battled with the car. By lap 90 Brack was tenth having lost ground while adjusting to the problems with the car. Papis was now running 13th at near the back of the lead lap. For Papis the challenge was now to stay on the lead lap.

At the halfway point of the race, lap 101, Montoya was leading by four seconds over his teammate Vasser. Brack was tenth and Papis was 13th. The hard charger on the track during this segment was Dario Franchitti who picked up six spots (14th to 8th) in just 15 laps.

On lap 125 Montoya led Vasser and Andretti with Brack and Papis still holding tenth and 13th. However one lap later Vasser car began to smoke and he retired from the race with mechanical problems.

Brack and Papis pitted on laps 128 and 129 respectively. Brack dropped to 13th while Papis moved to 12th on the stops. In reality the Team Rahal cars had gained track position although it wouldn't be in evidence for several laps till all the stops were completed.

With the third round of pit stops, Montoya finally relinquished the lead on lap 133 when he pitted under the green. Adrian Fernandez took the lead for three laps till he pitted and Montoya reclaimed the lead.

With the field all having pitted, the order on lap 140 was Montoya as the leader followed by Andretti, Franchitti, Moreno and Fittipaldi. Papis was ninth and Brack tenth.

That order would hold for ten laps till Brack would pass Papis for ninth and Cristiano da Matta would claim fifth from Fittipaldi.

On lap 159 Papis finally lost the battle with Montoya to stay on the lead lap. Although he fell a lap down, Papis still continued to run some strong laps even with the car's handling problems.

On lap 167 Brack moved to eighth and Papis to ninth when Tony Kanaan slowed on the course falling form the top-ten.

The caution flag came out on lap 171 when Blundell spun in turn two. Team Rahal decided to short fuel both cars and not change the tires. As a result both car gained spots in the pits. Brack entered in eighth and left in sixth while Papis picked up a spot to eighth.

Montoya pitted at the same time and was able to enter and leave the pits as the leader. However during the fueling of the car, the electrical lead for the turbo boost was knocked off and Montoya was forced to pit again to fix the problem. As a result Montoya handed the lead to Andretti. Brack claimed fifth in the shuffle, a remarkable advancement considering the problems he was having with his car.

The race went green on lap 178 and the order would remain locked over the last 23 laps. Andretti held on to the lead for his 39th Champ Car victory. Dario Franchitti finished second and Roberto Moreno third. Brack posted his first CART top-five result and Papis collected five points for an eighth place finish.

"My Miller crew did an outstanding job for me today," said Papis who is now fourth in the CART season points with 25. "Our pit stops were good, especially the last one. We had some problems with the car in traffic. I couldn't turn the car smoothly in the corners. It wanted to go straight to the fence. I was able to run some good laps in the middle of the fuel runs, but the front end pushed too much. This is one of those days where we have to be happy with the points we collected."

"We took a tenth place car and finished fifth," said Brack. "We lost the weight jacker and that didn't allow me to make any driver adjustments to the car. That is why we lost so much ground during the middle of the race. We would start each fuel run very loose and end up with a wicked push. It made for a long day. The car was so sensitive to a wing change that every small adjustment felt like an extreme change. The key to our top-five finish was the fact we could short fuel and keep the same Firestone tires on the car during the last stop. My crew did a great job to get us into the top-five. We ended up running 80 laps on the last set up tires which is incredible."

Team owner Bobby Rahal praised both drivers in the aftermath of the race. "What a gutsy performance by both Kenny and Max," said Rahal. "They took cars that were not the best and managed to produce top-eight results. That is a testament to their determination and their abilities." Team Rahal will return to the United States and prepare for the next stop of the FedEx Championship Series the rescheduled race at Nazareth on May 27th. Brack will start sixth at Nazareth and Papis 16th.

Team Rahal Notes:

* Max Papis and Kenny Brack taped ESPN segment in Tokyo and Motegi for Papis' weekly RPM2Night segment.

* Bobby Rahal, Max Papis and Kenny Brack as well as crewmembers from both the Shell and Miller teams attended a welcome reception hosted by Firestone at the Twin Ring Motegi Hotel on Wednesday evening.

* Prior to the Thursday morning practice at Motegi, CART ran an extra 15-minute practice so that the crew filming the movie "Champs" was on track shooting footage for use in the upcoming movie.

* Customers and clients from Miller Brewing International, Timken and Hewlett Packard all toured the Team Rahal garage and pits on Saturday at the track.

* CART conducted a pair of all driver autograph sessions on Friday and Saturday, which was a success drawing thousands of fans for autographs.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Mark Blundell , Cristiano da Matta