CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Rahal Track Talk for Long Beach

HERTA LOOKS TO DEFEND LONG BEACH POLE PAPIS AIMS TO CONTINUE STRONG START HILLIARD, OH . . . Bryan Herta will look to defend the first of three pole positions he captured last season when the FedEx Championship Series moves this week to the ...


HILLIARD, OH . . . Bryan Herta will look to defend the first of three pole positions he captured last season when the FedEx Championship Series moves this week to the streets for the 1999 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Herta finds himself in the same position as 1998 in that he enters Long Beach off a disappointing race in Japan due to mechanical problems.

"We [Team Rahal] enter Long Beach with a great deal of confidence," said Herta. "From the Shell team perspective, my engineer Ray Leto and I have found a niche where we can make good cars for the street/road courses. Our degree of comfort is quite high on these circuits because we know exactly what we are looking for and have had success in getting the car to perform as desired."

Team Rahal rebounded from problems at Motegi in 1998 to capture the front row at Long Beach with Herta on the pole and Bobby Rahal on the outside of row one. The clean sweep of the front row was the first time in 22 races that teammates had swept the front row of qualifying for a CART event.

Herta has prospered on CART's three California tracks, and the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach was the impetus that propelled him to his most successful season as a Champ Car driver. Herta appeared on his way to winning his first CART event last spring at Long Beach but the worn tires on his Shell Ford-Cosworth/Reynard couldn't withstand the charge of Alex Zanardi on fresh Firestone tires. Herta, who would capture his first CART win at Laguna Seca later in the 1998 season, had to settle for a third place finish at Long Beach, the first of his three podium appearances last season.

Herta has posted a points-paying finish in his last three races at Long Beach going from 12th in 1996 to sixth in 1997 to third last season. Could the trend of improving finishes continue for Herta?

Miller Lite driver Max Papis has not enjoyed the Long Beach circuit like Herta. In two races at the Southern California venue, Papis has had a horrible run of luck. In 1997 his race was limited to 39 laps with engine problems. Last year Papis was victimized by contact in turn one and saw his race limited to 37 laps.

Over the course of the 1998 season Papis picked up confidence on the road and street courses posting points in seven of his last nine road/street races resulting in Papis being named the Most Improved Driver by his peers. Papis feels that his early season success on the ovals of Miami and Japan signals that he is ready to compete on all courses.

"Long Beach is another opportunity for the Miller Lite team to build our confidence and consistency," said Papis. "We have had two very strong runs in Miami and Japan and have just begun to show the potential in the car. Team Rahal has an excellent record on the street and road courses so I expect well will be one of the strongest cars in the field at Long Beach."


Drivers, crews and fans will see a new and improved version of the Long Beach course for the 25th running of the Grand Prix. The course has been extended to include a series of turns around the new Aquarium of the Pacific following the Shoreline Drive straight.

"The first order of business on Friday will be to test the new part of the circuit and see if the set-up from last year is still valid," said Herta. "Computer simulations can indicate a lot of the information we need to gather for the run, but computers can't show you the bumps and the slippery patches on the track. There is no replacement for quality track time."


Team Rahal will conduct two days of testing at the Portland International Raceway on April 19 and 20. Bryan Herta and the Shell Ford-Cosworth/Reynard will conduct the tests on the 1.967-mile permanent road course.

"It is important to try to test on every track to re-evaluate the new car set-up against the data from the previous year," said Herta. "We had some success at Portland last year winning the pole and finishing third, and we hope that we can parlay last year's into success this season. One wild card about Portland is the weather. There is always the possibility of rain so it would actually be a blessing for us next week to get a little rain so we can practice our wet set-up."


The Bobby Rahal Foundation will make a charitable donation at Grand Prix of Long Beach to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach. The donation is part of the Foundation's season-long program of donations to worthwhile organizations in CART communities. The Bobby Rahal Foundation raised more than $400,000 during the 1998 FedEx Championship Series as part of "Rahal's Last Ride.


The second installment of Bryan Herta's diary of the 1999 FedEx Championship Series for USA Today Online is now on-line. Herta reviews the Shell car's run at Twin Ring Motegi and previews the race at Long Beach.

The Herta Files will appear after each race of the 1999 CART season.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta