CHAMPCAR/CART: Vancouver - da Matta again or some else?

Molson Indy Vancouver Cristiano da Matta didn't actually win the last race at Cleveland, but his rivals will be more than aware that the Newman/Haas driver could have won the event if it were not for mechanical problems that forced him to retire...

Molson Indy Vancouver
Cristiano da Matta didn't actually win the last race at Cleveland, but his rivals will be more than aware that the Newman/Haas driver could have won the event if it were not for mechanical problems that forced him to retire after 21-laps. Such had been the Brazilian's dominance so far in 2002; he now heads the championship by no less than 50 points from countryman Bruno Junqueira.

Normally a failure to finish would be punished heavily, but da Matta's luck continued at Cleveland as none of his major championship rivals made the checkered flag either. Bruno Junqueira and Dario Franchitti both failed to finish, thus leaving da Matta with his handy 50-points cushion heading to the 100-lap Molson Indy Vancouver.

One year ago, Roberto Moreno made the headlines after pulling off a well deserved but surprising win around the streets of Vancouver. The popular Brazilian, now without a drive after being dropped by Patrick racing, must have fancied stepping back into the Patrick Team should they opt to rest the talented but erratic Townsend Bell. Sadly for Moreno and his fans the quest for a drive in CART continues as the news broke that Patrick Racing had indeed dropped Bell, but replaced him with former PWR runner Oriol Servia.

With Bell on the bench for the next five races, Servia returns to the championship after an enforced lay off since PWR closed their doors. With no testing under his belt, Servia faces a steep learning curve with Patrick at this particularly tricky 1.781-mile street course.

Patrick Carpentier heads to one of his three home events, keen to duplicate his Cleveland victory with Team Players. Carpentier has also been making the headlines regarding his future with team Players, but hopes he can remain with the team that has been home for so many years. The Canadian finished second to Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999 at Vancouver while teammate Alex Tagliani was almost certainly robbed of his first win at Vancouver last year as he led the first 68-laps before mechanical problems ruined his day. Still chasing his first win in CART, Tagliani will have plenty of home support again this weekend.

The third Canadian in the field is Paul Tracy. His Team KOOL Green setup was subject of much rumor and speculation until this week when it was finally confirmed that Michael Andretti and friends have purchased the team. While Andretti and Co have yet to decide where to run next season, Tracy has made it very clear that he has little interest in running the IRL series and many expect Tracy to join countrymen Tagliani and Carpentier at Team Players next season. However, that is all in the future, and this weekend Tracy will be looking to get his championship on track and build on the momentum gained at Cleveland where he finished third behind Andretti and Carpentier.

Meanwhile, the boss, Michael Andretti that is, gets ready to start his 300th ChampCar race. Andretti has scored three wins at Vancouver, with the last victory coming back in 1996 while with Newman/Haas. The third Green car is that of Dario Franchitti who chased his teammate Paul Tracy across the line to finish second two years ago and, following his disappointing end to a great weekend at Cleveland, will be looking to gain ground on both da Matta and Junqueira in the championship standings.

Junqueira may not have had the pace to challenge for the race win at every circuit, but the Target Ganassi team have generally been close to the ultimate pace at each event this year. Junqueira is still chasing his second win of the season, while teammate Kenny Brack finished fourth last time at Cleveland and will be looking to close the gap to Junqueira in the championship. Scott Dixon has proved consistent in recent events, but does not seem to have the pace at this stage to challenge either Brack or Junqueira within the team.

Michel Jourdain Jr has dropped to fifth in the championship battle, but is just eight points behind second-placed Junqueira. The Rahal driver hasn't been particularly fast this year, but with just 18 cars starting each race points come his way if he stays out of trouble. He is the first driver since Raul Boesel in 1993 to open his season with nine consecutive points-paying finishes. Teammate Jimmy Vasser will be looking for more points after finishing in sixth position at Cleveland.

The Vancouver round of the CART championship promises a great deal, but with Traction Control being deemed legal this year passing will be very difficult, and the fastest guy in qualifying will stand a great chance of winning the race itself - assuming that he can keep the ChampCar off the walls. For da Matta, Vancouver presents yet another circuit tailor-made to suit his all-conquering Lola Toyota, while Players and Ford in particular will be aiming to stop the da Matta steamroller.

-Courtesy of CART-Racing.com

Earl Alexander - CART-Racing.com

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya