CART FedEx Championship Series enters second half of 2002 campaign with Cristiano da Matta leading field to Vancouver streets. INDIANAPOLIS (July 23, 2002) - The first half of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season has been a tour de...
CART FedEx Championship Series enters second half of 2002 campaign with Cristiano da Matta leading field to Vancouver streets.
INDIANAPOLIS (July 23, 2002) - The first half of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season has been a tour de force for Cristiano da Matta (#6 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) but the rest of the championship contenders will be looking for a chance to make some gains on the always unpredictable Concord Pacific Place streets of Vancouver, British Columbia this weekend.
The series makes the halfway turn Sunday at the Molson Indy Vancouver, the second of three Canadian stops for the Champ Cars as the field will be looking to cut into the 50-point lead fashioned by da Matta over the first nine races. The Newman/Haas driver built his lead on the strength of five race wins, including a record-tying streak of four in a row which was ended two weeks ago in Cleveland.
The field will look to the 1.781-mile street course to even the score this weekend, a task that the Vancouver layout has taken to well after being dominated by a pair of drivers in its first seven seasons. Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Al Unser Jr. were the only drivers to win in the first seven years of the event, Unser winning four times with Andretti taking three race titles.
That streak would end with Andretti's 1996 win however, as the 1997 victory by Mauricio Gugelmin started a run of first-time Vancouver winners that has yet to be stopped. Roberto Moreno took advantage of superior fuel mileage to continue that streak last season, claiming his second career win ahead of Gil de Ferran.
Andretti will be looking to use his previous success in Vancouver to build on his second-place run in Cleveland as CART's all-time victory leader tries to stay in the title hunt but this year's race will hold a special place in the Andretti annals not only because of his previous victories, but because this will be the landmark 300th Champ Car start of Andretti's illustrious career. The polewinner in each of the series' first three Vancouver visits, Andretti turned two of those qualifying efforts into victories (1991-92) and capped that with another win in '96. The 1991 CART champion has earned three other Vancouver podiums to go with his three wins, twice finishing as the runner-up along with taking the third spot in last year's event.
There would seem to be plenty of contenders to da Matta's throne as the series heads to the Pacific Northwest with 10 drivers within 20 points of each other as they jostle for position behind the series leader. Native Canadian Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) will be looking for his first Vancouver win and will have throngs of fans following his every move as the home country Player's/Forsythe squad seeks its first victory on the Pacific Place streets.
The winner of the series' most recent event in Cleveland, Carpentier nearly tasted home-turf glory in 1999 in finishing second to Juan Montoya, and started on the outside of an all-Player's front row last season. The Cleveland win propelled Carpentier to a tie for fourth in the standings, just eight points behind Brazilian sophomore driver Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone).
The holder of the inside spot on last year's front row had the hometown fans on their feet for most of the day as Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) led the first 68 laps of the event as he chased his first career CART victory before falling out with a mechanical problem. Tagliani will look to even the score this weekend and rides into Vancouver on the strength of five consecutive points-paying finishes, which have vaulted him into a three-way tie for eighth in the points.
Looking to erase the sting of two straight scoreless runs and heading to a track where he has tasted previous success, Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) will be on the chase to repeat his 1998 Vancouver victory this weekend. Holding down the third position in the series standings, Franchitti is one of just three drivers (Andretti, Alex Zanardi) to have won two Vancouver poles and has been in the points in each of his last four visits.
Franchitti's Team Green stablemate Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) also has a Vancouver win to his credit, having taken the checkered flag in 2000, but the Pacific Place layout has been unusually fraught with peril for the Canadian driver as he has finished no better than eighth in any of his other 10 Vancouver starts and has left the track scoreless in seven of his 10 previous trips.
Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) has begun his push to the top of the standings after failing to finish in four of his first seven starts in his new Target Chip Ganassi Racing ride. The 2001 series runner-up took the second spot at Toronto and followed that with a fourth-place run at Cleveland, moving him into the sixth spot in the championship chase, just 10 points behind second-placed Junqueira.
Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) remains as the most consistent driver in the series this season and is still the only driver to have finished every race this season. Jourdain is the first driver since Raul Boesel in 1993 to open his season with nine consecutive points-paying finishes and is coming off a sixth-place run in Vancouver last season that was his highest-ever road or street course finish to that point in his career.
A pair of Japanese drivers will be making the Vancouver trip in hopes of continuing what has been their strongest Champ Car seasons to date. Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) has already eclipsed his point total from the entire 2001 season and is on a three-race scoring streak that includes a fourth-place run in Chicago. Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) has put together four straight points-paying finishes including a career-best fifth at Chicago and has more points this season (31) than he had earned in his first two CART seasons combined (23).
Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) will be making his return to the series as he takes over the Patrick Racing ride for the next five races. The Spaniard scored championship points in all three starts this season, capped by a season-high sixth-place run at Motegi. He has scored in each of his two previous Vancouver starts including a fifth-place finish last season with Sigma Autosport.
The weekend opens with practice on Friday morning at 10:00 a.m. followed by provisional qualifying at 2:10 p.m. Saturday starts with a 10:00 a.m. practice with the final grid set by another qualifying session at 1:45 p.m. The Molson Indy Vancouver will take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel, as will each of the two qualifying sessions.
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART Champ Cars are thoroughbred racing machines that travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, showcasing the technical expertise of manufacturers such as American Honda, Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Lola Cars, Reynard Motorsport and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC. The 19-race 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series will be broadcast by new television partners, CBS, FOX and SPEED Channel. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Learn more about CART's open-wheel racing series at www.CART.com.