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Inside CART

Target Grand Prix of Chicago
Dan Maldonado
Race Date: July 30, 2000
225 Laps
225 miles
2000 Race Winner: Cristiano da Matta


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Other's by Dan

This is my sixth in a continuing series of articles that take a different perspective on races, i.e. what happened that others might have overlooked. Check back with AutoRacing1.com the week following every race for my latest article.

Misc. Ramblings...

When the series left the high banks at Michigan I had to ask myself if CART could follow-up such an exciting race when they got to Chicago. Of course we all remember what an exciting event Chicago was last year. Deserved kudos to Target and Chip Ganassi for promoting such a great event last year's inaugural running. A great event I expected this year but what about a great race? After all, I was in the stands at Michigan and that excitement still courses through my veins.

I couldn't help but close my eyes and shake my head when Papis would fall out of the race at the opening lap with yet another DNF for Max. Seven DNF's this year for Max.  I expected good things after his first win at Homestead this year. However, it was a clean start for the rest of the field. I was particularly curious about the aggressiveness against each other the two Player's cars were showing in the opening laps. They were indeed strong but we all know what can happen to teammates when they race each other aggressively. Later in this very race we see Team Kool Green enter a corner too aggressively racing each other and both crashed out. More on that later. 

It's good to see Tony Kanaan running strong in the opening laps of Chicago. They have struggled to live up to all the preseason hype. Perhaps this is due in part to a Mercedes program that is coming on slowly this year. I would have expected to see them make gains in power by this point of the season. Unfortunately, just when it looks like reliability is under control, Blundell blows a motor in the morning warm-up and again after the first 18 laps of the race. I have to offer my compliments to Blundell for diplomatically trying to explain his frustration with his team's engine program. 

Chicago had it's fair share of engine difficulties. Papis falling out with a burning Ford Cosworth before running a lap under green. Then the engine woes of Mark Blundell. Then the Honda of Castroneves blows spectacularly. It wasn't long ago when teams could plan pit strategy around a Toyota engine failure. Now, who's laughing?

Tarso Marques played perhaps a controversial role in last week's Michigan 500. He chose to move high and that gave an advantage to Montoya as well as giving Montoya the win. Today, Marques plays a slightly different role. While running 5th Marques is shown the black flag from the flag stand. This effectively tells Marques, who by the way IS RACING for position with Montoya, to move over. I couldn't discern any unusual blocking maneuvers on the part of Marques. In fact, I felt that Marques was running a tremendous race and was certainly faster than Montoya. Chip told Montoya to use the over take button and was still having trouble getting around. 

Now, let's talk about the Team Kool Green drivers. We have seen them take each other out of competition in the past. There was an incident at Houston 2 years ago and last year who could forget what happened in St. Louis? This time I am having a hard time placing blame on anything other than a "racing incident". Paul had a good head of steam and Franchitti went low into the turn. It's easy to rush to blame Paul because we have seen this kind of behavior in the past. Parker made a great point during the broadcast when he said that teammates are competitive in that they are theoretically driving matched equipment. 

Kenny Brack had what could easily have been his best race to date. Unfortunately, he stalled it in the pits. He came in while leading and left in 16th place. What a shame. There is no doubt that Brack will be one to watch. 

Attrition was really the word of the day. Eleven cars finished the race. That is an astounding dropout rate for CART these days. I couldn't help but wonder if the failures were a result of such a grueling stretch of runs. Chicago represented the 3rd race in as many weeks. That puts a lot of pressure on the teams for sure but what we might fail to realize is the pressure on the suppliers. Additionally, the competition among the engine suppliers this year might be the fiercest we have seen in a long time. Therefore, they could be pushing their development. Nonetheless, it was in my eyes an outstanding race and a worthy follow-up to Michigan.

Podium…

1st place: Cristiano da Matta - easily handled the field after Montoya dropped out with an engine failure. He managed to hold off a charging Michael Andretti with the skill of a veteran. I have been following this young man all year with great anticipation and I am not surprised to see this victory. Cal Wells and PPI are a good team and by remaining loyal to Toyota it paid off in their first win in CART competition. There were a lot of lows in this program but all that seems insignificant after such a great win. 

2nd Place: Michael Andretti - what more can be said about the veteran driver from Pennsylvania? This year has seen resurgence in competitiveness on the part of Michael Andretti and Newman-Haas. The Lola chassis seamed like a bold gamble last year when we heard the announcement but now it seems like a key move that may lead Michael to his 2nd championship.

3rd Place: Gil de Ferran brings his Penske-Reynard home in a respectable position. After suffering the broken finger at Michigan and surviving a tough race of attrition, Gil brings a healthy handful of points home for his team. 

Honorable Mention…

Gil de Ferran showed why he has been called the professor. I know he doesn't like the term but he intelligently and patiently made his way through the field and brought home a bunch of points. From the beginning of the season Gil has been on a mission and has been consistently fast regardless of the circuit. 

Patrick Racing looked as if they would be the sleeper championship contenders this season. Adrian took victory in Rio and Moreno took an emotional first victory with a dominating performance in Cleveland. Then the luck ran out. Moreno hasn't been able to defend his position atop the points championship and Adrian stalled halfway up the mountain. I think with this weekends 5th and 6th place finish their luck might be turning around. 

Christian Fittipaldi has endured some tough breaks the past several seasons. Unfortunately, he adds yet another concussion to his medical file. He deserves mention.

Memo Gidley survived a tangle with Gaulter Salles to bring home another 10th place finish for Della Penna. Additionally, Memo brings himself home an opportunity to drive the Direct TV Toyota-Reynard for the remainder of the season. This guy is good.

After a much needed weekend off the series continues with round 13 at Mid-Ohio. This represents the second natural terrain road course of the season. I expect the Penske team to run strong but I expect Michael to try to expand his lead in the championship points. Also, Roberto ran strong in Portland but couldn't catch a break behind some backmarkers. The points race is still wide open and the competitors know that. I look for the excitement to continue at Mid-Ohio. 

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