300 at Laguna Seca
Autocourse CART Yearbook 1999-2000
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Other's by Dan
This is my 9th 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.
It is always exciting to see the race at Laguna Seca each year. Like many avid fans, I won't forget "the pass". And like many of you I was happy to see Forsythe decide to bring Brian Herta out to run with this years-regular participants. It would have been an injustice to Herta had he not been able to defend his 2-years of race victories (I should say dominance). With all that said, I can't help but look at the Penske duo run away from the rest of the field and consider who is in the co-captains chair. That man is Tim Cindric who used to be at Rahal last year. Hmmm…Rahal…Herta…dominance…Penske…dominance. Coincidence? One thing is for sure, 23 other drivers had their work cut out for them.
The past few races were light in terms of new external developments. Laguna gave us a look at a new PacWest and Penske development. Both of these teams work heavily on modifying their Reynards. The sidepod both at the top and bottom of the radiator inlet of the PacWest Reynards are now sporting a leading edge extending further forward. This design is similar to that employed on the 1999 Swift. This is dramatically different to the clean inlet design of the Penske-Reynard and is an exaggerated version of what the "stock" Reynards carry. The next piece of aero-tweaking I noticed was on the Penske. Just below the sidepod winglet is a small directional piece that extends from the bottom of the pod up about halfway in the direction of the rear wheels. I am not an aerodynamicist by any stretch of the imagination but I think that Penske is trying to manage the airflow around the rear tires. I am just perplexed by the PacWest development.
While these are external developments, there are very distinct differences in the way the Reynards put the power down compared to the Lolas. Particularly, off of the slower corners such as final hairpin onto the pit straight and the double apex turn 2, the Reynards blast off and leave the Lolas trying to control the wheel spin. I am not sure if this is a measure of chassis or a measure of engine management. I am more inclined to say that this is chassis. Vasser made a run on Servia going into turn 2 and pulls off the pass but is evidently unable to put the power down and Servia retakes the position. Here is an example of 2 Toyotas, but the Reynard is the one that shows real form. Honda certainly has an impressive road course record. This weekend adds to that record with Honda qualifying and finishing 1-2-3. Again, we cannot disregard the fact that the Honda is powering a Reynard.
'I think that it is important to look at the last couple of races for Michael Andretti. Both in Vancouver and Laguna, Andretti and the Newman-Haas team played an extremely conservative race strategy. This is not going to bring Michael his second championship. There are six guys all within striking distance of taking the points lead at any given race weekend. Not to mention that in addition to the 2 ovals there are 2 street courses remaining and it appears that the Penske's, the Reynard's, and Honda's have the keys to those venues. Michael needs to let loose some of his famous aggression and start pushing harder.
Speaking of aggression, where happened to Moreno? His trademark coolness heated up with a 2-lap tussle with Max Papis culminating in Moreno spinning out and parking against the wall. This is a shame given what a phenomenal year he has had in his first full time competitive ride in Champcars. Luckily, Moreno remains in contention for the points lead. However, he cannot afford not to score in the remaining 4 races.
I am glad to see that 19 of the 26 cars that started the race made it to the checkered flag. But, this wasn't one of the most exciting races this season. The top four starters were the top four finishers. And with the exception of Montoya and Brack swapping places the top 7 finished in the order they qualified. It's a shame that such an exciting points race is bogged by a CART parade such as this one.
1st place: Helio Castroneves puts in another tremendous drive and takes victory. We knew that given the right opportunity Helio would show us his tremendous talent. Some bad racing luck has robbed him of a position higher on the points list. This was Helio's race without a doubt. De Ferran never really had anything to make a run for the lead.
2nd place: Gil de Ferran runs another smart race. While it was a smart race, it wasn't an overly conservative effort on his part. I believe that de Ferran held on and he knew that Franchitti couldn't catch him. This second place along with Andretti's 14th place finish moves de Ferran into the lead in the championship race. Gil has his work cut out in the next 4 races. Tracy, Andretti, Fernandez(?) and Moreno want to get back to the top and Brack is hoping to spoil the party.
3rd place: Dario Franchitti may finally have gotten back on his game. Unfortunately, there are only 4 races left. Fortunately, Dario can still salvage a top 10 finish to an otherwise dismal season.
Brian Herta is amazing at Laguna Seca. This is no more obvious given that with the exception a few substitution roles this season Brian has essentially been on sabbatical. It is unfortunate that Brian wasn't able to run this season regularly. What tremendous irony that Brian ran the race with the Shell car in his mirrors.
This year started horribly for Oriol Servia this year. In fact, I may have suggested that he was a waste of perfectly good sponsorship. Boy was I wrong. He has really come on in since his podium at Detroit. I am glad because I have always admired the perseverance of Cal Wells and the PPI team. With all the rumors abound about the future of PPI's CART program and where de Matta is heading, I would like to see this team remain intact.
1997 was a breakthrough year for PacWest. Both Gugelmin and Blundell brought home victory for the first time while helping take Mercedes to the manufactures championship. A lot has happened in the last 3 years including lagging seriously behind the other manufactures along with losing their flagship team, Marlboro Team Penske. But, with all that is happening in the House of PacWest, Gugelmin has managed to consistently be the Mercedes top performer consistently. This is not a put down on Blundell rather it is recognition to Gugelmin who has decided to make lemonade out of one big lemon of a season.
Finally, we should mention Reynard for capturing their 6th consecutive Constructors Championship. This is a tremendous accomplishment this year with the competition from Lola.
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