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Inside CART

Michigan 500
Dan Maldonado
Race Date: July 23, 2000
250 Laps
500 miles
2000 Race Winner: Juan Montoya


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Other's by Dan

This is my fifth 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...

Our first 500 mile race and what a great one. Racing was as good as we have come to expect with the Handford device at Michigan. There were a lot of lead changes both officially (52) and unofficially (162). I had the opportunity to watch the race in the stands this weekend and I spent the first 10 laps or so on my feet. I kept looking at the scoring pylon to see how many laps had been run expecting the race to settle into some kind of pace. Well, as it turns out the pace would be blistering. The first 20% of the race averaged in the 220's. That is fast.

Like we have seen so many times this season, fuel would play a crucial element in this race. Never in my experience as a spectator have I heard or seen team managers advise their drivers not to lead over the radios. As I listened on the scanner, the call from the pits was to follow. The lead driver was using more fuel staying out front then the drivers who followed.  Lately, we have heard a lot about CART wanting to reduce engine output in an effort to help improve the racing, but we don't hear as much about the possibility of taking the fuel control out of the cockpit. I believe that CART should look at that as an option to improving the action on the track.

There needs to be something said about Cristiano da Matta. This guy was there in the hunt, like other recent races. He wasn't leading but that was the point of this race, to save the car. He was following and conserving the car while waiting to make his move. Unfortunately, an incident in the pit put him out of competition. 

Penske looked like he wanted to use the "Portland Maneuver" again this weekend with Castroneves. Helio started to pull away from the rest of the field. My thought was that once Helio was on the same side of the track as the rest of the field (but staring at them from behind) he would dash into the pit for a splash of fuel and take the victory if all else held together. Unfortunately, Christian's spin brought that strategy to an end. Interesting that Penske was calling the strategy for Castroneves this weekend. This year we have come to expect Tim Cindric on the radio with Helio and Roger on the radio with de Ferran. I did observe some chatter between de Ferran and Penske but only after the team became aware that some debris from the Fittipaldi/Brack incident had injured Gil.

You've got to feel for Alex Tagliani. The guy just radios to the pit telling them not to change a thing and that the car is great. Then he spins and tags (no pun intended) the wall coming out of turn 4. He just can't shake the black cloud that has been following him this season. He could have taken the victory lap a couple of times this season if it weren't for bad racing luck, or careless driving, however, you might classify it.

I would like to point out that the Player's team made a couple of interesting aerodynamic add-ons to their Ford-Reynards. First, they were again running the IRL-like side-pod winglet. This winglet extends downward as well as contoured in front of the rear wheels. Second, they added the "shark-fin" to the top of the engine cowling. I imagine that this also helps settle the rear of the car. Could it be that Players had trouble with stabilizing the rear of the car? Could that have led to Tagliani's spin? We'll never know for sure, but interesting nonetheless. 

On Friday, I noticed that Team Rahal was running the more traditional side-pod winglet on the track. However, at the conclusion of CART activities for Friday I noticed that the team was removing them in favor of the slimmer more contoured winglet that most of the other Reynard teams were running. I'm not an aerodynamicist but I would think that the first wing produced more drag; and drag is not something you want at Michigan. 

Brack certainly looked poised to contend for the win but was involved in an incident with Christian Fittipaldi. I've had a few days in between the race and this article and I am now aware that other drivers felt that Christian was being a little too aggressive. I couldn't observe that from where I was seated in the stands nor could I really observe that from the tape. However, the first thing that came to mind during Christian's spin is that he pulled out to make a pass too aggressively and broke the car loose due to his own over-zealous steering input. Of course, Christian entertained the possibility of contact during his interview. 

Podium…

1st Place: Juan Montoya. Another great run from Juan and Toyota. He drove a smart race and kept in contention. His pit stops were incredibly fast. This is only his second victory this season. But what a race to win for Toyota. Power, reliability and race luck was on his side. 

2nd Place: Michael Andretti. In the closing laps I really thought Michael was going to take his 3rd Michigan victory and his 3rd victory this season. It didn't look to me that Michael had enough to really push ahead of Juan. And, it was anyone's guess as to where Marques would position himself with the leaders running him down. 

3rd Place: Dario Franchitti. A noble victory for this years dark cloud. Dario has yet to show us what took him to a tie for the championship last year. Admittedly, Dario shows well on the road-courses and we are now into that part of the season. But, I believe this year has been loaded with distractions. First, the injury at spring training took him out of the car during what little testing they are allowed. Dario and Paul Tracy's driving style differ greatly and that didn't help Dario when it came to race set-ups. Second the business of Dario relocating to F1. I say if he's going, have a good one; if he's staying, evaluate your choices and make a decision. 

Honorable Mention…

Memo Gidley. This guy carries his seat in his pick-up and is ready to go at the drop of a hat. He showed a veteren's prowess at Michigan and it is only natural that Della Penna would decide to take him to Chicago. 

Toyota for winning their first ever 500 mile race. We cannot discount just how big a victory this is for them. Power and reliability is key to winning a 500 mile race and that wasn't something we were accustomed to seeing from Toyota in the past several years. 

Adrian Fernandez for enduring the wind coming through the nose of his Reynard. I wrote him off after he spun coming out of the pits. But, I should have known that he is always a front-runner at Michigan. 

And Finally to Tarso Marques, hell you have to mention the guy. He had a battling Montoya and Andretti running up his rear-wing on their way to the checkered flag. 

The series is on it's way to Chicago where we saw some excellent racing last year. Montoya has momentum coming off his victory. Remember that he followed up that other 500-mile victory with a victory at Milwaukee. We'll see if he can do it again.

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