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Inside CART

Miller Lite 225 at Milwaukee
Dan Maldonado

June 4, 2001

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Fresh off his Indy 500 victory, Helio Castroneves leads Cart to Milwaukee. Milwaukee has always been the following weekend after the 500. Last week, Juan Montoya was able to follow up his win at Indy with a win in Milwaukee. It looked to be a promising start to the race despite qualifying being rained out. Helio would line up outside row one. This is by virtue of his second place standing in the championship. Brack hot off his inaugural win in Japan lines up on the pole. 

One of the components to putting fans in the stands is putting out a great product. In this case, the product is racing. The run down to the first turn looked like great racing but was indeed a disagreement over real estate. Brack had it and Castroneves wanted it. Castroneves makes contact and spins. It looked as if Helio might catch the spin but instead caught the former points leader de Matta. Obviously, not the way Castroneves or Team Penske wanted to follow-up Indy. Not to mention the intense disappointment for de Matta who started the season strong by winning in Mexico and maintaining the championship lead until Japan. It's early still and the championship is far from being decided. Every point helps but it is too early to get down. 

There are two certainties in this year's championship. First, it is going to be close. This will not be a repeat of Zanardi winning the championship by August. Second, Brack is going to certainly figure in the fight. He has held the lead in all the 4 races thus far this year. His first Cart win coming in Japan is misleading as to how strong he has been. He seemingly has some luck on his side, finally.

Michael Andretti is a master of this tricky one-mile oval having won 5-times in the past. That is why it comes as no surprise that he pressured Brack like he did throughout. But it was just completely obvious that Michael just didn't have the car under him to mount a serious charge for the lead. Twice Michael found himself either in the lead or just ahead of Brack but twice lost the lead. It was obvious that Brack was able to run faster into the turns and was clearly able to get on the power sooner. 

The chassis story is heating up this year unlike years past. In the past, Reynard was THE chassis. Neither Penske nor Lola really had any way to get around Reynard. Now, Lola is showing strengths not just on the ovals but they have been strong on the road circuits. With the exception of the heavily modified Penske Reynard, Lola is the class of the field right now. Reynard introduced a new undertray this weekend with early returns being an improvement in downforce. Still though, no way around the Lola of Brack.

I have given much attention to the modifications of the Penske Reynards but Pacwest has certainly been putting their Swift partnership to use. During the first round of stops, Dixon's pitbox had an overhead camera shot. The entire bodywork is sculpted much differently than the stock Reynard. And a new pieced this week is a ramp-like wing structure off the rear bodywork under the rear wing. I reference this because it is similar in shape to a structure found on the Swift of Marques last year. It was found on the Swift mostly on the oval races. 

Honorable Mention

Bruno Junqueira has been able to adapt himself to the challenges of the Cart series much sooner than his teammate. With the ovals out of the way, this rookie should be a natural on the road and street circuits.

Alex Zanardi is finally starting to find his Cart legs. It took awhile and he is by no means battling at the top of the grid but he is starting to pick up. I was charged to hear that Zanardi was coming back to Cart. Therefore, I was surprised to see how he has struggled in the early part of the season. The jury is still out and we will have to wait and see.

Scott Dixon puts in another notable performance to show that his Nazareth win was no fluke. This rookie is showing real maturity and is carrying the Pacwest flag. As a side note, Dixon has proven the importance of Indy Lights to a team. Scott was promoted from PacWest's Indy Lights team. Instead of going the usual route of trying to lure talent, Pacwest was able to bring up someone they knew and someone who knew them. Obviously, it is paying dividends. 

Major Disappointment

Christiano de Matta won the first race of the season and showed no sign of weakness. Unfortunately lady luck is shopping her gift around and is not making any offers to de Matta. He was just a victim of circumstance.

Helio Castroneves is a star in Cart racing. There is no doubt. But he is young and he has tasted victory and wants to win all the time. You can't take that away from the guy. Unfortunately, today that drive got the best of him. He raced Brack into the first turn on the first lap like it was the last lap. A lapse in judgment and a real downer at the end of a great week. 

Jimmy Vasser was running a superb race. He has been strong all season and is showing the maturity a former champion with the drive of a young lion. Unfortunately, Tora Takagi wasn't paying attention and squeezed Jimmy too far down making contact. Jimmy spun and made contact with the outside wall effectively finishing his weekend. 

Moving Forward

Kenny Brack now holds a 23 point lead over Castroneves. In 2 weeks the series returns to Detroit for what will mark the last time Cart will visit Belle Isle. This is the site of Castroneves' maiden victory. He'll be back in the hunt. 

Also, I have to say that I am sad that this is going to be the last Detroit Grand Prix. I say this both as a native Detroiter and devoted Cart fan. Unfortunately, the City of Detroit is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes to the circuit to accommodate a world class racing series. Detroit is the Motorcity and home to Cart sponsors such as Kmart and Ford. Not to mention that Cart's offices are currently in suburban Detroit and Roger Penske calls Detroit home. Let's hope that Cart, IMG and the city can find an equitable solution and continue to bring Cart racing to Detroit.

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