There is just too much going on for me not to talk about it. Indy is starting to heat up. It looks as if this Month of May is going to be a good one. Formula 1 is in for a shake-up with the arrival of Williams BMW's return to form and there are some happenings at CART that we should talk about.
The month of May brings with it the countdown to the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. I am mostly a CART fan so I didn't follow too much of the happenings up to the 500 up until last year when Chip Ganassi went out on his own and fielded cars at Indy for Montoya and Vasser. I figured, like many, that Ganassi would make a respectable showing but I had no idea what was to become Montoya's most dominant drive. I don't even think Chip knew just how strong they were going to be. Realistically, the odds were against them. Sure they were the reigning CART champions 4 years in a row, but the IRL's chassis and engine differences presented a whole new world for Ganassi Racing to learn, and eventually master, in a few short weeks.
This year brings no fewer than 6 CART regulars to the Brickyard; half of which are on Chip Ganassi's payroll. But this year Ganassi packs an additional punch with Tony Stewart added to the line-up. The NASCAR regular has a storied history at Indy when he drove for Menard before jumping on the NASCAR bandwagon. If all goes as planned, Stewart will run 500 miles at Indy, jump a flight by chopper to an airplane that will take him to Charlotte where he will compete in the Coca-Cola 600. He attempted this same 1100-mile stint 2 years ago. However, poor conditioning and poor nutrition put his body on shutdown in the closing laps of The 600.
Jimmy Vasser is back with Ganassi to run Indy. Remember, Vasser is racing full-time with Patrick Racing after Ganassi decided that a total revamp of his driver line-up was his best route for 2001. There is no way to deny that Chip Ganassi is a real dealmaker. Imagine being fired from a company you work for and them calling you back just for a month. I guess it's just the allure of Indy.
The original plan was for Stewart and Vasser to carry the flag for Ganassi Racing while Minassian and Junqueira can stay focused on their Champcar development. Well, we should have known that Chip Ganassi always has something up his sleeve. After the solid qualifying effort of Stewart and Vasser, Ganassi announced that he would allow Minassian and Junqueira an opportunity to try and qualify the team's other two cars. And qualify they did. Junqueira qualified 25th with Minassian 27th. They are the bread in a Michael Andretti sandwich. Imagine that, they qualified better than such notables as Andretti (first run), Cheever, Calkins, and Salazar. Folks, they have nothing in experience here literally, especially when compared to Andretti and AJ Foyt Racing.
Was anyone surprised to see that true to Penske style, their Dallara's were not stock. At least in the form of their sidepod bodywork just forward of the rear tires. This photo shows a clear aerodynamic device not seen on any other Dallara and somewhat reminiscent of their Penske-Reynard ala PC26b. I am impressed with the strength the Ilmor prepared Aurora engines have performed to date. They have propelled de Ferran and Castroneves to 5th and 11th places on the grid respectively. Lest we not forget that it is an Ilmor engine in the polesitter's car. Reportedly Team Penske was running 220's with full tanks during their practice sessions. Those are some impressive numbers to say the least. Penske is back.
Team Green/Motorola teamed with Panther Racing for Indy. This is a different approach than that of Penske and Ganassi. It might not be a bad move, however. Panther Racing's, Sam Hornish, is the IRL's current points leader and the winner of the first two races of the season. They are off to an extremely impressive start to the season considering this is a new ride for Hornish. Hornish inherited the ride when Scott Goodyear announced he would retire except for a run at Indy.
That is why it was surprising to see Andretti struggle during his qualifying run. Officially, the team is writing it off as an engine problem due to over heating caused by too much tape on the radiator intake. There was some talk during the broadcast that Andretti's unique style of turning in early might be causing him to scrub too much speed and that was slowing him down. Nonetheless, Panther Racing allowed the Motorola Team a peak at Hornish's set-up and Michael was able to increase his qualifying time at the very last minute on the last day of first weekend qualifying. This will no doubt allow Andretti an opportunity to relax on his trip to Japan for the CART race this weekend upcoming.
What would have happened if Andretti had been bumped from the field? They would have to have put an effort into getting their back-up car up to speed and get it in for qualifying next week. But how would Andretti do that when he would be a half a world away in Japan? Not to worry, however, both Ganassi and Penske were willing to step up and offer Andretti use of their back-up cars had Andretti not been able to improve his initial qualifying run. This goes to show that there is a certain Us versus Them going on at Indy. It's natural I suppose. That is until we can take some closer steps toward unity between the IRL and CART as the "Triple Crown" article proposes. Still this rivalry is good for both series' and it is good for The 500.
Formula 1 Grand Prix of Austria
Yet again another impressive performance out of the Williams BMW team. I guess it is easy to get caught up in all the hype of Ferrari and McLaren that we forget this championship caliber team. After all, McLaren did pace as the class of the field in Austria as the weekend got underway. Surprisingly, they couldn't keep that form during qualifying. In fact, it was McLaren's worst qualifying effort in 3 years. Instead, it was the Williams team battling for the front row along with Ferrari. It is apparent that Montoya is settling with his new team. This was another strong showing but not necessarily the dominance that ensued previously. But he was able to keep a charging Michael Schumacher at bay. That is until the Triple World Champion really started to charge the rookie. As Montoya went wide with his brakes locked Schumacher too had too much for the corner and went wide allowing Rubens Barrichello a wide open door to the race lead. Barrichello lead handily until a questionable pit strategy brought Schumacher in first and left Barrichello out for another circuit when it was clear that his Ferrari's handling was going away. Coulthard was able to stay out longer and built up a strong lead. Eventually, Coulthard was able to pit from the lead and reenter in the lead.
There is no doubt that Montoya is extremely talented and is certainly in contention at each of the circuits Formula 1 visits this year. Montoya and his Williams team bashed the decision of Ferrari to move Barrichello aside. They felt it was too early in the season for these tactics. An explanation that clearly leaves open the possibility for Williams to enact team orders should they find themselves in a similar situation.
I understand that this is the business of Formula 1 racing and the business of Formula 1 brings with it team orders. Team orders is where there is a lead driver and a secondary driver. The lead driver gets priority finishing position. In fact, there is a lot of talk that this is actually built into Barrichello's contract. Team orders came into play forcing Barrichello to allow his teammate to pass for second place. But what would have happened had Coulthard suffered a failure on the last lap? Would Barrichello had to move over and allow Schumacher the win? Schumacher is not a Triple World Champion because someone handed him these Championships. He is a talented driver who is always at 110%. But I might have to agree with Montoya. It is too early in the season to determine that Barrichello is out of the championship race and that he should yield to Schumacher. What if Schumacher suffered an injury that sidelines him through the remainder of the season? Wouldn't Ferrari be red faced if Rubens lost the championship by 2 championship points?
Not much going on in CART these days. Just continuous management reorganization, a growing list of litigation, and a second look at the race schedule. Oh yeah, let us not forget the trip to Japan and all the logistics involved with such a trip.
It was announced that Bobby Rahal would not seek reelection to CART's Board of Directors. Also, Bruce McCaw has already resigned from the board in order to devote more time to personal matters. This brings the current board total to an equal amount of owners and outside directors.
Rio was cancelled earlier this year and it was a damn shame because that was always an exciting race and a home race for the Brazilian drivers. I'm sure Emerson Fittipaldi and CART are working to get a race back in Brazil. We'll have to wait and see. Texas wasn't cancelled instead it was postponed. However, I can't help but think that the recent lawsuit filed by Texas Motor Speedway will help matters. TMS is offering refunds and their schedule is tight from here. It might look as if the race is indefinitely postponed. Here's an idea. Why not employ deal-meister Ganassi to structure a deal? He obviously has some magic to his negotiations. Maybe not.
As reported here in our Rumors section CART owners are upset and I am sure they are looking for some answers to some of the questions regarding the schedule and how CART will defend against the Texas lawsuit as well as other suits. Don't worry folks; it can only get better from here.
Let's get on with the business of racing. There is a points battle starting to heat up and some really good racing yet to come. It is important to not discount these matters but the real business is racing. It is CART's product and they still have to take that product to the people.
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