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Keeping it Off The Wall

CART Pre-Race Report
Round 11 - Michigan 500
 by Ed Donath 
July 20, 2000


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500 ways to dnf

CART's first of two superspeedway events this year will kick off the second half of the 2000 FedEx Championship Series. The Michigan 500 (formerly known as the Marlboro 500 and the US 500) is Round 11 of the Championship. Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn has been the scene of CART's fastest and most exciting racing for decades.

Winning any CART event is certainly about speed. However, a grueling mid-summer 500-miler, above all, requires the car and driver's ability to finish the race. Prolonged average lap speeds in the 220mph range will inflict serious injuries on engines, gearboxes, cooling systems, wheel bearings and the myriad of wearable parts. 

Heat, too, is the enemy of drivers and their crews - not to mention their race cars. Merely maintaining driver concentration and hydration over the course of three or more hours of flat-out racing adds to the list of mechanical, logistical and strategic reasons why finishing a 500-miler, itself, is a major racing accomplishment. More than at any other Y2K event thus far, teams have their work cut out for them.

This year's Michigan race will mark the third consecutive year that the Handford Device (a rear wing set-up originally designed to reduce "dangerous" speeds by adjusting downforce) has been mandated for use by the Champ Cars. The HD's initial use in 1998 provided what many have dubbed "CART's most exciting race ever". It was the precipitant for the more than 60 official lead changes! 

Though there were not quite as many lead changes last year, aerodynamicist Mark Handford's Device did precipitate major passing thrills. A "drafting" effect that is produced by the wing in traffic at high speeds is the "simple" explanation for the slip-streaming byproducts of the device.

Three of the current points leaders - Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Gil de Ferran - have the potential to assume the Championship Points lead with a win at Michigan. Andretti and Tracy in particular have always run strongly and have led many laps on the high banks of the big 2-mile oval in the Irish Hills of Michigan. Points-leader Roberto Moreno, himself, has finished as high as second in previous Michigan events.

Jimmy Vasser (1996 US 500 Winner/instant millionaire), Rookie of the Year points leader Kenny Brack, Juan Montoya, Big Mo Gugelmin (who is still the "fastest man in the world") and last year's winner Tony Kanaan (pronounced in good health last week by Dr. Trammell) are my own pre-race favorites.

Then there's Max Papis, whose Team Rahal Miller Lite Reynard/Cosworth was a shot glass short of methanol and died with half a lap to go in 1999. At the time, Mad Max was well ahead of the charging field. That, my friends, is only one of the 500 ways to dnf at Michigan. 

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