In baseball it's called "hitting for the cycle". That happens when a player gets at least one of each type of base hit in the same game - single, double, triple and homerun. Having just completed consecutive temporary-course races (Cleveland and
Toronto), a 500-miler on a superspeedway (Michigan) and a short oval race (Chicago), the versatile Champ Car teams are about to "hit for the cycle" with a natural road course event. Round 13 of the FedEx Championship Series on the
2.25-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course makes the fourth different type of CART event in the last four at-bats.
With so much car reconfiguration being done in the last month-or-so, it seems likely that the inordinate number of mechanical failures that characterized our last race in Chicago were due to the pressures of the busy CART schedule. Thinking logically, that many changeovers and consecutive weeks of racing should exact a toll on the close-tolerance work of car reassembly and engine rebuilding. Having had this past week "off" - combined with the relatively short travel time/distance from Chicago to Lexington, Ohio - the teams have had the necessary time to properly check their work.
Two of the 14 drivers who failed to finish at Chicago - Christian Fittipaldi and Max Papis - never even got to turn a lap. Fittipaldi was sidelined and withdrawn from the race as a result of a practice session crash that rendered him unconscious for a short time. Papis' Ford-Cosworth engine burst into flames on the final pace lap as the Champ Cars were being shown the green flag. Expect both of these "road" warriors to be back with a vengeance at Mid-Ohio.
Last year's Miller Lite 200 featured a rather surprising finish. After pole-sitter Dario Franchitti and his Team Kool Green stable mate Paul Tracy dominated the first 56 laps of the 83-lap race - at one point Dario's lead over third-place runner, Juan Montoya, was a healthy 17 seconds - Montoya took over the lead on Lap 56. That was accomplished as much on the strength of the quick and flawless pit work of his Target Chip Ganassi crew as it was the result of Juan's own hard-charging run to the front from eighth position on the starting grid.
"Whoa! What a day," Montoya commented. "After all the trouble we had qualifying (it rained on Friday and Juan couldn't better his provisional time on Saturday) I can't believe we came so far so fast. I was just thinking that if we could get some points...but I NEVER expected to win." The Team Kool Green boys filled out the 1999 podium.
Not only do Franchitti and Tracy want desperately to score needed points and to move up a step on the Mid-Ohio podium this year, but Team Kool Green is in need of some extraordinary PR to offset the stigma of its drivers - yet again - putting themselves out of the Chicago race by making contact with each other.
Juan Montoya proved last year that it is possible for any strong running top-10 qualifier to get around the competition through the ever-challenging corners, esses, elevation changes and 185-mph back straight that make Mid-Ohio's woodsy road course produce such precise and exciting racing.
Although Michael Andretti's Championship Points lead (now 22 points over former leader, Roberto Moreno) has continued to grow since he notched his 40th series victory and second this season in Toronto, this year's Championship is a far cry from being iced. Eight different winners so far - four first-timers - is a strong indicator that Andretti is in for a rough ride in the 2000 points scramble. Hey, everybody's hungry!
Finally, I'm sure there is no one who is as jazzed as this scribe is about returning to Mid-Ohio. In addition to getting to visit one of the most fan-friendly venues in any sport and getting to mingle with America's most savvy open-wheel racing fans, I have a second agenda. This Friday will mark the first time that Dorothy and I will meet our newest grandson, Alex. Alex, his parents and big brother Benjamin live in nearby Mt. Vernon, Ohio.
How's that for a special added attraction to an already awesome race weekend? Like old Willie Nelson says: "I can't wait to get on the road again!"
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