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Keeping it Off The Wall

Cuttin' the Cheese

Road America Pre-Race Report
Round 14 of 20

 by Ed Donath 
August 16, 2000
 


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It is as close as the Champ Car pilots get to an F1-style ride through Europe's Black Forests. The 4.048-mile Road America circuit through the woods of America's Dairyland presents a greater challenge than any other CART event. Mechanical attrition, set-up/handling woes and fuel economy are big cheese wheels that must be sharply cut if any team is to be successful, let alone a winner. Only 12 of last year's 26 entrants were running when Christian Fittipaldi was shown his first - and only - CART checkered flag.

"I was very, very happy," Christian gushed. "I have been waiting for this day for quite some time…sometimes you need a little bit of luck." Luck is certainly not a commodity for which the injury-prone Brazilian has been known.

Fittipaldi's Newman-Hass teammate, Michael Andretti, continues to lead in the points chase although his 25-point lead was cut to 19 points by virtue of Gil de Ferran's pole and second-place finish at Mid-Ohio last week. Bob Moreno dropped back to third, Kenny Brack (run-away ROY candidate) moved up to fourth and Adrian Fernandez now rounds out the top-five. Interestingly, with only 38 points separating Fenandez and Andretti, it's still anybody's Championship.

Christian Fittipaldi will defend his Road America championship on the heels of his splendid ride at Mid-Ohio. It was overshadowed by Team Penske's dominance. Christian came third after Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran. 

The Marlboro Team Penske Reynard/Hondas should be the odds-on favorites again this Sunday. They ran "on rails" at Mid-Ohio. Fittipaldi, however, is certainly capable of a repeat Wisconsin victory - especially if the course goes wet. 

From a fuel conservation standpoint the Honda engines have always been up to the task of getting good mileage. Fuel strategy, despite last year's increase in race laps from 50 to 55 to discourage "fuel gambles", remains a critical element for success at Road America. Running out of fuel almost anywhere on a 4-mile circuit will certainly result in a dnf for any team that misses its fuel goals.

Set-up - because of the long 14-turn course that includes some high-speed straights in addition to it's Euro-twisties - is also extremely important. Attrition, as was exemplified by last year's race, is the final gremlin to overcome. All of that shifting is particularly tough on gearboxes. As always, in order to finish first, you first have to finish!

Over 75,000 Cheese Heads showed up for the 1999 Road America event. Judging by last week's record crowd at Mid-Ohio, the 2000 Elkhart Lake program should be another winner with the growing ranks of road-preference Champ Car racing fans. Increasingly, "cuttin' corners" has been "cuttin' the cheese" with CART's fans.

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