MONTERREY, Mexico (March
5, 2001) -- Kenny Bräck spent his entire rookie season on the CART FedEx Championship Series just learning the new tracks.
Every week was a new experience for the 1999 Indy 500 champion. He proved a quick learner though as the Sweden driver scored four podium finishes and placed fourth in the final series points.
So the Shell driver was anxious for a return trip to the CART tracks in 2001.
But, on Sunday (March 11) in the CART season opener, Bräck will be back to learning a new circuit, the 2.1-mile Fundidora Park road course in Monterrey, Mexico, as will all of the 30 starters.
"It is back to a new track for me," said Bräck, the winner of the Jim Trueman "Rookie of the Year" in 2000. "But it's new for everyone and I like that idea. It's the same for everybody and the Friday practice will be important to the teams."
For the first time in CART history, the first day of road racing action during a race weekend will be practice only. Qualifying is now restricted to Saturday afternoon.
"That puts a lot of pressure of drivers and the teams," Bräck explained. "Now you have one short qualifying session (30 min.) to determine your starting spot. So you have to get your chassis working well almost immediately."
CART officials have thrown another wrench into the drivers and teams preparation in 2001.
As of Feb. 28, all team testing is completed for the year. In a cost saving measure, the CART teams will have no in-season test sessions.
"This new procedure means that the engineers and drivers will have to be working together quickly to get a proper setup, said Bräck. "We get more time on Fridays than before, but without in-season testing, you better come to the track ready to go. I think we'll have the preparation needed to be competitive everywhere."
Bräck is also optimistic about his chances in 2001 due to the latest version of the Ford Cosworth engine and the new Lola chassis. Team Rahal returned to Lola cars this year after five years with Reynard chassis.
"I'm impressed with the new Ford engine and the Lola is a strong car," said Bräck. "We were able to get the Lola up to speed very quickly on the ovals. It took us a little longer to adjust to the road circuits. But our engineering staff is very experienced and I'm confident we'll have a contending car on the roads when the season starts."
Bräck's performance on the road courses in 2001 was a bit surprising since he spent three years exclusively on the ovals in the Indy Racing League. But few remember that Bräck was a former Formula One test driver and contender for the Formula 3000 title. Bräck recorded two seconds (Cleveland, Australia) and one third (Road America) on the road circuits last year as a CART rookie.
"I think Kenny proved his abilities especially on the road circuits," said team owner and three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal. "When I talked to Kenny about driving our Shell car in 1999, he said he was anxious to return to the roads. And I think he showed his previous racing background. We knew about him on the ovals. Now, we know about him on the roads. The only thing I can say for 2001 is look out for Bräck."
Bräck doubled his nearest rookie competitor's point total in 2000 and came into the final race in California in contention for the championship. He led the most laps at Fontana before a mechanical failure halted his charge.
"I think we had a pretty good first year in CART," Bräck stated. "But I wanted to win a race or two. We were in position several times last year but we came up short. I hope to win races this year. That is my goal."
NOTES: Bräck recorded the most Top Five finishes on the CART tour in 2000 with nine… Kenny is only one of four rookies to ever lead a lap in his very first race (last year at Homestead)… He finished fourth in the first International Race Of Champions (IROC) race this year at Daytona… Bräck married his longtime girlfriend, Anita, on Dec. 29, 2000 in his native Sweden… Kenny finished fifth in laps led in 2000 with 151… Bräck collected points in 15 of 20 races last year… He qualified in the Top Ten 14 times…He played guitar with the Paladins rock group in CART's Runway Madness charity event.
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