With the season opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez now in the rear-view mirrors, the focus has switched to Round Two of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series and the 27th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, scheduled for April 6-8.
To that end, Fernandez Racing owner/driver Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) and Marlboro Team Penske pilot Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) paid visits to Southern California recently to assist with the race's promotional efforts.
Fernandez spent last Friday on an all-day media tour that included print, television, and radio interviews. Fernandez's day in Los Angeles included an autograph session at the Universal Studios CityWalk featuring a Honda show car, and a media luncheon at the adjacent Tu Tu Tango Café. Also present at CityWalk doing television work was late night television star Jay Leno, who spent a few minutes chatting about racing with Fernandez.
Fernandez capped his day with in-studio appearances on the evening news for two television stations. In his final appearance of the day, Fernandez was asked to handle the station's sports coverage and his performance prompted a tongue-in-cheek offer to become the station's sports anchor.
"I got a very good reception and was very happy to spend the day with the media and also the race fans that came to our autograph session," Fernandez said. "It was good to see that there are a lot of people interested in what we are doing, and it was nice to get closer to them in a more relaxed atmosphere. I am always very 'up' for this type of thing because it helps us, it helps CART and puts our series closer to where our fans are. I believe Long Beach is one of our prime events, and this year will be no exception. The Long Beach Grand Prix is going to be very exciting."
Castroneves, meanwhile, was in Long Beach on Monday afternoon, where he hosted a media luncheon at the popular Mum's Restaurant and fielded questions from journalists about the upcoming race at Long Beach as well as the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season. On Monday night, Castroneves and his father went to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for a National Hockey League game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes.
Castroneves went onto the ice prior to the game to meet several of the players, and he also dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to face-off. He was allowed to keep the puck as a souvenir of his evening at the game, which was won by the Kings by a score of 6-2.
ˇ TRACY, HIGGINS, AND BARBER FEATURED GUESTS ON "CART HOTLINE"
Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), Dayton Indy Lights driver Derek Higgins, and Skip Barber Racing School founder Skip Barber join host Larry Henry on this week's "CART Hotline" radio show. The program airs at 8 p.m. ET Thursday on stations along the CART Radio Network and will be available on-demand on the official web site of the FedEx Championship Series,
www.cart.com, after the show airs live. Tracy will be on-hand to discuss his plans to repeat as champion of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, while Higgins is coming off a victory in the opening round of the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship at the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez. Barber will discuss the hotly-contested Barber-Dodge Pro Series as well as the Skip Barber organization's new relationship with Championship Auto Racing Teams. "CART Hotline" airs every Thursday night throughout the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season.
ˇ KNEIFEL WRAPS UP DRIVING CAREER IN SEBRING
Fresh off his first weekend as CART's Chief Steward, Chris Kneifel concluded his competitive racing career in the 12 Hours of Sebring last Saturday. Kneifel, along with co-drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, finished third in the GTS class and 11th overall driving a Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C5-R. "Going into the Sebring race, it was our goal to win the GTS class," Kneifel said. "Our record at Sebring is not one that we were proud of. It's been our Achilles Heel and we knew we had a challenge ahead of us, because we've never gotten to the six-hour mark without running into some kind of problem in that race. Sure enough, the [number] 3-car guys with myself and Ron and Johnny had problems. We couldn't start the car, then we had problems with the timing, which were compounded by the fact that we couldn't start the car. We run carbon brakes on the car that should last 24 hours, but after four hours we were changing rotors. Due to those problems, it took us out of being able to win. But we stayed focused and were able to get third. That's important for Ron and Johnny for the points, because I know it's going to be close at the end of the year, and it's also important because we showed we could stay focused and work through the problems in a race we very well could have been out of. For me, being on the podium for my last race was really special. There's a huge fan following for the Corvette program, especially among Corvette owners, and they've become friends over the years. They made a big banner for me and everybody signed it, and they were in Victory Circle and gave the banner to me. It was a lot of good stuff. On the sad side, it's hard to leave that situation because I've developed so many friends over the years there. But the win at Daytona [in the Rolex 24 Hours in February] was still front and center. It was the right way to finish this thing off. Now it's time for me to turn my attention and focus on my new position. Now I can let go of that part of my career and really commit to the next phase. I'm so excited. It's so important for me to do a good job for these drivers and teams--the owners and the guys working on the cars--and everybody in the CART organization. I'm really excited to have this opportunity."
ˇ TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH TO AIR ON ARMED FORCES RADIO
The audience for the CART Radio Network broadcast of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has gotten significantly larger with the announcement that the Armed Forces Radio Network has signed-on to carry the event. Through over 400 broadcast outlets, Armed Forces Radio serves nearly a million men and women in uniform, in addition to Department of Defense personnel, American Embassies and Consulates in over 174 countries and territories as well as the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and Military Sealift Command ships at sea. The service men and women will be able to hear the CRN announcers call all of the action from the track.
ˇ TARGET CHIP GANASSI RACING ROOKIES GET FIRST TASTE OF BRICKYARD
On Tuesday, March 13, Target Chip Ganassi Racing's pair of rookie drivers, Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) and Nicolas Minassian (Target Toyota Lola), turned their first testing laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the team's defense of its 2000 Indianapolis 500 victory scheduled for May 27. "Our testing session went very well today," explained Junqueira. "I am very pleased to be here at Indianapolis. It is a fast track and a lot different than I'm used to. This track is very difficult to learn, and not easy to run on. I'm glad we have this chance to learn the track and learn the fast line around here. My Team Target engineers and teammates have given me some great information about this track, and that really helped me today. It is great to be here, as I've said before, I've been watching the Indy 500 ever since I was seven years old and it will be an honor to be able to race here in May." Junqueira and Minassian will be looking to defend 1999 FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya's 2000 Indy victory. Montoya turned in a dominating performance in his rookie run at the Speedway, leading 167 of 200 laps en route to the win. The rookies will pilot updated versions of the 2000 G Force/Aurora packages utilized last year by Montoya and 1996 FedEx Championship Champion Jimmy Vasser. "This track is beautiful, it is amazing," said Minassian. "This is my first visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and now I realize why the Indy 500 is so popular all over the world. With all of the people in the stands, it's going to be an awesome experience to race here. At the test, I was trying to learn the fast way around the track and how the car responds to the track. This is difficult, because even though the four corners look identical, they are very different in how the car reacts to each one. It's a very technical track, and I'm looking forward to testing here again next month to become more comfortable in the car." Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull was impressed with the effort both drivers put forth in their first visit to the 2.5-mile oval. "This was a good learning session for our two rookie drivers," Hull said. "This is a tough race track to learn, but they did great and are getting used to running at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This session can be compared to one of those two-seater race cars, where the student rides around with a teacher. The difference was that the drivers were in the car and we are the teacher in the pits. The main purpose of this test is to provide the drivers a feel for how the car reacts to the track. They're great learners and are providing valuable feedback to our engineers. This is their first time ever driving on a flat, fast superspeedway, and they did a fantastic job. I am very pleased with their development today." Joining the Target Chip Ganassi teammates at Indianapolis this year will be Marlboro Team Penske, with 2000 FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran and three-time Champ Car race winner Helio Castroneves. CART endorses participation by its teams in the 2001 Indianapolis 500.
ˇ MORE BANG FOR THE TELEVISION BUCK
A recent Bloomberg News report indicates companies sponsoring Champ Cars in the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez saw 32 percent more television exposure during the race than they did in the season opener a year ago. The total value of exposure for the sponsors was estimated at nearly $7.5 million during the race, up from $5.7 million in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series opener. Bloomberg News cites Joyce Julius & Associates as its source for the figures.
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