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Latest News and Commentary

CART Ladder Series News

May 14,  2002

DETROIT--A wild weekend full of contact, daring passes and wheel-to-wheel racing marked Rounds 5 and 6 of the Formula Dodge National Championship at Putnam Park Motorsports Park and lent itself to a serious shakeup in the season point standings. Scott Speed, Grant Maiman and Scott Poirier took advantage of a race miscue by Burt Frisselle to move past him in the overall season standings. Speed and Maiman both captured a race victory and second-place finish to move to first and third in the point standings, respectively. Poirier took home third and sixth place to make the move up to second in the point standings.

Round 5 began with Speed on the point with a then-record setting pace for the 1.77-mile, 10-turn road course, while fellow Californian Robbie Montinola took up the outside pole. On the start, Speed out-pedaled Montinola and fourth-place starter Jonathon Jorge into Turn 1 to take the lead. Jorge would pressure Montinola for the first five laps, finally securing second place on Lap 6.

With nothing in front of him but open track, Speed took advantage and opened up a sizeable lead, similar to the opening laps of his maiden victory at Fontana in April. As in Fontana, his large lead would not last. This time, it was due to the first caution of the day on Lap 8 for Frisselle.

Frisselle--who came into the weekend with an 18-point lead over Speed--opened the door early in Round 5 for the point takeover as he lost control of his car entering Turn 10 and hit the barrier. Frisselle had gotten four wheels off during the pace lap and had damaged the suspension which finally gave way. While uninjured, his championship hopes certainly took a temporary hit.

Although the field was bunched up for the restart, Speed was able to hold off challenges from Jorge and Maiman for the next few laps. On Lap 16, Montinola and Luis Pelayo touched wheels heading into Turn 1. The two racecars went straight off into the grass and their attempts to rejoin the field were stopped by a virtual mud bog. Since the drivers were well off course, officials only put out a waving yellow in Turn 1, leaving the rest of the track under green.

As the field came back around to the site of Montinola and Pelayo's demise, many of the drivers--including leader Speed--were confused by the corner yellow and mistook it for a full-course caution. With some drivers slowing down and others correctly recognizing the situation, cars were swapping positions through Turns 1 and 2. The biggest gain was made by Al Unser, who had started 11th, made his way up to eighth and then jumped to third during the yellow flag confusion. He held the position for a lap but had the much quicker Jorge and Poirier on his gearbox trying to get by.

The battle for third continued in the Turn 5-6-7 complex on the north end of the racetrack. It turned dangerous as Unser, Jorge and Poirier got together, sending Unser barrel-rolling along the grass at over 90 miles per hour. While the accident looked scary, Unser was able to walk away from the car with only a bump on his head and would return the next day to race again. Jorge joined Unser off track with heavy damage. Amazingly, Poirier escaped with minimal damage and continued in third.

With a bevy of debris to clean up, race officials displayed the red flag with two laps left, guaranteeing a green-flag finish. Once the track was cleared, a green, white and checkered-flag finish was set up, with Speed, Maiman, Poirier, Craig Baltzer and Steve Welk making up the top five as the race restarted.

On the restart, Maiman got a run to the outside of Speed heading into Turn 1. While Speed held the preferred line on the inside, Maiman didn't give up on the move until the pair turned into Turn 2.

Maiman, knowing Frisselle had not finished, held off from making any other bold moves and brought his Formula Dodge RT/2000 home in second place just 0.094 seconds behind and earned valuable Championship points. Poirier held off a charge by Baltzer to earn third place, while Canadian Ward Imrie moved up to take fifth.

"This was incredible racing," said race winner Speed. "Grant and I had some great wheel-to-wheel action there at the end and thankfully the result was in my favor. I am looking to keep the points lead as long as I can and thinking about this as a championship and not just a race by race situation. It's all about the points."

In Round 6 qualifying, Speed took advantage of cooler conditions on Saturday to improve on his track record from the day before and once again captured the pole, just ahead of Baltzer. In fact, the entire field of 21 drivers was separated by less than a second. With the possibility of rain hovering overhead, strategy sessions were in effect before the drop of the green flag.

As he did the day before, Speed took the lead from the start and began to open up a large lead. Once again, though, he was tracked down from behind by mid-race. This time, Pelayo was the culprit and after many incidents earlier in the year, he took his first lead of the season. Pelayo would continue to lead until he had a quick "off" which allowed Speed to regain the point with just a few laps remaining.

As the battle for first ensued in front of him, Maiman patiently watched the action and bided his time. The opportunity presented itself on Lap 18 as Maiman got a strong run down the front stretch and forced both Speed and Pelayo wide in Turn 1, leaving the inside apex open for his move. As the three competitors headed through Turn 1 and into Turn 2, Maiman was able to make the pass stick. While Speed and Pelayo would challenge over the final laps, Maiman took home the win by less than a second.

"Obviously, I am very pleased with the results today," commented Maiman, a resident of New London, Wisconsin. "My patience was definitely a virtue today as I let Scott [Speed] and Luis [Pelayo] battle it out early and save my tires. That put me in an advantageous position to make the move and take the win."

For new National Championship point leader Speed, the weekend was a tremendous success and he looks forward to heading back to Indiana in June for Rounds 7 and 8 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

"It was a great weekend for me," said Speed. "We probably should have won both races but I am happy with everything. Now I am ready for IRP. I hear that it is a gutsy track and that suits me fine."

Al Unser, returning from his tumbling accident on Friday, came home in fourth place. Burt Frisselle also rebounded from his Friday accident to post a fifth-place finish. Scott Poirier headed up the second five finishers, with Jorge, Aurelio Lopez, Montinola and Imrie following to round out the Top 10.

OPEN-DOOR POLICY

As part of their race weekend at Putnam Park, the entire Formula Dodge National Championship field was given exclusive access to the 33,000-square-foot PWR Championship Racing facility in Northwest Indianapolis. Team Manager Paul "Ziggy" Harcus, FedEx Championship Series driver Scott Dixon's Crew Chief Daryl Fox and Drawing Room Manager Julian Karras all participated in the visit, with Karras leading the 40-person FDNC contingent on the tour.

The FDNC drivers were given open-door access to all work areas, including the car bays, parts shop, paint room and transportation bays. Without a doubt, the car bays were the most popular as the National Championship contenders were able to view almost every aspect of a Champ Car from the engine to the cockpit to the front wing assembly. In the transportation bays, drivers were given a tour of the three multi-million dollar car haulers that were on site as well as the pit stop practice pad for team members. Some of the drivers even took the opportunity to slide into the cockpit of the pit stop car.

For Colin Fleming and Scott Speed, this experience was a nice addition to their Stars of Tomorrow Champ Car test with Team Rahal last December.

"This was a lot different than the Champ Car test," commented Fleming, an 18-year old from North Hills, Calif. "At the test, I was more concerned with just driving the car and keeping all four wheels on the track. Here, I was really able to see all the intricacies of a Champ Car and a Champ Car team. It was extremely insightful and a lot of fun."

"With much of the bodywork off, we were able to see things you normally can't even see at the racetrack even when you are in pit lane," said Speed, who would take over the FNDC points lead after the weekend activities. "This was a great opportunity and I want to thank everyone at PWR. I also want to offer my services!"

"We really enjoyed having these young drivers in here today," commented Karras. "Hopefully this will serve as a motivator for them, a dangling carrot so to speak. With our experience over the past few years in Indy Lights, we are continually interested in the young drivers coming up the CART Ladder System. It's very gratifying to give them that opportunity to see life at the next level."

The National Championship will return to Indiana June 14-16 for a double race weekend event at Indianapolis Raceway Park. At that time, they will be invited to tour CART's new headquarters in the Park 100 Industrial Complex on the Northwest side of Indianapolis. CART will open the doors on its new facility May 20.

CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES

Toyota Atlantic Championship
(Through Round 2 of 12)

1. Jon Fogarty 35 points
2. Michael Valiante 32 points
3. Rocky Moran Jr. 21 points
4. Luis Diaz 19 points
5. Alex Gurney 17 points

Barber Dodge Pro Series
(Through Round 1 of 10)

1. A.J. Allmendinger 22 points
2. Davy Cook 16 points
3. Julio Campos 14 points
4. Nilton Rossoni 13 points
5. Christian Szymczak 11 points

Formula Dodge National Championship
(Through Round 6 of 13)

1. Scott Speed 84 points
2. Scott Poirier 77 points
3. Grant Maiman 76 points
4. Burt Frisselle 75 points
5. Al Unser 57 points

UP NEXT

The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship prepares for its next action May 31-June 2 during the Miller Lite 250 at the historic Milwaukee Mile. Dorricott Racing teammates Jon Fogarty, Luis Diaz and Alex Gurney are all in the top five in Atlantic point standings and will look to continue their success at the first oval race of the season.

The Barber Dodge Pro Series returns to action May 24-27 in the Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park. The quiet hills of Northeastern Connecticut will come alive as A.J. Allmendinger, Davy Cook and Julio Campos, amongst others, get back to the track after a two-month break.

Rounds 7 and 8 of the Formula Dodge National Championship will be contested June 14-16 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. New point leader Scott Speed will have his hands full as the top four positions in the championship are separated by nine points.

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