Friday, June 26, 2009

Champ Car revisited

(nationalsportingnews.com 6-24-09)

The Drivers

Mario Andretti: Three-time USAC champion in the 1960s, Andretti returned to Champ Cars after a successful Formula One career and gave CART credibility during the early 1980s. Won regularly through the 1980s and scored last triumph at Phoenix in 1993.

Michael Andretti: Emerged as a top contender in 1986 and remained the man to beat through 1992. Returned to CART after abortive attempt at F-1 and still won races, but lacked the edge that made his early career so exciting.

Danny Sullivan: His good looks (not to mention a spectacular spin and win ’85 Indy victory) propelled the CART series into the mainstream media. Also won the ’88 series championship.

Al Unser, Jr.: A true star before substance abuse problems derailed his career. Master of street courses, including five consecutive wins at Long Beach. Won championships for Galles Racing and Penske Racing, as well as a pair of Indy 500s.

Paul Tracy: Champ Car’s sole survivor of the CART era, PT arrived in the early 1990s and never really shook off the ‘wild child’ tag. Known as much for his colorful quotes and silly accidents as his 31 victories and 2003 CART championship.

Jimmy Vasser: Champ Car’s last American champion, way back in 1996. Enhanced his reputation as the ultimate teammate by coaching Zanardi and Montoya to CART titles, making four straight for Ganassi Racing.

Alex Zanardi: This exuberant Italian was relatively unknown until Chip Ganassi brought him to America and teamed him with Jimmy Vasser for a remarkable three-year run that brought two championships.

Emerson Fittipaldi: Two-time F-1 champ triggered a wave of foreign involvement when he came stateside in the mid-80s. Won the ’89 CART championship and a pair of Indy 500s.

Juan Pablo Montoya: Was a rough-hewn 23-year old when he replaced Zanardi at Ganassi Racing, but picked up where the two-time series champ left off. Remarkable rookie year produced seven wins and CART title.

Bobby Rahal: Won all three of his CART championships in tight battles with Michael Andretti and claimed the 1986 Indy 500 victory just days before the death of mentor/team owner Jim Trueman.

Gil de Ferran: Nicknamed ‘The Professor,’ this brainy Brazilian’s career took off when he joined Penske Racing for the 2001 season. Won the ’00 and ’01 CART crowns before Penske moved his operation to the IRL.

Rick Mears: A smooth, speedy racer who dominated CART from 1979 to 1984 before severely injuring his feet in an accident at Sanair Speedway. Unrivaled at Indy with six poles and four wins in half the starts it took A.J. Foyt and Al Unser.

Sebastien Bourdais: The undisputed class of the field during the post-CART era, winning all four championships sanctioned by Champ Car. A cool, analytical racer who didn’t always connect with the fans.

The Venues

Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland: A series stalwart from 1982-2007, this circuit (above) was unique because it was fast and utilized a wide-open airport circuit.

Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.: The four-mile road course allowed the Champ Cars to really stretch their legs with a 140 mile per hour average speed.

The Milwaukee (Wis.) Mile: This mile oval’s racing history is even longer than Indy’s.

Twin Ring Motegi: The Japanese oval built by Honda sets the standard for race tracks of any kind.

Exhibition Place, Toronto, Ontario: This Canadian street circuit enjoyed a successful 20-year run.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: The 500 remained under USAC sanction from 1979-95, but counted toward CART championship.

Surfers Paradise: Street race in exotic locale was worth the agonizing trip to Australia.

NOT SO GREAT VENUES

Denver Grand Prix: Original track had 80 mph pole speed, later iteration was called the bumpiest track of all time.

Bayside Park, Miami: Another ridiculous Mickey Mouse street course that produced zero excitement.

Chicago Motor Speedway, Cicero, Ill.: Designed to improve on Milwaukee, the ‘Paper
Clip’ was a victim of poor aero regulations.

San Jose (Calif.) Grand Prix: What other track in the world forced open-wheelers to cross railroad tracks?

Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway: The hometown track of the Andretti family never did attract a crowd and has now been razed.

Homestead-Miami Speedway: Three different track designs failed to create great open-wheel racing or an audience.

CHAMP CAR HIGHS

Doing Donuts: Alex Zanardi was so excited to win the 1998 Long Beach Grand Prix he spun a few donuts in his Chip Ganassi Racing machine. It became his trademark celebration.

Assen 2007: Champ Car’s final moment of glory on the world stage, appreciated by 60,000 knowledgeable and enthusiastic Dutch fans.

The Magic 240: Mauricio Gugelmin (1997) and Gil de Ferran (2000) each ran 240-mile-per-hour qualifying laps at California Speedway and ‘Big Mo’ topped 242 during practice.

Fantastic Finishes: The 1995 and 2000 Michigan 500s were spellbinding. The wheel-banging last lap between Michael Andretti and winner Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000 was particularly stunning.

CHAMP CAR LOWS

Moore’s Death: For many, Oct. 31, 1999, was the day that CART really died. Rising star Greg Moore was killed in a vicious accident at California Speedway.

Texas 2001: CART management failed to listen to widespread concerns and scheduled a race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was canceled two hours prior to the start after G-load related driver blackouts.

EuroSpeedway 2001: A CART race in Germany was one of the few American sporting events run in the wake of Sept. 11. Alex Zanardi lost his legs in a late-race accident.

Indecision: CART owners couldn’t settle on future engine regulations, driving Toyota and Honda to the rival Indy Racing League and hastening the demise of the series.

Stock Sale: CART raised more than $100 million in a 1998 Initial Public Offering, only to watch its top team owners cash out and defect to the IRL. By the end of 2003, CART was bankrupt.

Champ Car Records (1979-2007)

8 -- Most wins in a season (Al Unser, Jr., 1994)

42 -- Most race wins (Michael Andretti)

4 -- Most championships (Sebastien Bourdais, 2004-07)

309 -- Most race starts (Michael Andretti,1983-2002)

0 -- Smallest championship margin (1999, Juan Montoya/Dario Franchitti)

127 -- Biggest championship margin (Rick Mears, 1981)

505 -- Longest race (miles, 1995 Indianapolis 500)

0 -- Shortest race (miles, 2001 Texas 600k)

35 -- Biggest field (1979 Indianapolis 500)

17 -- Smallest field (2007 season)

3.8 -- Best Average finish (Alex Zanardi 1998)

CART/CHAMP CAR TIMELINE

1978 Dan Gurney’s “white paper” inspires a group of USAC Champ Car teams to form an owner’s group known as CART, or Championship Auto Racing Teams.

1979 CART stages a 12-race championship in competition with USAC, won by Penske Racing’s Rick Mears; USAC tries but fails to ban CART teams from the Indy 500.

1980 USAC and CART forge a brief truce known as the Championship Racing League (CRL), which falls apart post-Indy; John Frasco named CEO.

1981 CART establishes itself as the chief sanctioning body for Indy-style racing in America. Mears wins second title.

1982 Epic Indy 500 results in close victory for Gordon Johncock over Mears, who wins third and final championship crown; first Cleveland GP; Jim Hickman killed at Milwaukee.

1983 March chassis dominates series while rival Lola returns to Champ car fold to supply new team Newman/Haas Racing.

1984 NHR’s Mario Andretti wins fourth U.S. National Championship; Long Beach GP converts from F-1 to CART; Mears severely injures his feet.

1985 Danny Sullivan’s Indy “spin and win;” championship battle between Al Unser and namesake son goes down to final lap of final race.

1986 Bobby Rahal wins Indy and CART championship; Michael Andretti scores first of 42 Champ Car race wins; first race on Toronto street course.

1987 Second title for Rahal despite switch from March to Lola chassis; Ilmor/Chevrolet engine scores first race win.

1988 Return to form for Penske with PC17 chassis, including championship for Sullivan; last win for March chassis.

1989 Emerson Fittipaldi wins Indy and CART title for Patrick Racing; team is then sold to Chip Ganassi; Michael Andretti joins father Mario at Newman/Haas.

1990 Arie Luyendyk wins fastest-ever Indy; Al Unser, Jr. wins first series title for Galles Racing; Frasco replaced by Bill Stokkan.

1991 Michael Andretti dominates with record eight wins and series crown; Mears wins fourth and final Indy.

1992 Ford-Cosworth engine introduced that quickly rivals dominant Ilmor/Chevy; Third title for Rahal, first as an owner/driver.

1993 Andrew Craig is new CART leader; reigning F-1 champion Nigel joins series and wins championship as a 40-year old “rookie.”

1994 Penske Racing wins 12 of 16 races with Unser, Jr. taking eight wins including Indy and second title; Honda joins as engine supplier; Chevy ends badging of Ilmor engine.

1995 Reynard takes over as customer chassis of choice; Jacques Villeneuve is champ, then leaves for F-1; Honda scores first win; Mercedes badges Ilmor engine; Last year Indy is on CART schedule.

1996 First year of competition against IRL; Inaugural race in Brazil; U.S. 500 marred by embarrassing crash at the start; Jimmy Vasser is last American champion; Toyota joins as engine supplier; Jeff Krosnoff dies at Toronto.

1997 Alex Zanardi wins championship; Mauricio Gugelmin turns 240 mph laps at California Speedway; Swift chassis is first American winner since 1982 Wildcat.

1998 CART’s IPO stock sale raises nearly $100 million; Zanardi inaugurates tradition of victory donuts on way to second title; Japanese round added to championship.

1999 23-year-old Juan Montoya wins seven races and championship as rookie; Greg Moore killed in season finale, weeks after death of Gonzalo Rodriguez at Laguna Seca; 20-race slate is largest ever.

2000 Penske Racing ends four-year slump; Gil de Ferran wins teams’ 100th race and takes CART crown; Mercedes’ sudden pullout leaves several teams struggling; Andrew Craig dismissed, replaced on interim basis by Bobby Rahal.

2001 Joe Heitzler takes over as CART CEO; Rio and Texas events canceled, Texas on race morning; popoff valve scandal breaks at Detroit; Zanardi returns but loses legs in accident at EuroSpeedway in Germany; CART can’t decide on future engine formula.

2002 Heitzler fired and replaced by Chris Pook; Penske departs for IRL; Cristiano da Matta wins first championship for Newman/Haas in nine years; Honda and Toyota pull out in favor of IRL program.

2003 Michael Andretti buys Team Green and moves to IRL; Ford-Cosworth becomes spec powerplant; Paul Tracy wins championship; Last win for Reynard as Lola becomes de facto spec chassis.

2004 Newman/Haas drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira dispute title; Rahal and Fernandez teams bolt for IRL two weeks before start of season.

2005 Tony Cotman named chief steward; Korea race cancelled for second- straight year; another title for Bourdais; successful new event added in Edmonton.

2006 Unsuccessful attempt to race in China; easiest title yet for Bourdais; Another unification effort with IRL fails in June; Milwaukee is series’s last oval race.

2007 New Panoz spec chassis introduced; Bourdais wins record fourth-consecutive championship; One-off Vegas GP opens season, Phoenix GP scheduled but not run.

2008 Long Beach Grand Prix is last Champ Car-sanctioned race; five teams join IRL IndyCar Series.

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