CART hits the road

The CART circus leaves the ovals behind for eight of the next ten races in the 20 race series. This has implications for the way the championship is likely to pan out, and will start this weekend, at Detroit

CART hits the road

Paul Tracy, of Team KOOL Green currently leads the championship. The Canadian has proved equally effective on road type courses and those of the street or road variety. However, a group of drivers in the hunt for the championship could be affected for better or worse.

Oval specialist Adrian Fernandez admitted "this is a key race for the championship. We need a good result here to keep our momentum going and set the tone for the next few races on the road and street circuits."

"Qualifying is the most important thing in Detroit," acknowledges the Mexican. "The track is challenging and with the new configuration there are some more places to pass, but it is still very difficult to get by other cars. That makes qualifying the key to the race."

Fernandez won at the Rio oval this year, and his only wins in the 1999 season were at Michigan and Motegi - 'left-hand' tracks only. Fernandez has won at Mid-Ohio and Toronto in the past, but his performances recently have only shone at ovals.

"With a series of street and road-course events coming up, it was good to have a couple of days of testing sessions on the Mid-Ohio road course a week before going to Detroit." said Forsythe's Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier is another driver who has shone on oval tracks - he has not yet taken the chequered flag in a CART race, but the two pole positions of his career were on the Milwaukee and Nazareth short ovals, and fast enough to set lap records.

"It's a challenging circuit for the drivers and engineers in that it's bumpy and there are pavement changes from concrete to asphalt," agreed Penske's Helio Castroneves. "The fast chicane in turns one and two is one of my favourite parts of the track. Qualifying up front will be key given how difficult it is to pass."

"Penske had a good race in Long Beach," agreed Cstroneves's team-mate Gil de Ferran, "and hopefully some of our set-ups and what we learned there will translate well to the Detroit circuit and we'll be able to bring home another podium finish."

Christian Fittipaldi is another of the drivers likely to shine now the series has moved onto its cycle of road/street races. The Brazilian recalls how he narrowly lost his first win on the street course at Detroit, to his team mate Michael Andretti.

"The1996 race was a great race for us in Detroit. I basically made a mistake and lost the race to Michael. The car was perfect, and we had the car set up good and basically dominated the whole race. We also ran the fastest lap but on the last restart with about five laps to go, I went a little deep into Turn Three. I went wide and Michael went by, and he won the race and I finished second. That one was hard to take because we were so close but that's the way it goes. It's nice to finally put that behind me since the win in Road America [last year] but I still wish it would have turned out differently. Competitors never want to lose."

Andretti himself feels that the Detroit race is an important event in the calendar, not just for those with championship aspirations, but also for teams and sponsors. "I think the Detroit race is important to CART as well because they are in the automobile capital of the world. The Detroit Grand Prix is a tough race. It's one where you want to qualify well," he said.

"If you qualify well, and keep your track position, you should finish pretty well. But if you start in the back, you could have a long day."

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