©2002 SpeedCenter Publishing
DETROIT (February 6, 2002) - When the teams and drivers of the CART FedEx Championship Series get together at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Sneak Preview this weekend, there will be a few new faces, and a lot of familiar faces in new places for the 2002 season.
For starters, Championship Auto Racing Teams has a new man in charge, as Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach founder Christopher R. Pook has joined CART as the company's new president and Chief Executive Officer. This weekend marks the first time Pook will have all of his constituents gathered at the race track, and he will also kick off the activities on the first of two media days on Thursday with a press conference.
When the Champ Cars are cranked up for the first time on Saturday morning, all of the cars will be riding on Bridgestone Potenza racing tires for the first time. In addition to the new tires, there will also be a lot of drivers in different seats than they were in at the end of the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series.
Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola), the runner up in the 2001 championship, has moved from Team Rahal to four-time CART FedEx Championship Series champions Target Chip Ganassi Racing in one of the biggest moves of the off-season. Brack joins second-year pilot Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola), a winner in 2001 at Road America, on the two-car team.
1996 FedEx Championship Series champion Jimmy Vasser takes Brack's place in the cockpit of the #8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola, and will be joined at Team Rahal by Mexico's Michel Jourdain Jr., who was signed to drive the #9 Gigante-sponsored Ford-Cosworth/Lola last week. While Vasser has tested a handful of times this off-season, this weekend will be Jourdain's first time in the cockpit with his new team.
Max Papis, who won two races for Team Rahal in 2001, returns to the CART FedEx Championship Series in 2002 with Sigma Autosport. Papis, fresh his victory in last weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, will pilot the #22 Sigma Autosport Ford-Cosworth/Lola.
Sigma's 2001 driver, Oriol Servia, has moved to the re-named PWR team and will drive the #17 Toyota/Lola. Servia, the 1999 Dayton Indy Lights champion, will join 2000 Lights champion Scott Dixon (#7 TBA Toyota/Lola) on the two-car PWR team.
Speaking of Dayton Indy Lights champions, 2001 series champ Townsend Bell has signed on with Patrick Racing and will drive the #20 Visteon-sponsored Toyota/Reynard. Bell has previous Champ Car experience, as he "auditioned" for Patrick in the two European Champ Car races last year, and he scored championship points with a 12th place run in England. This will be his first full season of Champ Car competition.
Also making the jump from Lights will be Mario Dominguez, who replaces Jourdain at Herdez Competition. Dominguez will drive the #16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola, and is one of three drivers in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series that hails from Mexico.
The third driver in the 2002 series from Mexico is perhaps the country's biggest sports star, as Adrian Fernandez returns for his second season as an owner/driver. Fernandez will drive the #51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola, and is joined on the team once again by Japan's Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola).
Nakano will once again have a countryman in the series as, Walker Racing is back and looking for big things out of second-year driver Tora Takagi, who will drive the #5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard. Takagi closed out the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series with several strong performances.
While Takagi finished strong, nobody finished the 2001 season stronger than Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola), who won the final two races of the season, the second of which lined his pockets with a cool one million dollars. Da Matta is back for his second year with Newman/Haas Racing and will be paired once again with his Brazilian countryman Christian Fittipaldi (#11 TBA Toyota/Lola).
Brazil will also be represented in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series by Tony Kanaan, who will carry Pioneer/WorldCom sponsorship on his #10 Honda-powered Reynard. Kanaan continues with Mo Nunn Racing for the third consecutive year.
The lineup at Player's Forsythe Racing also remains intact, as Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's Ltd./Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard) returns for his fifth year with the team, and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard) enters his third season of CART FedEx Championship Series competition with Player's Forsythe. Carpentier and Tagliani had their most successful seasons to date last year, and are expecting to be one of the strongest teams in the 2002 season.
However, Player's will surely have competition for the title from the Team KOOL Green, as well as TKG's technical partners at Team Motorola. Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Reynard) and Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard) are each returning to Team KOOL Green for their fifth consecutive seasons, and both have proven to be championship contenders over the years. And Team Motorola driver Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Reynard) is the winningest driver in CART history, and is always a threat for the championship.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will be open to the public beginning at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and all fans will be welcome to attend the All-Driver Autograph Session on Saturday from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. For those who will not be in attendance, CART.com--the official web site of the CART FedEx Championship Series--will offer extensive live coverage from the track. The web site will carry live timing for every test session and each day will conclude with one hour of live audio coverage to wrap up each day's events.