And the 2002 CART Champion will be......

 by Mark Cipolloni and Brad Stevens
March 6, 2002

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As unpredictable as the CART series is nowadays, one thing is for certain in 2002: there will be a new series champion.

Despite the absence of two-time defending series champion Gil de Ferran and Marlboro Team Penske, for the first time since the creation of the series, one thing that is sure to remain the same is the intense competitiveness that the CART series presents. No other motorsports series in the world can boast the type of wide-open action that CART has generated in the last few seasons. On any given race day there are 10-12 drivers with a legitimate chance of winning a race. That number may even increase this year with a number of strong teams and a total of 20 capable drivers battling for the coveted Vanderbilt Cup.

2002 marks the final year CART will use the turbocharged engine format, opting for the cost-effective 3.5L N/A engine for '03 and beyond. This means the three engine manufacturers (Ford, Honda, Toyota) will battle extra hard to win one last manufacturers title with CART.

Toyota appears to be the strongest based on preseason testing. Cristiano da Matta was consistently fast this winter in his Havoline Newman/Haas Lola-Toyota. Both Target Chip Ganassi entries of Bruno Junqueira and Kenny Brack are certain to run near the front. Many think Brack is the favorite to win the CART title in '02. Scott Dixon and Oriol Servia are two championship dark horses with the former PacWest team, now known as PWR Racing.

Ford has two strong teams in its fold in Team Rahal with Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain along with Player's Forsythe Racing and Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani. Former Team Rahal driver Max Papis moves over to the Sigma Autosport team this season and hopes to move the second year program towards its first win.

Honda loses de Ferran and Team Penske, but still has series frontrunners Team Kool Green with a slimmer Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti. Michael Andretti pilots a third Barry Green car for Team Motorola. Tony Kanaan is now the lone driver for Mo Nunn Racing and is poised for what could be his breakthrough season.

Many drivers also find themselves in a new seat for this season. Vasser moves over to the Shell car for Team Rahal after spending last year in a second Pat Patrick entry. How well Vasser adapts to that seat may hinge on how well Rahal regroups after losing head engineer Don Halliday to Fernandez Racing. Jourdain completes a brand new lineup for Team Rahal after securing sponsorship from Gigante.

Brack moves from the Shell car to Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Now one of the highest paid drivers in the series, it may be championship or bust for the Swede. 2001 Indy Lights champion Townsend Bell will drive the lone Patrick entry for this year with Visteon sponsorship. Mario Dominguez is the Mexican driver of choice for Team Herdez, taking over for Jourdain.

Servia moves from Sigma to the second PWR seat, vacated by the retired Mauricio Gugelmin. Finally, Papis will take Servia's position at Sigma after losing his ride with Team Rahal despite a strong sixth place in the 2001 championship.

As CART looks to move forward under new management in '02 and put the black eye of last season out of memory, the on-track product this season should be as strong as ever.

While predicting a champion is as scientific as forecasting next weeks weather, we once again polish the dust off our crystal ball to predict this years champion. The start of the 2002 season is just a few short days away. In 7-1/2 months and 20 races later, we will know who prevailed as the new CART Champion. Sit back and enjoy what should be the most competitive and entertaining CART season in history (we said that the last three years as well).

Rank Driver Package Odds

Cristiano da Matta
Age - 25

Newman Haas Racing  #6
Comments: Cristiano shows he had the speed, winning in three times in 2001.  Now more experienced and the Toyota engine rock solid, could this be the year Newman Haas is back on top.  
Fast, Lola and Toyota
Weakness: Lack of consistent reliablility

Kenny Brack
Age - 36

Target Chip Ganassi  #12
Comments: Kenny won the most races in 2001 with Team Rahal.  He's back with the same Lola chassis but now has Toyota who is keen on winning the title.
He showed speed on every type of circuit in 2001
Weakness: Will the team get back to dominating ways, which it lost in 2001?

Michael Andretti
Age - 39

Team Motorola  #39
Comments: Still one of the fastest drivers on the ovals, he now has both a Reynard and Lola to choose from, CART's winningest driver's age now matches his car number
Outperformed both teammates last year.  Will have Lola chassis and a very hungry Honda
Weakness: Not as fast as his younger days, can experience overcome age?

Paul Tracy
Age 33

Team KOOL Green  #26
Comments: Still mighty quick, and now on a fitness kick.  Can he keep his brain in gear through the long grueling 20-race series to be champion?
Like his teammate, Andretti, always goes 10/10ths
Weakness: Switch to Lola mid-season.  Can he bounce back from a winless 2001?
5 Tie

Jimmy Vasser
Age - 36

Team Rahal  #8
Comments: Jimmy is now in the car that won the most races in 2001, can he continue winning ways?.
Experience.  His best ride in years.  Ford Cosworth wants to go out winning
Weakness: New to Team Rahal, can he gel with them quick enough?
5 Tie

Dario Franchitti
Age - 28

Team KOOL Green  #27
Comments: Dario and Team Kool Green seemed to lose their way in 2001.  Will married life be just what the doctor ordered for Dario?
Honda wants to go out winning.  Strong on any circuit
Weakness: Switch to Lola mid-season

Scott Dixon
New Zealand
Age - 21

PWR Championship Racing #18
Comments: Proved he can win in his rookie season.  This guy has star written all over him
Fast and not intimidated.
Weakness: Can team learn new setups on Lola after using Reynard's so long?

Oriol Servia
Age - 27

PWR Championship Racing #17
Comments: Servia has the best ride of his life and we have a funny suspicion this team is going to turn some heads.
Fast and aggressive
Weakness: New team.  Must control aggression. Full sponsorship may not be in place.
8 Tie

Bruno Junqueira
Age - 26

Target / Chip Ganassi Racing  #4
Comments: Proved he can win in 2001, but was inconsistent, especially on ovals.  Now he knows all the circuits, he knows he must win in 2002 to keep his ride in 2003
Road Courses, very hungry
Weakness: He has yet to prove himself on ovals in race conditions.

Alexandre Tagliani
Age -29

Players Forsythe  #33
Comments: He's fast, and now has experience to go with it.
He's fast and can't wait to race in Montreal
Weakness: Can Reynard keep pace with Lola? 
11 Tie

Townsend Bell
Age - 27

Patrick Racing  #20
Comments: This guy is going to turn some heads in 2002
Dominated Indy Lights, one cool customer
Weakness: Experience, Reynard and no teammate to trade setup data
11 Tie

Christian Fittipaldi
Age - 31

Newman/Haas Racing #11
Comments: Brilliant in the wet and good on road courses, can he match the speed of his younger teammate?
Road & Street courses, especially in the wet. 
Weakness: Inconsistent

Adrian Fernandez
Age - 36

Fernandez Racing  #
Comments: The Tom Anderson run team now has a year under their belt and new engineering talent.  We expect more success in 2002.
Fast/large ovals.  The addition of Lola and Don Halliday to the team should help
Weakness: Does team ownership distract from his driving?  New to Lola
14 Tie

Tony Kanaan
Age - 27

Mo Nunn Racing  #55
Comments: Last year he was set back by an injury in Detroit.  
Fast and now will have Reynard and Lola to choose from
Weakness: Team still has yet to prove they can win, and now has no teammate to trade setups
14 Tie

Patrick Carpentier
Age - 30

Players Forsythe  #32
Comments: Proved he was still a winner in 2001, can team overcome Reynard deficit?
Weakness: Road courses.  Reynard

Max Papis
Age - 32

Sigma Motorsports  #22
Comments: Papis got his first win in Miami in 2000 and backed it up with two wins in 2001
Weakness: Can he come to grips with new team and no teammate to trade setups?
16 Tie

Michel Jourdain Jr.
Age - 25

Team Rahal #7
Comments: Jourdain has the best equipment and engineer behind him he has ever had.  We expect a number of top ten finishes this year.  Showed signs of potential last year
Hard charger, now has Team Rahal behind him.
Weakness: Has yet to prove he has the fire in his belly to win.  No excuses this year
18 Tie

Shinji Nakano
Age - 31

Fernandez Racing  #
Comments: Was faster than his teammate at several tracks in 2001, but must show consistency to get on the podium
Road courses and Lola
Weakness: Short ovals and consistency
18 Tie

Tora Takagi
Age - 28

Walker Racing  #
Comments: Showed signs of speed in 2001, but desperately needs a teammate to trade setup data.
Road Courses.  Nakano and Tora will push each other for top Japan honors in the Honda vs. Toyota battle.
Weakness: Language barrier, and Walker Team has not exactly been on fire in recent years

Mario Dominguez
Age - 27

Herdez/ Bettenhausen Motorsports  #16
Comments: Showed signs of potential in Indy Lights, but can he adjust quickly to Champ Cars?
Hard charger, the Herdez team showed some real promise in 2001.
Weakness: Desperately needs a teammate to share setup data

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article


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