THE PPG 500: CART Cal Contest Causes Carpentier Cockpit Cramps

23 September 1997

To be named rookie of the year in NASCAR or CART is a big deal. It causes your asking price to go up. In front for ROY in CART is Alumax Reynard driver Patrick Capentier: he could clinch the honor this coming weekend at the California 500. He has the jitters, as he has missed two races due to injuries sustained when he fell off his bicycle and is only 17 points in front of Gaulter Salles.

Rookie sensation Dario Franchiti, who got a later start this season, is also hot. It is rumored he may be going to leave Hogan, and will most likely replace Parker Johnstone at Team Green.

Look for Alex Zanardi to make a strong run for the pole Saturday, as he tested at Fontana for several days early this month. Alex will receive a check for $1 million from series sponsor PPG at the CART awards banquet October 25 in L.A.

The Ganassi/Target team gives $5,000 to the St. Jude Hospital for each win, and a $1,000 for each pole position. Now they've initiated a contest at St. Jude to let the kids design their crash helmets: Jimmy Vasser's was designed by Heidi McKinney, 16, of Dalton, GA, while Zanardi's was designed by Jason Hardy, 16, Arlington, TX.

By clinching the title Zanardi has joined Jacques Villenueve as the only driver to win rookie of the year and the championship in their first two years in CART.

DeFerran has second place locked up, but third is a toss up between Vasser and Paul Tracy, and Mo Gugelmin could slip in there someplace. As of this writing Gugelmin has the fastest lap ever turned at Fontana: 234 mph. Greg Moore and Michael Andretti also have designs on the number three spot.

Bobby Rahal, the elder statesman of CART racing, is the only driver to have raced at the "other" big California tracks--Ontario and Riverside. He has 24 CART victories.

Marlboro puts up a bunch of loot for the driver who can win the pole and the race. If this doesn't happen they roll the money over, so for the Cal 500 the award for winning pole and race stands at $105,000. Robby Gordon pulled it off in Detroit in 1995, receiving $115,000.

And lastly, Dan Gurney has been named Grand Marshall for the race. He quipped, "I know I can handle the Marshall part, but I haven't yet determined how to be grand."

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel

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