The Callahan Report: Herta Favored at CART's Most Comfortable Venue
6 August 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
LEXINGTON, OH: The CART FedEx Championship heads to the most-fan friendly track on the circuit Sunday for the Miller Lite 200. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is embraced by the rolling hills of North-Central Ohio. The countryside is dotted with barns and silos. The peaceful rural hills will be punctured with horsepower Friday as practice and qualifying for the racing weekend begins.
The competition will be tough but the battles stay on the racetrack. Mid-Ohio seems to bring a relaxed atmosphere to the teams and drivers. There is an explanation. Things like the smell of breakfast cooking at a nearby campsite early in the morning . . . the throngs of families that make their way to the track for a weekend outing . . . the eagerness of rural America to welcome the stars of the sport. Mid-Ohio is a showplace of speed with a family touch.
One year ago, Bryan Herta was leading the Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when his hopes of winning his first-ever CART FedEx Championship race exploded before his eyes...literally.
Herta was the polesitter for the race. He was easily dominating the event. It was a pleasant change considering Alex Zanardi was beginning to dominate the twisty tracks that make up the majority of the CART schedule. Heading toward the keyhole turn, Herta's tire shredded. He limped to the grassy area just past the famous corner. A weekend filled with high hopes had vanished. The sweet revenge of paying Zanardi back for a last lap pass at Laguna Seca the previous year would have to wait. The time for revenge is near. Based on his supreme performance at Mid-Ohio last year, Herta is a favorite heading into this weekend. Mid-Ohio is considered to be the home track for Herta and his car owner, Bobby Rahal.
Zanardi went on to win the race last year. He is on fire again this season. There is no way to count the talented Italian out at any racing venue in 1998. He has been fast on virtually every type of circuit. He has done well on short ovals, street circuits, and super speedways. Mid-Ohio is a true road course. It is the type of track Zanardi considers to be his specialty. The competition will have to spend many sleepless nights if they plan to beat Zanardi at a track like Mid-Ohio. Providing Zanardi can stay away from trouble, he will be on the podium.
Greg Moore is also becoming an expert on all types of racing tracks. He is coming off a win at the tragedy-filled U.S. 500. Moore likes the close racing and late braking created by a track like Mid-Ohio. He is still on probation stemming from some mistakes he made earlier in the season, but Mid-Ohio will bring out the true talent of the young Canadian. Moore finished second behind Zanardi last year at this venue. He could match or better that performance Sunday.
The other half of the Rahal Team is the boss. Bobby Rahal is taking his last ride at Mid-Ohio. He has raced at this track since the 60s. If there is any driver who knows how to get up and down the hills in Lexington better than Bobby Rahal, they are keeping it a secret. Rahal came from 16th starting position at Mid-Ohio last year. He stood proudly on the podium at the end of the race by virtue of his third place finish. Any driver wanting to make it to the front of the pack this year should tuck under the rear wing of Rahal. The racing legend will retire from driving at the conclusion of the 1998 racing season.
Jimmy Vasser is no stranger to the fan-friendly Mid-Ohio facility. Vasser jumped to a fifth place finish here last year. The team is even more powerful in 98. Vasser trails his teammate (Zanardi) in the FedEx Series Points race. With owner Chip Ganassi and engineer Mo' Nunn on the scoring tower, Vasser and Zanardi could be battling for the win at the end of the race Sunday.
No matter which driver ends up celebrating victory in Lexington, everyone who attends will be winners. Mid-Ohio is the model for other road racing circuits. With its open garages, elevated viewing mounds, and scenic beauty, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course can't be beat. Grab the family, the coolers, and the blankets. The CART FedEx stars are headed to Mid-Ohio.