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The Callahan Report: CART May Have Inspired Zanardi

4 September 1997

[ Alex Zanardi ] Alex Zanardi

MONTEREY, CA: Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) handed the 1997 PPG Cup to Alex Zanardi last weekend by placing the Italian born driver on probation. They also slapped him with a $25,000 fine for "rough driving". Odd but true....CART History has shown us when a driver gets disciplined, it turns into instant inspiration. The last two drivers to be placed on probation in the series (Paul Tracy and Michael Andretti) have went on three race win streaks. Not that Zanardi needs any extra inspiration....He is already the hottest driver in the series.

Zanardi "earned" his penalties when he bumped his way from twenty-third to fourth position in the Molson Indy Vancouver race last Sunday. CART officials reviewed some of Zanardi's passes during the race. He was promptly punished. His "passes" turned out to be "punts". The most notable incident came when Zanardi knocked the race leader, Bryan Herta, into one of the tire barriers. Zanardi claimed he had the racing line and denied any fault.

Zanardi is an excellent racer. He has shown the world his abilities on a racetrack. He makes daring but usually "safe" passes. This past weekend's exhibition in Vancouver was an exception. Look for Zanardi to be the top dog at Laguna Seca Raceway this weekend as CART heads to the picturesque track in Monterey, CA. The 1996 Rookie Of The Year and series point leader will be crisp, clean, and FAST....just as history has shown.

Speaking of history, Zanardi has a little history of his own at Laguna Seca. He started the race last year from the pole. He went on to win the race. Zanardi drove through a gravel trap on the last lap using one of his patented daring passes.

The driver Zanardi passed for the Laguna Seca win last year was the same driver he bumped into the tires last weekend. Bryan Herta has been closer to victory than a politician is to a lobbyist's wallet. Zanardi has burned him twice. Herta is not about to let it happen again. The young driver for Team Rahal/Shell will be fast at Laguna Seca. Herta led half the race last year, starting from the second spot.

[ Scott Pruett ] Scott Pruett

Another favorite to look for this weekend will be Scott Pruett. The driver of the Brahma/Pennzoil Reynard finished third in the California hills last year. Pruett is a proven all around racer. He won on a street circuit in Australia earlier this year and was leading the high speed Michigan 500 before crashing at the mid point of the race.

Gil de Ferran will make a desperate attempt to catch Zanardi in the PPG Cup points race. The Brazilian got his first victory at Laguna Seca two years ago. He is the only driver with a chance to catch Zanardi in the million dollar championship. He has always been precise, fast, and fearless at Laguna Seca.

Penske driver Paul Tracy should also be a contender on Sunday. Tracy had back to back wins in Monterey (1993, 1994). If Tracy can get past the first lap, he may be the surprise of the weekend. Tracy started off the season with three quick wins. He stayed in the points lead until mid season. Tracy was eliminated from the championship hunt last weekend. For the third race in a row, he completed one lap or less. Tracy has the skill and desire to win......It remains to be seen if the Penske team has the power to get him back to victory lane. Car owner Roger Penske has been searching for career win number 100 ever since Tracy gave him number 99 early this season.

Michael Andretti also has notched back to back wins at the track. Andretti won in 1991 and 1992 at the 2.238 mile road course. Andretti is using a Swift Chassis during 1997. He has already visited victory lane with the new equipment. The new chassis, combined with the talent of Andretti, may be the right combination for the huge elevation changes at the scenic facility.

The PacWest team has been strong all year. Drivers Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell have established themselves as legitimate threats to win at any venue. Gugelmin, still floating from his victory last weekend, will be looking for more. Blundell notched two victories this season and nearly a third, before running out of fuel at Detroit. This "team" works well together.

The 15th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey will air at 3 pm (ET) on ESPN, Sunday, September 7th. This is race number sixteen on the seventeen race schedule. The final race of the season will be staged September 28, at the new California Speedway in Fontana, CA.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel