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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Raceday Overtaking: It’s In The Pits!
8/31/02

ATHENS, NY—Do you find yourself longing for the good old days when that Italian doughnut maker was able to score dramatic podium finishes—even victories—after being forced to the back of the field as the result of glitch, accident or order of the sheriff?

Do you fondly recall the astonishing ’95 Indy 500 finish in which Jacques Villeneuve came from literally five miles off the leader’s pace to snatch victory away from his fellow Canadian Scott Goodyear when the latter unwittingly passed USAC’s pace car?

Even more incredible: The Pass of Bryan Herta by Alex Zanardi in the Corkscrew with scant seconds left on the shot clock. It robbed Herta of his rightful Laguna Seca hat trick.

Bobby Rahal’s wins always seemed to come after working his way past most of the contenders and then shadowing the race leader for laps on end, patiently waiting to capitalize on some inattention or misfortune that would, more often than not, allow him to seize an on-track passing opportunity for a victory. Al Unser Junior’s patient victories were even more impressive because he rarely qualified well.

PPG Cup winners Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Juan Pablo Montoya always appeared to be the primary shapers of their own PPG Cup destinies.

Well folks, PPG’s trophy is ancient history now—replaced by the Vanderbilt Cup—and it’s a real good thing that the giant V-vessel is deep enough to hold more than enough champagne for a V-victory celebration that could include the winning pilot’s team owner’s entire family, their brain trust, PR contingent, engineering, mechanical and fabricating staff, pit and transporter crews and everyone from the team’s engine and chassis manufacturers because all of the aforementioned have, of course, been the true authors of nearly every “pass” made by their modern-day CART Champion en route to his acceptance speech at the awards banquet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that Cristiano da Matta couldn’t slice and dice his way through the entire field—especially now that there are 10 fewer cars in his way than Alex Zanardi or Paul Tracy had get around in the good old days—because the stopwatch does not belie da Matta’s phenomenal raceday check-out speed or his uncanny ability to consistently win poles, seemingly at will.

Nonetheless, can you recall a single instance this season in which Shorty actually overtook someone who hadn’t just crashed out, crapped out or pulled out for a pit stop? If your answer was “yes” to this rhetorical question—wise guy—then I dare you to name just one more pass for position made by the current, runaway points leader during his six ’02 victories and his recent second-place finish.

A curious byproduct of life in the no-passing lane is exemplified by Michel Jourdain Jr. who is currently in a tie for the lofty fourth position in the Championship points. Jourdain has become a master finisher and model of consistency by avoiding any on-track confrontation that could have the remotest possibility of ending in a DNF—from ahead or from behind. Sooner or later one of his engines or gearboxes might let go, but it is more likely that supernatural intervention, perhaps a lightning bolt from Above, will be what puts Michel out of his first ’02 FedEx Championship Series event.

Granted, financial constraints have benched field-fillers like Arndt Meier, Hiro Matsushita, Mimmo Schiatarella, Dennis Vitolo and Luis Garcia Jr. Every veteran shoe in a FedEx Championship Series seat today is lean and mean and more than capable of winning a race on any given day. Therefore, with nothing but the cream of the crop left in CART now, competition is more excruciatingly close than ever.

The added incentive of a Championship point plus the guarantee of a front-row start that is now being awarded to CART’s Friday provisional pole-sitters has been a great success. It has not only stoked the already hot competitive fires of Champ Car pilots but it has also captured the imaginations of knowledgeable fans and has, consequently, encouraged greater interest in the qualifying process.

Perhaps the time has come for CART to tweak its point-paying structure again—this time, by incentive-izing passes for position. Here’s how this renegade scribe would change the rulebook:

  • Award a Championship point to the driver who executes the most on-track passes during each race. The counting begins [self-explanatory] after one full circuit has been completed. In case of a tie, finishing position will be the determining factor.
  • At the conclusion of the schedule, a bonus of 10 Championship points will be awarded to the driver who has executed the most on-track passes for position during the entire season. The tiebreaker for this one: total Championship points. If an additional tiebreaker is necessary it should be races completed.
  • Passes for position made after serving a black flag penalty for any reason will not be counted until the penalized driver has resumed the position he had occupied before being called into the pits or sent to the back of the field by the Chief Steward.

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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