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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

Weight a minute!
7/19/02

Truly heavy matters such as the precarious world economy and its impact on our beloved speed sport vis-a-vis sponsors, manufacturers, venue operators, team owners and other financially sensitive entities have, of late, taken a back seat — as if there’s room for one of those in a 1550-pound Champ Car — to the issue of driver weight in the FedEx Championship Series.

“The decision to include the drivers’ weight when calculating the weight of the car was made at a Franchise Board meeting in June,” John Lopes, CART Vice President Racing Operations began his statement at a Cleveland race weekend press conference. “There are two camps — those who are in favor of implementing the change as soon as possible and those who are against making a rules change in mid-season. We are currently reviewing the minutes of the meeting to see what the intent of the Franchise Board was when the rules change was approved.”

Why would any team advocate for a mid-season rules change regarding this seemingly frivolous issue when there are currently so many more important survival-based issues on their plates?

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that the runaway V-Cup favorite, current championship points leader Cristiano da Matta, just happens to be the lightest/slightest Champ Car pilot in the series. Therefore, one must surmise that the two factions General Lopes referred to are probably Cris da Matta’s Newman-Haas Racing Team in Camp #1 and all other teams in Camp #2.

Surprisingly, no one has yet brought up the fact that keeping or adding weight to any car is never difficult, while trimming racecar weight is always an extremely difficult and costly project. The temptation to use exotic alloys and lightweight metals like titanium in currently illegal applications would be heightened. This would give the already overburdened stewards even more aggravation and would add to that department’s budget.

But there is a weightier question. Does Cristiano da Matta actually have a racing advantage over his fellow drivers because of his lighter weight? Or is there some other combination of qualities and/or technologies that has consistently propelled him faster than the rest this year? Could Shorty’s success be due, at least in part, to the big psych job the diminutive Brazilian began when he professed, in a Toyota TV commercial, to having the ability to “keeeeck” the substantially larger posteriors of his colleagues?

In his heyday, “Little” Al Unser Jr. was frequently able to run roughshod over the hard-charging competition. Was it because his team would lighten his cars to compensate for the excess baggage that their huskier driver carried? CART’s post-race Spec Police certainly would have busted Team Penske before too long if that were the case.

Michael Andretti, the winningest active CART driver, won his solitary CART Championship long before he ever considered getting his body into its current fit and trim condition. You don’t have to go back through very many CART yearbooks to see photos of a rather chubby-cheeked Mikey.

Incidentally, by my recollection, the last time Newman-Haas Racing won a CART Championship it was with the heaviest driver in the series, Nigel Mansell. Not the lightest driver, as they are now fairly certain will be the case with Cristiano da Matta.

Mansell had eventually become so corpulent in fact that his ForMoola One re-entry — mere months after hoisting the PPG Cup at the year-end CART banquet — was cancelled at the last minute when it was determined that Nigel would never be able to fit into the seat he had contracted to occupy. Not even the proverbial shoehorn and gear lube could get the job of inserting Mansell into an F1 car done.

Paul Tracy, who trimmed down and shaped up dramatically during the most recent off-season in order to be more competitive against the likes of little guys like da Matta, has never been able to return to the steady win-rich diet that he enjoyed while he was tipping the scales at perhaps some 40 pounds more than his digital Toledo displayed this morning. It’s kind of ironic, if not oxymoronic, that a big kid like Tracy was crowned the 1990 Indy Lights champion.

And then there was AJ Foyt…

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

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