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2002 Sneak Preview Diary: Day Three
It's A Wrap

Laguna Seca, CA, February 9 Saturday was even sunnier than Friday, but the wind made trackside coverage cold, at least by California standards. Nonetheless, we persevered, and joined the other journalists in what I call the "hot pit stroll." We walk back and forth down the pits, picking up bits of information to use in our coverage, and always hope what we get is better, fresher, or more insightful than the others are getting.

What we mostly get while doing this is cold, very cold.

No drivers join us on the testing days they have too much to do. Unlike California Speedway's set up, where most of the places we need to be are fairly close together, getting around Laguna Seca is a bit of a challenge and qualifies as a workout in my book. After lunch, and Jeff's pace car ride around the track, it's time for the group photo of the 2002 drivers in front of a FedEx truck.

While the finished photo looks like a casual class picture, getting it put together is anything but casual the entire process from start to finish consumes nearly an hour. It takes about 20 minutes to get all 20 drivers in one place near the pit out. The three Mexican drivers Adrian Fernandez, Mario Dominguez, and Michel Jourdain, Jr. are walking on the track, all in a row, looking like the guys returning from space in Armageddon. After these three, most of the drivers trickle over to the pit out lane. Kenny Brack and Michael Andretti, among others, arrive by motor scooter. Christian Fittipaldi on a pit bike rider.

It seems they are complete, when suddenly everyone realizes there's no Tony Kanaan. Kanaan is a bike guy rather than a scooter guy none of them walk but because we're running late, a golf cart is sent to get him up to the spot on the track where the other drivers and the FedEx truck await. I don't follow I've already walked at least 5 miles that day and am nicely adorning the pit out wall, thank you very much. But, it takes a full 30 minutes to get the "class picture," and another 10 minutes for everyone to get off the track. And, of course, there's only minutes before the afternoon testing.

Testing is fairly interesting to watch, and the raceway has been opened up that day for the public to attend free of charge. If this were held in Southern California, there'd be thousands of spectators. But, here on the Monterey peninsula, it's drawn hundreds. Enthusiastic hundreds they are, and the kind of friendly track workers you encounter at many road course events. My favorite is a man who works the parking lot adjoining the paddock. I call him Smile Man, because if you're a girl and don't smile at him, he hands you a Tootsie Roll Pop.

I did notice who wasn't there. This was the first event without Roger Penske and his two popular Brazilian drivers. In some people's opinion, the former is no loss. But, there's also no Chip Ganassi. I hear he's in Phoenix or Fontana doing IRL testing. Before attending the Preview, these absences would have been worrisome.

Now, it's more a case of observing the cautious optimism that pervades the paddock. This may be a lean year, team and driver wise. But, with the steps being taken to reverse the pervasive problems that have plagued CART, the worst case scenario is that the series will at least go out with a bang, rather than with a whimper.

Last year, the prevailing mood was one of not-so-quiet desperation. Now, many of the factors that led to the Penske's defection and the partial withdrawal of other teams may no longer exist or may change in 2003.

It is, after all, primarily an economic problem that plagues motor racing in general and open wheel racing in particular. Unlike other sports, where gate receipts and TV contracts pay the participants through salaries from their teams, drivers must secure sponsorship either through their teams or on their own, or they do not race. This Byzantine economic model means that drivers such as Roberto Moreno and Memo Gidley, who possess phenomenal racing talent, must sit on the sidelines while some marginally talented but sponsored drivers have seats. Go figure!

I don't suppose it has occurred to anyone who is dipping from this very profitable stream that they could make even more money if the most talented, rather than the best funded, young men, were contending their races? Perhaps with the shift to less expensive team budgets, this may be closer to becoming reality.

Clearly, in its 2002 Sneak Preview, CART sought to put its best foot forward. In many ways, they succeeded admirably. The Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway is an attractive venue, and its employees and volunteers were warmly hospitable. There was amply opportunity to speak with every driver, and anyone who didn't get the interviews they wanted simply slept in too long. Most of the press conferences started on time and those that did not gave us an opportunity to catch up with one another.

It was decidedly an improvement to have actual track time this year and to see Cristiano da Matta excel in this endeavor. Still, it all comes down to the quality of the show. The proof will be in the racing not the PR when all is said and done.

I'll be covering the Long Beach Grand Prix for Deep Throttle. See ya there!

Copyright © 2002 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
 
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