SEBRING, FLORIDA - There are seven rookie drivers, four new teams, two different chassis, one common engine, some familiar faces and an overall feeling of esprit de corps as CART opens its 2003 season here with spring training.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work by a lot of people but I’m very happy about our lineup for 2003,” said Pook, who weathered the defection of three major teams by establishing a co-op plan and common engine formula that made CART’s 25th year of competition not only possible, but promising. There is a lot of enthusiasm in our paddock and it’s great the way everyone has pulled together.”
The driver roster is a melting pot of nationalities as Canada, France, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, England and America will be represented in the 10-month, 19-race chase all over the world.
Player’s/Forsythe boasts national pride and the most experience as 12-year veteran Paul Tracy joins fellow Canadian Patrick Carpentier, who has six seasons under his belt. Tracy is also tops among CART’s active drivers with 19 victories and will be gunning for his initial championship.
Newman-Haas Racing sports a total makeover as defending CART champ Cristiano da Matta has moved on to Formula One and been replaced by Brazilian buddy Bruno Junqueira. Junky kept da Matta honest in 2002 with two wins, a pair of seconds and two thirds on his way to runner-up in the standings.
Junqueira will be joined by rookie rocket Sebastien Bourdais, the 2002 FIA F3000 champion who won the ride in an audition and has been extremely impressive in winter testing. American Spirit, one of the new operations that features former CART regular Stefan Johansson as a co-owner, is fielding an all-American lineup with ’96 CART champ Jimmy Vasser and rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Herdez Motorsports is also taking the old hand guiding the young pup approach as 43-year-old Roberto Moreno joins 28-year-old Mario Dominguez. Moreno, who sat out last year, has two wins on his resume and is regarded as one of the best chassis readers in open wheel. He’s not signed a contract yet but will be participating here this week. Dominguez got his first CART win last year at Australia and has been quick during testing in 2003.
Derrick Walker’s return to a two-car effort will be a total youth movement with 25-year-old Mexican Rudolfo Lavin and 27-year-old Brit Darren Manning. Lavin is a grad of Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic while Manning apprenticed as a test driver for British American Racing. He also made an impressive CART debut last year at Rockingham.
Dale Coyne is mounting a two-car assault for his full-time comeback with rookies Joel Camathias and Roberto Gonzalez. Pat Patrick, one of CART’s co-founders who has been fielding champ cars since 1969, returns with Oriol Servia while three-time CART champ Bobby Rahal will again run Michel Joudain, coming off his best-ever year (10th in points).
Adrian Fernandez, who missed three starts in ’02 due to injuries, has fully recovered and will be back for his 11th season as CART’s lone driver/owner. The 37-year-old Mexican native’s popularity also has helped turn Monterrey and Mexico City into two of CART’s largest draws.
Everyone is powered by turbocharged Ford/Cosworth engines, while 13 drivers are in Lolas and five are staying with a Reynard chassis.