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MARLBORO 500 / SPORTS EXTRA

Having Some Wheel Fun

Brack Might Be Considered Only a Rookie in CART Circles, but He Has Quickly Become One of the Circuit's Most Competitive Drivers

October 25, 2000|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It doesn't make much sense, but Kenny Brack is CART's champ car rookie of the year.

How can that be? Brack, 34, is an Indianapolis 500 winner, a former Indy Racing League champion and a veteran of three years in the European Formula 3000 series.

In motor racing, however, a driver new to a series is a rookie. Nigel Mansell was CART rookie of the year in 1993 when the British veteran was the reigning world Formula One champion. He also became the first to win the CART title as a "rookie."

Brack, whose second-place finish in Australia two weeks ago moved him into third place in CART FedEx championship points, wrapped up rookie honors two races ago at Houston. He has more than double the points of runner-up Oriol Servia, a 26-year-old Spaniard, 134-64.

"I really never considered the rookie points," said the soft-spoken Swede from Karlstad, who will drive one of Bobby Rahal's Ford Cosworth-powered Reynards in Sunday's Marlboro 500 at California Speedway. "All I'm actually concerned about is winning races. We're getting closer but we're not there yet."

Brack, pronounced Breck, has finished second twice, third twice, fourth twice, fifth three times and sixth once this year. His other second was on the temporary circuit in Cleveland. In championship points, he is tied with Paul Tracy with 134, trailing only Gil de Ferran, 153, and Adrian Fernandez, 148, going into the final race of the season.

"I'm looking forward to the California race. Max [Brack's teammate, Max Papis] finished second there last year, and we led the race at Michigan this year. Our team has put together a strong effort on the ovals. Fontana is our big chance.

"I wanted to race these cars and in this series because of the challenge. It's not easy. I wanted to win races. At several races, we've had a car to win but luck wasn't on our side. We've been close but not on top of the podium."

Brack has been able to get to the front, leading on 10 occasions for 104 laps. He has scored points in 14 of 19 races.

"This is a tough series," he said. "It has very competitive teams and drivers. And the champ cars are the most powerful open-wheel race cars in the world. They are not easy to drive."

Brack's last victory was the 1999 Indy 500 as an IRL driver. It was also the last win as a car owner for A.J. Foyt, who has suffered through a drought of 16 consecutive races. Jeff Ward and Eliseo Salazar were Foyt's drivers in the just-completed IRL season.

"If you drive a CART car on an oval and an IRL car on an oval, there's not a great deal of difference from a driver's standpoint--you still have the steering wheel, a gear knob and the throttle pedal," said Brack of his transition.

"The biggest difference is that the champ car is much more technically challenging. There are many more open rules and regulations, which puts greater emphasis on the teams to always develop the car aerodynamically. They must spend a lot of time in the wind tunnel to come up with bits and pieces that make the car faster and all kinds of things, so it requires a lot from the team.

"Without a skilled engineer you go nowhere in a series like CART. The engineer coordinates all the other forces within the team, like the aerodynamics, the shop guys and the technicians that work on the cars. He's the head of everything, so to speak, and he's the one who decides the set-up with the springs, shocks and ride heights and things like that. But he leads a group of technicians in doing that. Without a good engineer it's impossible to find success in CART."

Brack's engineer is Don Halliday, 47, a New Zealander who has worked in Formula One and in 1999 with Dario Franchitti's Team Green car in CART.

It was a blow to the IRL when one of its highest profile drivers jumped ship to CART, leaving one legend, Foyt, for another, Rahal.

"When the door opened to join Bobby on this ride, there really wasn't much to think about," Brack said. "My sole purpose in racing is to win and to build upon the success I have had in the past. The team's dedication to success solidified my decision."

And how does Brack compare working with the volatile Foyt and the patient Rahal?

"It seems like the persons I get along with the best are the persons with a successful racing background. A.J. is one of my best friends and master on the ovals. And Bobby is one of the best all-around drivers ever. I'm glad I have had an opportunity to drive for special people like them. They know what it is like to sit behind the wheel and do the duties."

Rahal, who has also been CART's interim president since midseason, recently announced that he is moving to England next year to become chief executive officer of the Ford-owned Jaguar Formula One team.

Actually, Rahal says, he is not so much leaving as he is extending his work as owner of Team Rahal.

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