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Brazilians Making an Impact

September 08, 2000|SHAV GLICK

In Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway, a CART champ car race, there will be nine Brazilians and five Americans, one more than usual with the return of defending champion Bryan Herta.

Why all the Brazilians?

Racing is a national pastime in South America's largest country, and with only two or three Formula One teams offering competitive rides, young Brazilians have found that there are greater opportunities in the United States than F1.

"For years, our young drivers with talent went to Europe to try for Formula One," said Gil de Ferran, who left Sao Paulo to drive for Jim Hall in CART in 1995.

"The tradition of going to Europe began with Emmo [Emerson Fittipaldi] and continued with [Ayrton] Senna and [Nelson] Piquet. They were all world champions and were an inspiration to all young Brazilians.

"However, in recent years it became very difficult to break into Formula One. It can become very frustrating. Emmo was the pioneer in F1, also our pioneer for Indy car racing. When he came to the United States [after winning two Formula One championships] it opened some eyes. Most of us were still skeptical, though, until Nigel Mansell left Formula One when he was the champion, to drive for Carl Haas and Paul Newman. That's when we knew racing in the States was the real thing."

Mauricio Gugelmin, who had an abbreviated CART season in 1993 with Dick Simon, started the influx. He was followed in 1995 by de Ferran and Christian Fittipaldi--Emerson's nephew--who finished 1-2 in rookie-of-the-year voting.

Next came Cristiano da Matta, Tony Kanaan, Gualter Salles, Helio Castroneves and Luiz Garcia Jr. into the Indy Lights program, from which they moved up quickly to CART.

Tarso Marques, after two disappointing F1 seasons, replaced the injured Al Unser Jr. on Roger Penske's team last year and this year drives for Dale Coyne. Salles also started the year with Coyne, but has been replaced by Garcia.

Another Brazilian is Roberto Moreno, at 41 the group's old-timer. He first drove an Indy car for Rick Galles in 1985 and 1986 before heading for Formula One. After racing sporadically for parts of five F1 seasons, Moreno returned to CART in 1997 as a replacement for the injured Christian Fittipaldi.

For two seasons, Moreno hopped around, filling in so well that he became known as "Super Sub." This year he is no longer a sub, but a team driver for Pat Patrick, good enough to be challenging for the CART championship. He is fifth, but only 11 points behind leader Michael Andretti.

They're good. In 14 races this season, Brazilians have won six--de Ferran and Castroneves two each, Moreno and da Matta one each.

Still another Brazilian may join CART next year. Bruno Junqueira, newly crowned European Formula 3000 champion, is rumored to be the replacement for Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya on Chip Ganassi's 2001 Target team.

"Formula One is still ahead, but CART is rising in popularity in Brazil," said de Ferran. "We still have one successful driver [Rubens Barrichello] in Formula One, so he gets the most attention, but all CART races are televised back home and receive strong ratings.

"The CART race in Rio draws about 50,000, not as many as the F1 race at Interlagos, but a good, enthusiastic crowd.

"And like I said, Formula One is tough to break into. It is much easier to come here and earn a ride in CART. We even have one driver [Airton Dare] in the Indy Racing League. It makes the United States a nice career option for up-and-coming drivers."

Besides Barrichello, other Brazilians in Formula One are Ricardo Zonta and Pedro Diniz.

"There aren't so many sports, like there are in the United States, for young boys in Brazil," said Castroneves. "There are only [soccer] and karting. Kart tracks are everywhere and everyone is watching for the next Senna.

"Anyone who shows natural ability gets pushed ahead, and that means going to Europe or the U.S., which is one reason why so many of us are here."

De Ferran, Castroneves, da Matta, Gugelmin, Kanaan and Garcia were all young karting champions. Only Dare took an unusual route to racing, switching from jet skis to race cars.


Herta, winner of the last two CART races at Laguna Seca, will return as Jerry Forsythe's third driver Sunday. Forsythe, who already has two cars in the series, has been feuding with CART over running a third team. This has kept Herta on the sidelines, except for five races in which he subbed for injured drivers.


Paul Tracy's victory last Sunday in Vancouver, Canada, was his 18th, moving him into seventh place on CART's all-time list. Having passed Danny Sullivan, Tracy is only one behind sixth-place Mario Andretti.


Bill Miller, one of the original employees at California Speedway, is returning as president, replacing Scott Atherton, who resigned recently. Miller, 31, director of marketing from 1996 to 1998, returns after having been president of Nazareth Speedway.


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