Race No. 17
The California 500CART '97 Finale at Season's Second New Venue
Presented by Toyota
The California Speedway Fontana, California
September 26-28, 1997
By Ray Sprouse
©1997 SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
Fontana, California Sept. 25th, 1997) The 1997 PPG CART World Series draws to an end this weekend at PenskeMotorsports, Inc.'s new California Speedway in Fontana, California.
In a season that has proven to be the most competitive in CART history,Target Chip Ganassi driver Alex Zanardi evolved from a slow season start toa brilliant last-half charge to clinch this year's PPG Cup. Zanardi assumedthe lead in the points standings following his first oval victory at the US500 at Michigan Speedway on July 27, and never looked back. He followedwith a win at Mid-Ohio, and another at Road America. He placed fourth atthe Molson Indy Vancouver, and third at Laguna Seca. He enters the Marlboro500 at the California Speedway with 195 points, 41 points ahead ofsecond-place Gil de Ferran in the Walker Racing Valvoline/Cummins ReynardHonda HHR.
Most notable of the upcoming event is the introduction of the Swift chassisto driver Richie Hearn in the Della Penna Ralph’s/Food 4 Less Swift FordCosworth. The chassis was provided by Newman/Haas Racing, and was to bedelivered to Della Penna no earlier than September 23rd, but the chassiswill be set to Newman/Haas specs when it rolls from the transporter.Wouldn't it be nice to have a camera situated to capture the smile onRichie's face when he first brings the Swift to speed.
Also worthy of mention is the return of driver Robby Gordon for the seasonfinale. Gordon will fill the seat of the Hogan Reynard Mercedes-Benz thatwas suddenly vacated by promising rookie Dario Franchitti. The announcementthat Franchitti will drive for Team Kool Green for the '98 season brought avery sudden end to to possibility that Franchitti would be in contentionfor the '97 PPG Cup Rookie of the Year Award. Gordon also had a rathersudden exit from Walker Racing following the '96 season when constantengine failure led him to make harsh statements about the Ford engineprogram. Gordon is in for a one-race deal with Hogan, and will then returnto his rather lackluster existence with Felix Sebates to finish out hisNASCAR season.
The event is scheduled to start at noon on September 28, but will not betelevised until 8:00pm EDT on ESPN. "On the Grid" will also precede thetape delayed airing at 7:30pm EDT on ESPN2.