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Saturday, February 9
Pook lays down CART law
By Robin Miller

MONTEREY, Calif. -- There can be little doubt that 2002 is the most critical season in CART's 23-year history. And there can be little argument that if the most challenging test of man and machine is to sustain itself in the motorsports market, Chris Pook must be successful.

To do that, Pook must be allowed to rule without any interference from the car owners who have put CART in such peril during the last few years. The 10th leader of this wayward series, Pook also happens to be the first one with any passion for CART who understands the terrain, the business, the players, the pitfalls and the reality of what open-wheel racing is up against.

After trying alleged marketing mavens, lawyers, circus carnies, tap dancers and spin doctors with no racing backgrounds, CART finally turned to a respected racing insider.

Pook, who helped grow CART with his Long Beach Grand Prix, went after the job because he saw how disorganized and desperate things had become by the end of 2001.

Those owners elected him because they finally realized how deep they had stepped in it.

Whether Pook can rescue CART and begin to restore it to its lofty position of 1995 (prior to the open-wheel war) will likely be determined in the next 12 to18 months.

But, in his first weekend of face-to-face business during Sneak Preview here at Laguna Seca Raceway, Pook has already gotten his promoters, sponsors, drivers and teams stoked about 2003 with several ways to improve the FedEx Championship.

"I had never met the man (Pook) and I was feeling sad about the future of CART because of all the stuff that happened last year," said Patrick Carpentier, now in his fifth season of driving champ cars.

"But after he told the drivers some of his plans for this season and the future, I left the room feeling a lot more optimistic."

Besides canceling two races in 2001 (Texas on race morning), CART had disasters at Elkhart Lake (the race started under caution with a river running across a section of the track), Fontana (a yellow-flag finish for $1 million to win) and its races at Toronto, Cleveland and Laguna were all decided by bogus fuel strategies.

CART also opted to do away with Friday qualifying at road and street courses and turn them into test days and use points to determine a driver's qualifying group, which made for some very unfair advantages.

Pook, whose promoting savvy turned Long Beach from a dingy dump into California's largest three-day party, pushed several common sense ideas into law at last Friday's owners meeting.

Starting with the season opener at Monterrey, Mexico on March 10, CART will go back to Friday qualifying at road courses and street circuits. The driver setting quick time on Friday will earn one point, the provisional pole position and be assured of at least a front-row starting spot. On Saturdays, the fast qualifier will also earn a point and can still win the pole.

"We need to give the fans and the media a story on Fridays and this is a way to create more interest," Pook said.

Qualifying will consist of all cars on the track for one hour on Friday and Saturday -- best man wins.

"Nobody should have an advantage in qualifying and this is much more fair," said Cristiano da Matta, a three-time winner in 2001 who was always in the "fast group" in Paul Newman's car.

To eliminate the fuel economy runs and teams running at half speed to conserve fuel, CART is loosening its fuel rules. There will be a pre-determined minimum number of pit stops and a set window of when those stops must be made.

I can't change the past but I am going to change the future. ... We don't need committees to run this thing, we need guys making solid decisions.
Christopher Pook

In other words, if it's determined (by the track's length) there will be three stops at Toronto and they will come every 25 laps then that's the window a team must pit in. If you stop on lap 20, then your next stop must come by lap 45 and, if you go over that, you will be penalized.

"You won't have to worry about conserving fuel, you'll be running rich and flat out all the time," said veteran Adrian Fernandez, who's earned a couple of those mileage victories in the past.

Added Tom Anderson, the co-owner and general manager of Fernandez Racing: "This will benefit the guys who are running well and you won't be able to back into a victory like before."

On road and street courses, Pook wants to use more local yellows instead of the full-course variety. So, if a couple cars spin out on a corner, there will be a yellow displayed to slow the pack in that area only and they will resume racing the rest of the way around the track.

There will also be every effort made to finish a race under the green flag, even if it's the green and white flag together.

"Chris has brought a lot of common sense to this paddock in a short amount of time," said Morris Nunn, who fields cars in both IRL and CART. "And it's long overdue."

Pook acknowledges he's got a lot of issues to tackle and fences to mend from past regimes and is aware of the perception that CART is dying.

"People write and talk of the doom and gloom of 2002 but anybody who wants to have a bet on how we're going to be in 2004, I'm happy to take your bets," he said. "Let's put them in an envelope and see who picks up the money in a couple of years.

"I can't change the past but I am going to change the future," he declared. "We are starting to listen to our sponsors and promoters and understand their needs.

"We don't need committees to run this thing, we need guys making solid decisions, listening to the outside and giving leadership. It may sound a little dictatorial and basic but this is all about people."

And, after years of mismanagement, CART finally has the right person at the top. CART fans are hoping it's not too late.

New engines, chassis for 2003
As expected, CART also announced it would drop its turbocharged engine and go with normally-aspirated, 3.5-liter motors in 2003 -- similar to the Indy Racing League. CART also voted to adopt IRL chassis specs in an effort to make it easier for its team to compete at the Indianapolis 500.

Toyota, which currently supplies CART engines along with Ford and Honda, is headed for the IRL in 2003 but will continue to build motors for CART because the new specs are so compatible to the IRL's. John Judd, who spent Saturday here as a guest of Honda, has also expressed interest in a CART engine.

Honda and Ford have stated 2002 will be their final season in CART, while current CART chassis manufacturers, Lola and Reynard, will construct cars for IRL and CART in 2003.

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