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10 Greatest Champ Car Drivers of the Split (1996-2008)


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#1 Andy Van De Burgt

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 08:36

Hi all,

Last week Long Beach staged the final Champ Car event. To mark this occasion I asked veteran US single seater journalist David Phillips to list his Top 10 Champ Car Heroes of the split, so that's 1996 to 2008.

Here is his list:

10. Justin Wilson
9. Bruno Junqueira
8. Jimmy Vasser
7. Paul Tracy
6. Greg Moore
5. Gil de Ferran
4. Cristiano da Matta
3. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Juan Pablo Montoya
1. Alex Zanardi

So, what do you think? Who would you have placed in there instead?

Best,

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#2 Levike

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 08:58

Relatively correct, perhaps it should include Michael Andretti, and Paul Tracy should be at higher position.. :)

#3 rookie

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:02

Good List...I would have found room for Franchitti, but probably only have had him at 10 instead of Wilson.

The rest of the list is spot on in my books.

#4 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:03

Gil de Ferran has to be much higher, at least top 3. The minute he got competitive machinery he ripped off two championships, an Indy500 win on a working holiday, and the fastest qualifying lap in the history of motorsport. Did it all without pissing anyone off either. His highpoint was arguably Portland 99. Won a race from the front running flat out, and on Goodyears. You couldn't say that very much since 1996.

Shame JPM and de Ferran never had absolutely competitive machinery in the same years. We could have seen the Prost approach v the Senna approach to winning a championship. Ganassi v Penske when both had Reynard Hondas would have been a ding dong.

I wouldn't put Wilson in there because he came in too late. Bourdais deserves to be that high because he's seriously good and never sank to the level of the rest of the grid in his 5 seasons. Just as impressive in his last race as his first test.

Where the hell is Michael Andretti? The guy's biggest problem is that his last name was Andretti and was never going to match his dad, and was a bit of an asshole. That and his horrible F1 foray meant we have a very subdued and even negative opinion of what was basically one of America's greatest racing drivers. Montoya rated him as one of the best/hardest guys he competed against. The team always outclevered themselves on the 'package' though. Always wanted to go the road less traveled trying to get an edge and all too often ended up on the inferior tire, engine, or running their own chassis, sometimes in various combos.

Junqueira's alright but he's riding the popularity wave of overachieving in Coyne equipment. Does anyone remember him as Bourdais teammate? The minute the pressure was on he wilted. My standout memory of him was at Toronto in Bourdais' first year and he was complaining about Sebastien's setups and the way he drives the car in a live TV interview. Guess which driver was faster?

Zanardi was entertaining and had some great comeback drives, but a lot of them were caused by situations he put himself in. 'Brake problems' at Vancouver anyone?

Maybe 'Heroes' gives a different criteria, but the 10 'best' guys for me are.

1. Montoya
2. De Ferran
3. Bourdais
4. Andretti
5. Moore
6. Castro Neves (he hadn't changed his name yet!)
7. Franchitti
8. Zanardi
9. Robby Gordon (though mainly based on his potential at the end of the 1995 season)
10. Da Matta

#5 Imperial

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:20

Zanardi was certainly a huge talent in Champ Car but he's surely only number 1 thanks to his popularity as a man. Montoya was a far superior talent to Zanardi, as was Bourdais. I believe however that if Montoya had been in Champ Car as long as Bourdais was he'd have equalled or bettered his results.

#6 Bumper

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:25

1. Montoya
2. Zanardi
3. Moore
4. Michael Andretti
5. Tracy
6. Castroneves
7. Bourdais
8. de Ferran
9. Vasser
10. Franchitti

Tracy could have been a little higher there as he showed a lot of talent and promise in the early stages, however in the later stages of his career he has disappointed. And personally I think Justin Wilson, Bruno Junqueira and C. de Matta are a little over-rated.

#7 wj_gibson

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:47

I find it difficult to choose between Montoya and Zanardi for the no. 1 position. Certainly, the 5 best are unquestionably Zanardi, Montoya, de Ferran, Bourdais and da Matta. Franchitti and Moore should be in the top 10. The other 3 could really be any from a vast choice of about 25 others.

#8 former champ

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 09:54

Montoya has to be Number 1. No other way to describe him other than brilliant/sensational. Entertaining to the maximum.

Franchitti should be in there and Michael Andretti should be certainly in the top 5. That he isn't is beyond ridiculous.

De Ferren should be ahead of Bourdais. What one must remember when doing this is, looking at it realistically, the ChampCar Bourdais dominated was vastly inferior to the ChampCar the likes of Montoya/Zanardi took by storm. That has to be a factor when ranking these drivers and is why Franchitti should be well in there and Junquiera/Wilson probably not.

#9 e34fanatic

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 10:30

The list is definately close the reality. It is matter of tastes. I think that the emphasis should be in seasons 96 to 2002. Later, when some of the top teams changed to IRL the level of driving was quite low, albeit the top drivers were very good. Durin Zanard-Montoya era there were over ten drivers who were potent winners. Watching those cars on tv was really good show. The races were fun and exciting, the driving hair-raising at best. I´d say that late 90´s the cars were most handful to drive. Montoya was real star and his driving was stuff of the legends, as they say.

#10 McGuire

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 10:52

Michael Andretti has 11 wins in the split era (1996-2007), one more than Franchitti, Vasser, or Montoya (10).

Greg Moore has 5 wins in 72 starts. AJ Allmendinger has 5 wins in 39 starts, while Kenny Brack has 5 wins in 59 starts.

Robby Gordon has no wins during the split era.

Do with this info what you will. Offered without comment.

#11 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 11:43

That's why he's Robby Gordon :lol:

#12 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 11:52

Montoya is definetely first on this list. There's no other driver from that list who accomplished what he did. Winning his CART championship and Indy 500 as a rookie. Remember also that when Zanardi entered CART, his first year he was beaten by Vasser, then comes Montoya fresh from F3000 and he beats the ex-champion Vasser out of the bat. Franchitti and Helio need to be on that list. I would also put Bourdais a bit higher.

EDIT: I misread, Bourdais is fine at #3.

#13 whitewaterMkII

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 12:11

I don't see Al Unser jr on the list, yet IIRC he garnered 4 LPGP wins in row and won indy. I replace Vaasser with him. Also, honourable mention should go to Big Mo Gugelmin for fastest official lap ever in a formula car for his 242+ lap at the Cal 500.

#14 rookie

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 12:20

Originally posted by BMW_F1
Montoya is definetely first on this list. There's no other driver from that list who accomplished what he did. Winning his CART championship and Indy 500 as a rookie. Remember also that when Zanardi entered CART, his first year he was beaten by Vasser, then comes Montoya fresh from F3000 and he beats the ex-champion Vasser out of the bat. Franchitti and Helio need to be on that list. I would also put Bourdais a bit higher.


hmmm...have to stick up for Zanardi here. tbh i would place them a bit more equally than you do. Alex hadn't driven any open wheelers for at least a year or maybe 2, he had been floating around driving sportscars in the US when he signed with ganassi and from mid season on he dominated Vasser, who won the title by winning 4 out of the first 6 races and then finishing in the points everyrace.

After mid season 96, Zanardi owned Vasser and the gap kept increasing. 97 was good, 98 was amazing. Possibly the best season long campaign ever put together in CART, even more telling it was at the height of the quality in terms of drivers and teams.

Zanardi stole Vassers thunder, he was never the same after the dominant Zanardi years.

JP did an awesome job, to grab the championship in 1st year...but I can't agree that Montoya is defintley #1 on the list.

#15 Dudley

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:06

Originally posted by whitewaterMkII
I don't see Al Unser jr on the list, yet IIRC he garnered 4 LPGP wins in row and won indy. I replace Vaasser with him. Also, honourable mention should go to Big Mo Gugelmin for fastest official lap ever in a formula car for his 242+ lap at the Cal 500.


We're talking purely the split era here. Both those drivers had long since seen their best races by that point.

#16 McGuire

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:08

Originally posted by rookie

Zanardi stole Vassers thunder, he was never the same after the dominant Zanardi years.


I would argue that Vasser had his best years teamed with Zanardi and trying to match him.

#17 McGuire

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:12

Originally posted by whitewaterMkII
Also, honourable mention should go to Big Mo Gugelmin for fastest official lap ever in a formula car for his 242+ lap at the Cal 500.


Gugelmin set his record lap at Fontana in 1997 at 240.9 mph. De Ferran beat that record in 2000 with a lap of 241.426 mph.

#18 McGuire

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:18

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
That's why he's Robby Gordon :lol:


Lists like these are so interesting. For raw talent, I would say Montoya, Tracy and Robby Gordon.

For sheer heart, Zanardi... with an honorable mention to Papis, though he was often boneheaded as well.

Careers unfulfilled: Herta, Gugelmin, Servia.

under-rated: de Ferran, da Matta.

Money racer: Kenny Brack

#19 metz

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:26

Very pleased that Greg Moore has not been forgotten... :up:
Not only was he a talent but the best "mensch" in the bunch.
He tops my list of "Camp Car Heroes" along with Zanardi.

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#20 former champ

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:36

Originally posted by BMW_F1
I would also put Bourdais a bit higher.


:confused:

He's already 3rd on that list.......I can't see how anyone could put him above the likes of Montoya and Zanardi, I dare say I'd put a couple of others above him also although you can dispute that he deserves that 3rd spot.

#21 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:39

Originally posted by former champ


:confused:

He's already 3rd on that list.......I can't see how anyone could put him above the likes of Montoya and Zanardi, I dare say I'd put a couple of others above him also although you can dispute that he deserves that 3rd spot.


My mistake. I misread. He is fine at #3.

#22 former champ

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:46

Originally posted by BMW_F1


My mistake. I misread. He is fine at #3.


fair enough, just thought it odd that's all. :up: :)

#23 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:53

Originally posted by rookie


hmmm...have to stick up for Zanardi here. tbh i would place them a bit more equally than you do. Alex hadn't driven any open wheelers for at least a year or maybe 2, he had been floating around driving sportscars in the US when he signed with ganassi and from mid season on he dominated Vasser, who won the title by winning 4 out of the first 6 races and then finishing in the points everyrace.

After mid season 96, Zanardi owned Vasser and the gap kept increasing. 97 was good, 98 was amazing. Possibly the best season long campaign ever put together in CART, even more telling it was at the height of the quality in terms of drivers and teams.

Zanardi stole Vassers thunder, he was never the same after the dominant Zanardi years.

JP did an awesome job, to grab the championship in 1st year...but I can't agree that Montoya is defintley #1 on the list.



Very good points rookie. I admire Zanardi and I know he was excellent the years he won in CART. However, my decision to put Montoya at #1 over the Italian has to do with racing talent . These two drivers can be compared very fairly because they both within a span of 5 years shared teammates in both F1 and CART. Zanardi came to CART as an ex-F1 driver, who never got a good car in the early 90's to show what he was capable of however when he returned and was paired with Ralf he couldn't challenge him the same way Montoya did.

Here is what Zanardi had to say about Montoya from an old SPEEDTV commentary.

"when I think of Stewart I think of a driver that was simply happy with his three championships. Of course that’s a lot, but...” Zanardi chooses his words carefully, so as to not be unfair in his criticism: “These guys – Lauda, Schumacher... I’ve never seen them win a race spectacularly!

..That’s why I admire Montoya. Of course he’s crazy, of course right now he’s having some troubles, but he’s one of the few that even in this supertechnological F1 is capable of every now and then come up with something unexpected. Some F1 people say, for instance, that Montoya can drive aggressively on cold tires, try overtaking moves on the outside and so on, because of his U.S. experience with all the yellow flag restarts. ..To me, that’s BS. The reality is, people like him, like Greg Moore was, they just enjoy doing this, they enjoy trying when everybody’s saying it’s not possible – and those are the moments which become memorable.

“In racing, you can win a title alternating wins with good results, but emotionally I’m on the side of the ones who even when they have a second-place finish in the pocket, they put all their chips back on the table to try and go for the win.”


#24 glorius&victorius

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 13:54

Originally posted by metz
Very pleased that Greg Moore has not been forgotten... :up:
Not only was he a talent but the best "mensch" in the bunch.
He tops my list of "Camp Car Heroes" along with Zanardi.


I remember Greg Moore most from oval races, he was spectacular and overtaking on the outside. Really breathtaking to watch.

On Montoya:
(...ofcourse he got helped by the pile up but still the result is amazing...)



(...the steeringwheel corrections, those cars were great machines...)


(...anyone can dig up that 360 spin he made during the race, while leading +20 seconds)


(... i remember the 99 mid ohio race was also amazing: Tracy and Franchitti against Montoya)
...cannot find footage...





#25 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:10

all of those videos make me wonder what would have been if Montoya had raced in F1 not from 2001-2006 but from 1984-1990. I think he would've had definitely put up an amazing racing show together with Senna/Mansell/Piquet etc..

#26 F1Johnny

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:16

Good thread :up:

I would put Michael Andretti in the list

JPM on top, Zanardi #2

Gil deFerran higher than DaMatta and maybe Bourdais

Bourdais deserves to be in the top 5 IMO. Though the field was not that deep, he was so consistent and didn't become complacent.

Not sure about Bruno or Justin Wilson

#27 Josta

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:16

Originally posted by BMW_F1
all of those videos make me wonder what would have been if Montoya had raced in F1 not from 2001-2006 but from 1984-1990. I think he would've had definitely put up an amazing racing show together with Senna/Mansell/Piquet etc..


No, I don't think that a 9 year old Montoya would have been much competition for Senna etc. :)

#28 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:17

Originally posted by Josta


No, I don't think that a 9 year old Montoya would have been much competition for Senna etc. :)


I think you know what I meant..

#29 glorius&victorius

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:22

This is the last 10 or so laps of the Michigan 500...

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

Juan and Michael pushing eachother all the way :up: :up: :up:
I think this kind of stuff makes Juan respect Michael (Andretti that is)

The commentary is also excellent... its interesting that in the laps up to the finish (as the commentators say) they were studying the sequences and lines.

#30 glorius&victorius

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:31

Another Juan vs. Michael: http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

I think it was during this race after one of practise sessions, where Montoya drove around with a very loose car, he was interviewed about his style and he simply commented: "loose is fast" :up:

#31 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:32

Errr, Zanardi thinks Schumacher hasn't won races spectacularly? :

#32 metz

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:38

Great find g&v. :up:
Over 50 lead changes during the race. :smoking:
Oval racing at its best.

#33 Collective

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 14:59

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
Errr, Zanardi thinks Schumacher hasn't won races spectacularly? :


I'll send him a Barcelona 96 copy.

#34 pingu666

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 15:38

no fernadez? one of the first owner/drivers and mexican too... :)

#35 Dolph

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 16:04

Originally posted by BMW_F1


I think you know what I meant..


I think he knows what you mean and I also think you know what he means...

#36 BMW_F1

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 16:23

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
[B]

Shame JPM and de Ferran never had absolutely competitive machinery in the same years. We could have seen the Prost approach v the Senna approach to winning a championship.

Ross, they actually kind of did. If it wasn't for Montoya's Toyota engine in 2000 he would have walk away with the championship. JPM actually was the driver with the most laps lead in the year despite finishing only 10 races out of 20. That was impressive. He also had the most poles 7, to de Ferran's 5. Also bested him in fastest laps 5-3 and in wins 3-2. All this while Gil and Helio had better cars.

#37 ColdHeart

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 16:31

Originally posted by McGuire


Gugelmin set his record lap at Fontana in 1997 at 240.9 mph. De Ferran beat that record in 2000 with a lap of 241.426 mph.


Suspect records - CART used a longer track measurement than NASCAR or IRL for the same track so a given lap time would produce a higher speed.

If memory serves, CART used a length at Fontana of 2.0 miles while both NASCAR and the IRL used 1.96 miles. CART's measurement was 8 feet out from the inside fence while both NASCAR and the IRL measured the actual racing line.

#38 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 16:56

8 feet didn't give them those numbers.

#39 Atreiu

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 17:13

8 feet at 240 mph is what, a blink of an eye?

How did they estabilish the racing line? It can't be what a single car does on a qualifying lap, because that would be the qualifying, not the racing, line. And if it's an avereage position or whatever determined by the path taken by the cars on the race, what influence do backmarkers and pilots fighting for positions and taking different lines have? It's all racing, to be technical.

:drunk:

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#40 McGuire

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 17:28

CART called Fontana 2.029 miles while NASCAR and IRL use 2.0 miles. You can verify this by comparing de Ferran's lap time of 30.255 seconds with his lap speed of 241.428 mph. (Works out to 10,713 ft or 2.029 miles, or 2.0 miles + 153 feet.) If an IRL or NASCAR car ran that very same lap time it would be called 237.977 mph.

Of course, the most interesting example of conflicting track length in regard to calcuated lap speeds is Texas Motor Speedway.

Here is the official CART T&S track map for Fontana, with splits and physical sections. Note that the physical track length is 128,554 inches -- 10,713 ft or 2.029 miles.

Posted Image

#41 Jacquesback

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 17:31

Originally posted by Bumper
1. Montoya
2. Zanardi
3. Moore
4. Michael Andretti
5. Tracy
6. Castroneves
7. Bourdais
8. de Ferran
9. Vasser
10. Franchitti

Tracy could have been a little higher there as he showed a lot of talent and promise in the early stages, however in the later stages of his career he has disappointed. And personally I think Justin Wilson, Bruno Junqueira and C. de Matta are a little over-rated.


:up:

My only comment would be Vasser and DaMatta are interchangeable.

#42 Bumper

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 20:46

Can I just add an honorary mention for Tony Kanaan, even though he doesn't make the top 10. He may not fit in perfectly, but I've seen him grow from Indy Lights (the original one) with Tasman Motorsports, taking the championship in 1997, to Forsythe in 1999, where I'll never forget his race at Michigan Speedway (now there's a venue we need back) where he and Montoya battled it out to the finish line, resulting in the closest ever photo-finish (yeah Max Papis got a raw deal). With Mo Nunn's team later on he did fairly well, but nowadays with Andretti-Green he seems to have matured where he may actually be in a position to snatch the championship this year.

He may not be perfect, but to me has always come across as a *real racer*.

#43 jonpollak

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 21:15

I like your list Bumper but would relegate PT off the map adding maybe....Da Matta instead.
Jp has some everlasting memories with a few of the names mentioned in that list.

Thanks to metz for his appropriate contribution of fact..

If you can get through the sticky sweet guitar intro this retro is pretty nice
http://uk.youtube.co...h?v=IZbzk40qc7Y

Jp

#44 Slyder

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 01:21

Interesting that nobody never mentioned Da Matta.

Although we have to see how the competition was during his peak years, or maybe because those years in Champ Car were so boring nobody even remembers.

#45 Rob G

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 01:31

Originally posted by Bumper
1. Montoya
2. Zanardi
3. Moore
4. Michael Andretti
5. Tracy
6. Castroneves
7. Bourdais
8. de Ferran
9. Vasser
10. Franchitti

This looks good to me, although I'd probably slide Bourdais and maybe de Ferran up a position or two.

#46 kr964

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 01:34

1. Zanardi
2. de Ferran
3. Montoya
4. Bourdais
5. Moore
6. da Matta
7. Vasser
8. Franchitti
9. Castro Neves
10.Tracy

The Pass :eek:

#47 shaggy

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 02:18

Putting Helio or Dario in that list, and keeping Michael out of it, makes no sense whatsoever.
I wish there was a way to insert Little Al into the list somehow. He was always my second favorite.

shaggy

#48 SKL

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 02:43

Boy, watching all those youtubes and you remember how great CART was in its heyday!! I'm usually not that big of an oval fan but those last few laps of Michigan make you a believer again, and of course, "the pass..."

Damn, I could spend hours watching those old videos... thanks for the memories! (except for Fontana- I can NEVER watch that again- it was bad enough live...)

#49 pingu666

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 03:01

bleh that pass makes me feel bad, herta seemed to live to get mugged, was a really dodgy move :

but yeah, cart in its heyday, i loved the 3/4 coursetypes, circuit(road),street,oval/superspeedway.

them cars might end up in middle east and asia... imagine them round macau ;)

#50 Slyder

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Posted 25 April 2008 - 03:19

Here's my take on it.

1. Gil De Ferran - I have to agree with Ross here, De Ferran was just awesome. I called him Stealth, because out of nowhere he would just be there and beat everyone, just like he did to Kenny Brack in 2001.
2. Juan Pablo Montoya - "oh this kid is good", not much else to say.
3. Alex Zanardi - I didn't like him tbh, but I couldn't deny he was bloody great, and he made Jimmy Vasser look amateurish
4. Sebastien Bourdais - Nothing much to say, he was just a class of his own.
5. Paul Tracy - Only one championship, but no one can deny that Tracy was simply awesome, be it for the right or the wrong reasons.
6. Greg Moore - Brilliant in Indy Lights, just as brilliant in Champ Car, he should have been Champ, and he might've given De Ferran a run for his money had not been for that day... :(
7. Dario Franchitti - Gave Montoya a run for his money and his clashes with teammate Tracy are just classic.
8. Michael Andretti - Had he not gone to F1, I would've placed him higher, but he really damaged his reputation there, and it was a long road to recovery. I still think he's great, but just wasn't the same man who was so dominant in the late 80s early 90s. (my dad thinks he's utter crap and just cashed on Mario's success!!! :eek: )
9. Christiano Da Matta - I didn't think much of Shorty at the beginning, but he quietly rose through the ranks and then he went and kicked ass. F1 kind of tarnished him but he proved he could still win.
10. Adrian Fernandez - Ok, you're gonna say that home favoritism is the reason why he's here? yes and no. I grew up watching the guy, he came to the US with nothing but his helmet, and had drive his heart out and it wasn't until he was recognized as a major talent that sponsors came his way. Little by little he was really becoming competitive, and was the only one to get something out of the shitty 1997 Lola. he could've been champion and came close once in 2000. I think his transition to team owner the following year cut back his momentum that he had built up. but he still was a threat, and I remember his last win at Portland against Bourdais I believe, showing he still had what it took.

A lot of people mention Jimmy Vasser, tbh, he didn't impress me that much. Ok, he had a great 1996, but after winning those 5 races, he didn't come close to victory lane ever again that year, and had enough of a lead to hold off any comers. When Zanardi came, he just pwned Vasser's ass from then on, and never touched him once.

Honorable mentions go to Robby Gordon, Christian Fittipaldi (who would've been one of the great ones but wasn't the same after that horrifying crash in Australia), Bryan Herta, Michel Jourdain, Roberto Moreno (SUPER SUB!!!), Max Papis, Kenny Brack and Bruno Junqueira