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GRAND PRIX OF THE UNKNOWN.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK Motor Sports

With the likes of Ronnie Bremer, Timo Glock and Bjorn Wirdheim racing in this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it begs the question, in the immortal words of Butch Cassidy: Who are those guys?

Fitting that a quote from a character made famous by actor Paul Newman, who partially owns a two-car team on the Champ Car World Series, would best describe the state of the auto-racing circuit.

In all fairness, the Champ Car World Series does have some names most auto racing fans should recognize.

One would be Jimmy Vasser, a former champion on the CART series, the auto-racing circuit that eventually became the Champ Car World Series. Even if his 1996 championship is a little foggy, his brief stint in the NASCAR Busch Series should make his name at least familiar.

Then there is Cristiano da Matta. He is another CART Series champion who jumped to another racing league a few years back. After a frustrating two-year stint driving for Toyota in Formula One, da Matta is back, making his debut with PKV Racing.

There's also Paul Tracy, who won the first Champ Car World Series title in 2003 and still lays claim to winning the 2002 Indianapolis 500, even though most everyone else credits Helio Castroneves with the win.

Unfortunately, the one driver who might as well be Timo Glock is Sebastien Bourdais.

The French driver is the defending Champ Car World Series champion for Newman/Haas Racing, the team partially owned by Paul Newman. But the little-known Bourdais is probably second in popularity to his own teammate, Bruno Junqueira.

Junqueira raced in last year's Indianapolis 500 and was the lone entry from Champ Car in the rival Indy Racing League's premiere event.

Still, the Champ Car World Series opens this weekend at the Grand Prix of Long Beach with perhaps its deepest field of drivers in years.

``It's very difficult to give a grade to a field,'' Bourdais said. ``You see we don't have Michael Schumacher in the field, but we got drivers who have won a lot of series in the field. We don't have to be jealous of anybody out there.''

As the Champ Car World Series starts its third season as the unwanted stepchild of the IRL and the distant cousin of NASCAR, maybe it's time to get to know some of these guys before instantly discarding them.

There are three drivers from the United States in the series. Vasser, the Canoga Park native who now lives in Las Vegas, drives for PKV Racing, a team he owns with Dan Pettit and Kevin Kalkhoven.

Kalkhoven, along with team owners Paul Gentilozzi and Gerald Forsythe, bought the assets of CART in 2004 and continued the racing series as the Champ Car World Series.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, originally from Dallas, Texas, and now living in Florida, is part of Gentilozzi's two-car team, Rocketsports Racing. Hunter-Reay has two wins in his Champ Car racing career, the latest coming last year at The Milwaukee Mile.

Glock, Hunter-Reay's teammate and a driver from Germany, had a brief run with team owner Eddie Jordan in Formula One. He finished seventh in the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal last year.

A.J. Allmendinger is part of the two-car RuSPORT team, owned by Carl Russo. The driver from Hollister won the Champ Car World Series rookie of the year in 2004 and is touted as one of its rising stars.

Then there's Bremer and Wirdheim, the two drivers for HVM which announced plans only last week to enter the Grand Prix of Long Beach and compete in the Champ Car World Series.

HVM has evolved from what was Team Herdez, which has produced three CART and Champ Car rookies of the year. The team with deep ties in Mexico has two Scandanavians as drivers.

That should suffice as an introduction to some of the drivers who will be racing Sunday in Long Beach. There are others, like Marcus Marshall, Nelson Phillipe or Michael Valiante. The best they can do is hope they don't turn into the next Sebastien Bourdais. Then the auto-racing world would probably never hear from them again.

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BY TIM HADDOCK
COPYRIGHT 2005 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 7, 2005
Words:704
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