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Saying farewell to Champ Car

Rick Mears was known as a master of the ovals.

Getty Images

Rick Mears was known as a master of the ovals.

Champ Car (once known as CART) runs its final race Sunday in Long Beach, Calif., drawing the curtain on a 29-year history, and a 12-year battle with the Indy Racing League. We pay tribute to the series with a look back, and ahead.

5 best drivers of the CART/Champ Car era

1. Rick Mears: The three-time series champion was known as a master of the ovals (four Indianapolis 500 wins attest to that), but he also claimed six road-course victories, most coming in an era when the series didn't run that many non-ovals.

2. Michael Andretti: The leader in CART/Champ Car wins with 42, it seemed he was out front in every race — but one thing or another kept him from claiming more than one championship, in 1991. Still, he's third in all-time wins in a series lineage dating to 1909.
3. Al Unser Jr.: His two championships came with different teams (1990 with Galles-Kraco and 1994 with Penske) as he piled up 31 victories. His '94 season was one of the most dominant in series history, with eight wins including the Indy 500.
4. Sebastien
Bour­dais: The only driver ever to win four consecutive major open-wheel titles and the all-time leader in winning percentage (31 of 74, 41.89), but his ranking is hurt by the level of competition in the series the past few years as most top drivers left for the IRL.
5. Bobby Rahal: His three championships put him slightly ahead of Paul Tracy (who contended for years before winning the 2003 crown) and Mario Andretti (this list doesn't account for his pre-1979 feats). Rahal's hallmark was consistency, as he won 24 times in the series.

5 moments

Portland, 1986: Here's your present, pops. On Father's Day, Michael Andretti led the race until the final straight when he ran out of fuel, allowing father Mario Andretti to cross the line first by hundredths of a second.

Portland, 1997: In the closest three-way finish in series history, Mark Blundell earned his first series victory, passing Gil de Ferran on the final straightaway. Raul Boesel was closing fast on both at the line as they finished side by side by side.

U.S. 500, Michigan, 1999: Max Papis looked certain to earn his first CART victory until he ran out of gas in Turn 3 of the final lap. Tony Kanaan took the lead, only to have Juan Pablo Montoya close in at a ferocious pace in the final yards. Kanaan took his first series win by the closest margin in series history on an oval, 0.032 seconds.

St. Petersburg, 2003: This one wasn't a memorable race by conventional standards as Paul Tracy took the victory on the way to his lone series title (and a rookie named Sebastien Bourdais, in a sign of things to come, earned the pole). But this one was significant as a new era of racing dawned in the bay area, setting the stage for the current IndyCar race on the downtown streets.

Mexico City, 2007: Sebastien Bourdais, ordinarily a pretty cool customer, showed a lot of emotion on the day he bid farewell to the series with a final win. Bourdais, at the time a St. Petersburg resident, wrapped up a historic season with his 31st series victory.

5 things to know about Sunday's race

1 Points count toward IRL IndyCar standings: The IRL was unable to move this weekend's race in Japan so it made this compromise.

2 Size of field: There are 20 cars entered, the majority of whom have no stake in the IndyCar standings. Many have no ride after this weekend.

3 The cars: All teams will use last year's Panoz chassis.

4 Television: The race, which begins at 4 p.m. Sunday, will air on tape delay at 5:30 Sunday on ESPN2.

5 The future: The IRL has a contract through 2015 and takes over the race next year. This event dates to 1975 and next year will have a fourth different headlining series.

5 ways Champ Car is really still alive (it's just called the IRL now)

1 Variety of circuits: The IRL ditched its all-oval format in 2005, starting with its first race in St. Petersburg. It has six road/street courses mixed in with the ovals, much closer to the look of Champ Car circa early 1990s.

2 International factor: Honda engines, races in four countries, drivers from 10 countries.

3 Full field for Indianapolis 500: The drama of bump day looks like it'll be back, as 32 drivers are entered with more sure to come.

4 Only one champion: No need to belabor the open-wheel split, but having one series is better for fans, sponsors and networks.

5 Young Americans: This is speculative, but a richer, single series might have a better chance of keeping its young domestic crop (Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay) from being lost to NASCAR as was the last generation (Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman) that, under better circumstances, might have stayed on the open-wheel track.

Saying farewell to Champ Car 04/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 12:11pm]
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