Lexus team with area ties scoring points

ON MOTOR SPORTS

May 07, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A lot of motor sports fans are in the area but not a lot of major-league motor sports teams.

One of the few, Team Lexus, is co-driven by local drivers and sponsored by local businesses. It also has the distinction of having the first and only win for its car's manufacturer.

"It's a bit of trivia, but it's a huge positive," said Baltimorean Chuck Goldsborough, who co-drove with Pennsylvanian Chuck Gleason last season to earn the win. "There aren't too many manufacturers out there that you could have the chance to do something like that."

And Goldsborough, 37, points out that Porsche won in the 1940s, Corvette in 1954, Fords and Chevrolets even earlier.

This is the second of a three-year agreement with Lexus to field a two-car North American effort in the sport/touring class of the Motorola Cup North American Streetstock Championship. The series is composed of 10 three-hour endurance races, one of them this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The team is based here because, Goldsborough pointed out, the drivers already lived here or relatively close by. Goldsborough lives in Baltimore. Another teammate, Marc Bunting, 33, resides in the Baltimore County town of Phoenix. Gleason, who is 47 and second in the drivers' point standings, is just up the road in Johnstown, Pa., and their youngest teammate, Jason Piscelli, 19, is a full-time student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Lexus, which already had teams in Europe, Australia and Japan but none competing in North or South America, decided to go with Goldsborough. They liked his three-year plan - to earn top-five finishes in the first season, win a race in year two and go for the championship in year three.

With a victory at Road Atlanta last September, the program is being accelerated. The team believes it has a chance at the manufacturers' points title this season, even though it is at a disadvantage against bigger efforts, such as that by BMW, which has five teams collecting points for the overall title.

Right now, Team Lexus is second to BMW in the manufacturers' points race, ahead of Acura, Audi and Porsche, all of which field more cars.

"It's funny," said Goldsborough, who is sixth in drivers' points. "I've always found it very hard to raise support locally for the teams I've raced for. But it has been very different with the team based here. "

Fans are continually visiting the Arbutus garage, hoping to tour a program made up of local companies: CoaleTruck Transport in Joppa, Spirit Graphics in Whiteford, PlanitAdvertising, R&R Autobody and UniFirstin Baltimore, and Mike Higham's Lexus of Annapolis, chosen sponsoring dealership from among 686 Lexus dealers from Atlanta to Chicago.

Altogether, the race sponsorship package is worth about $1million.

"With our win last season, the bar has been raised," Goldsborough said. "And since we're now seen as a threat by other teams, we find there is much more scrutiny."

Staying competitive

It has been awhile in Winston Cup racing since someone got caught blatantly cheating. So in one respect, it was a little surprising to see the Michael Kranefuss-owned Ford team get caught doctoring the car's fuel supply.

But, in another, it wasn't.

At the time of the offense, driver Jeremy Mayfield had gone winless from June 1998 at Pocono (Pa.) International Speedway to the start of the DieHard 500 at Talladega on April 16. There was obvious pressure to win.

Oddly, Mayfield won a week later at California Motor Speedway, evidently by legal means.

For the Talladega misdeed, NASCAR has suspended Mayfield's crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, until June 6 for "the use of altered fuel or fuel other than the official fuel at the Event" and fined Kranefuss $50,000. In addition, Mayfield has been docked 151 driver points in the Winston Cup standings and dropped to 14th from seventh.

"There isn't a whole lot you can say under the circumstances," Kranefuss said after NASCAR confirmed its findings by using outside laboratories.

"Mistakes were made, and there were certainly some grave errors in judgment. We won the pole at Talladega by following the rules, which NASCAR has confirmed. Needless to say, we accept the penalty. ... We apologize to our fans, our sponsors, NASCAR, and the other teams. We will make sure nothing like this will ever happen again."

In the old days, fuel was tampered with, engines enlarged and pellets put in roll bars and released during races to illegally lighten a car's weight in the name of "staying competitive."

Now, NASCAR is mainstream. Such shenanigans elicit more than a knowing wink of the eye. Such "competitive" twists are now called what they are - cheating.

CART rallies

In the CART FedEx Championship Series, almost everyone talks about great competition and the importance of starting near the front.

But last Sunday, Adrian Fernandez became the third different driver to win from outside the top10. He started 16th in the Rio 200, Max Papis came from 13th at Homestead, and Paul Tracy romped home first at Long Beach after starting 17th.

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