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Gentilozzi glad to be back at a racetrack

Wire services
Published March 30, 2004

SEBRING - Paul Gentilozzi was right where he wanted to be.

Granted, he was momentarily behind schedule, but sitting on a soft couch in the lounge of his Rocketsports Racing team hauler on Friday, a chocolate chip cookie in hand, Cosworth engine screaming just outside the window, at least he was back at work with his cars testing at Sebring International Raceway.

As not only a team owner but one of three partners in the ChampCar circuit, that was a good enough start after an offseason in which he and partners Gerald Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven completed a tempestuous process of buying and resurrecting the bankrupt Championship Auto Racing Teams series.

"This feels good," he said, smiling.

Optimistic by nature, or because he's not used to failure, Gentilozzi said ChampCar will succeed despite its balky past and unsettling recent history. Three team owners, including Adrian Fernandez and Bobby Rahal, switched some or all of their cars to the rival Indy Racing League. Gentilozzi deemed the 40-year-old Fernandez's move a one-year "monetary decision" before retirement and said ChampCar has 17 drivers guaranteed, with four more "finishing their deal."

"We're in great shape," he said. "Our commitment to the world was to have 18 and we will have that no problem."

The priority now, he said, is running a stable, financially viable series for a year, beginning with the opener April18 at Long Beach. Certain factions do not want that to happen, he said.

"Most of the negative energy has been caused by a small group of people that feel we have to fail for them to succeed and that's really unfortunate," he said. "I really think it's a combination of Honda and the IRL. I think that their compulsion to say and do bad things about ChampCar shows their insecurity. We don't care what they do. We don't care where they race. We're not talking to their promoters or their teams, we're just doing our own deal. If they're so good, why are they so obsessed with what we're doing? I don't get it."

But even though ChampCar won a battle with the IRL in bankruptcy court over CART's assets, it still must fend off challenges in the marketplace. Those battles are fought everyday, Gentilozzi said.

IRL president Tony George last week admitted discussions with Toronto Molson Indy general manager Bob Singleton, saying the venue would be "high on our list to pursue" if it became available. The IRL hopes to add some road courses in 2005.

"If we lose one event to them, it's because they bought their way in and we think the push back from the fans will be strong," Gentilozzi said. "They are actively hustling everything we do, throwing money at it to avoid competing with us."

SPIN CONTROL: Conspiracy theorists who believe Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets lenient treatment from NASCAR will love this one. According to thatsracin.com, Earnhardt admitted several times that he spun out his No.8 Chevrolet on Lap 431 of 500 during Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol to draw a caution so he would not have to pit under green and lose track position.

Earnhardt thought he had a flat tire, but actually had loose lugnuts.

"I went down in the corner, had some clear room behind me, and I just spun it out," he told the Web site. "The caution came out, I put the clutch in and got going. What the hell else was I supposed to do? Go a lap down? Go two laps down?"

Though intentionally causing a caution is against the rules, NASCAR director of competition John Darby said he would not pursue the matter.

"To brag about it is not enough for me to make a move on it," he said.

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