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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ More Indy 500 winners & IndyCar champions on their favorite cars

by Gordon Kirby
This week we feature a wide selection of ten great contemporary Indy car drivers discussing their favorite cars. Included this week are Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Kenny Brack. We begin with 1989 CART champion and IndyCar's third winningest driver Michael Andretti.

"The '86 March Indy car that Adrian (Newey) designed was a great car," Michael grins. "He designed the car and Adrian and Peter Gibbons engineered my car that year and we dominated almost every race that year. We just didn't finish many of them.

"But that car was ahead of its time and we had a really good team that got the best out of it. It was really good at any type of track--street circuits, road courses, big ovals, short ovals. You name it. That car was quick everywhere.

"It made a lot of downforce, more than the Lola at that time, and you could just tell that it had Adrian's fingerprints on it. He would come up with some wild ideas on set-up and normally they worked. That car really worked and we tried a lot of different things that made it even better.

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
"It was just too bad we didn't finish many races. We led more laps than anybody that year but Bobby (Rahal) beat us to the championship by eight points."

Three-time CART champion and 1986 Indy 500 winner Rahal chooses the Lola-Chevy with which he won his third championship in 1992, his only as an owner/driver.

"I think my favorite car that I raced was probably my '92 Lola," Bobby says. "I won on three of the mile tracks and should've won Milwaukee where I was on pole, led the race and got caught out by a yellow. We were quick everywhere in that car on short ovals, big ovals, road courses and street circuits, and we won the championship.

"When you have a car that's good on the ovals those tracks can be so much fun to drive. That year I led every lap at Phoenix and Michael and I had a good tussle at New Hampshire but I lapped him during that race and was the only guy on the lead lap.

"It was just one of those years with that car where we were totally in synch with the car. It was a year whenever you went to a track you were really looking forward to it because you knew you were going to be right there every time you were on the track. We had a great understanding of that car and a great setup. It all worked everywhere we went. It was very cool."

Two-time Indy 500 winner, F1 race winner and one-time NASCAR star Juan Pablo Montoya selects the F1 Williams-BMW he drove to victory in 2003 at Monaco and Hockenheim.

"Probably the best driving car I ever had was the 2003 Williams-BMW," Juan grins. "That car was unbelievable. It always had a great balance and it was a car you could hustle like there was no tomorrow. With a V10 BMW we had close to 900 horsepower and it would rev to 19,000 rpm. It was insane!

"That car had plenty of power but the thing that was good about it was it drove so well and felt so good. I've driven a lot of different race cars and some just drive awful. They might be quick but they drive awful. But that Williams had such nice balance. For me, turning in the middle of the corner is really important and that car would do that for me. I really loved driving that car and we won some races too in Monaco and Germany."

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon tested a Williams-BMW F1 car in 2003 and agrees with Montoya that it was the most exciting racing car he's driven.

"It's tough to pick one car," Scott ruminates. "There are a couple for me. The biggest one for shock value was when I went from a Formula Ford to a Formula 3000 car, which was a Formula Holden car in Australia in 1996. The first race was at the Melbourne Grand Prix and that was a big step up for me and it definitely got my attention.

"But the one that really stands out was when I drove the Williams-BMW F1 car in 2003. It did everything a racing car is supposed to do. The balance was really good and the brakes were fantastic. It had all the current technology and was just a tremendous car.

"Unfortunately, it was at a period of my career where I wasn't doing much road racing and hadn't done much road racing in big cars. I'd done two years of Champ Car and then spent a year before that doing just ovals in the IRL so I wasn't really able to get the best from the car. But that was a phenomenal car to drive, a real pleasure and a great memory."

Three-time Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti can't resist choosing the Lotus 38 with which Jim Clark scored his historic victory at Indianapolis fifty years ago.

"My favorite car would be the Lotus 38 Indy car," Dario says. "It was the car Jimmy Clark won the Indianapolis 500 with in 1965 and I was lucky enough to drive that car, 38-01, at Indianapolis a few years ago. It was a stunning car to drive. The four-cam Ford engine is a great engine and the Lotus 38 is one of the most stunningly beautiful cars I've ever seen. I just love it. I was so delighted to drive it at Indianapolis.

"Bear in mind that only three people have ever driven that car: Jimmy, Jackie Stewart and me, and one of the Lotus mechanics. I feel very fortunate to have driven that car. It's just a wonderful car and a very historic car as the first rear-engine car to win the Indy 500."

Champ Car champion in 2003 and disputed 2002 Indy 500 winner Paul Tracy has two choices for his favorite cars.

"I have two favorite race cars I've driven through my career," Paul says. "The '93 and '94 Penske was virtually the same car with some aero changes over the winter and we were extremely successful with those cars in 1993 and '94. Each of myself, Al Jr. and Emerson won races and we battled for the championship both years.

"My other favorite car was the 2002 Lola CART car I raced for Team Green. Once we switched to that car from the Reynard we had been running it immediately suited my driving style and we continued to use that car when I went to Forsythe the next year. Over the next few years I won twelve races in that car and the 2003 Champ Car championship.

"The '02 Lola really suited my driving style. It was a car I really enjoyed driving. I could find a balance with the Lola that was just perfect for me. The Reynard always understeered but I really liked the Lola. I was very comfortable in that car and won a lot of races with it."

1995 Indy 500 winner and 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve chooses the Williams-Renault that took him to the '97 world title.

"My favorite race car obviously was the Williams-Renault in 1997 because I could do what I wanted with it," Jacques says. "It was a very difficult car to drive. It was an Adrian Newey car and they're always like that. They operate best in a very small window but when you get in that window you can go a second a lap faster and we hd that with that car that year. It was amazing, but it was a car that would catch us out once in a while.

"It wasn't a car you could drive fast with understeer. It suited me. It was a car you had to respond to. It was like driving on ice but with a lot of grip. You were always on a knife edge but the edge with that car was so fine and if you could live on that edge it was great. But as the tires got old in the race and you got a little bit out of the window it was difficult to drive and it was very difficult to drive in the wet. But for qualifying it was amazing. You could do a qualy lap and get out of the car and think, 'Wow, that was amazing. That was special.' You knew you had done a lap that nobody could get close to.

"If you got into the last run and you were just stressed about, like a boxing match, knowing that you really have to put your balls on the line. But when you did that you went two or three-tenths faster and you didn't know where it came from. That car permitted you to do that.

"It was the same thing with the Reynard Indy car I won the Indy 500 and CART championship with in 1995 with Tony Cicale as my engineer. With Tony we got a set up for qualifying where we could do that. We could go that extra mile. That was a great car to drive too and an excellent race car on all types of tracks. I really enjoyed driving that car."

2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay selects the Reynard Champ Car he raced in 2003. Hunter-Reay scored his first Indy car win at Surfers Paradise that year aboard a Reynard.

"You always remember the car you scored your first major win with," Ryan remarks. "The 2003 Reynard-Ford/Cosworth was a lot of fun to drive. I loved the looks of that car and I loved the way it drove. I just loved everything about and it's still a beautiful car. I'd put it up against anything else out there.

"We won the last race with that car in Australia in 2003 and it was a beautiful car. It had a great run and that would have to be my favorite all around car. It was always on edge and when you got into its sweet spot it was just fantastic. At a place like Mid-Ohio, it was a tremendous pleasure to drive.

"Then I would have to go for my championship run in 2012, the first year with the new Dallara. The car was new for everybody and you had to adapt your driving style to suit it and we had to learn how to get the best from it. It rewarded pushing the car and taking the next step or making a leap of faith. I've enjoyed developing this car and I was also able to win the Indy 500 for the first time in my career driving that car and that's something I will always remember with pride and hold dear in my heart."

2014 IndyCar champion Will Power picks the Panoz Champ Car from 2007.

"My favorite race car has got to be the Panoz DP01 Champ Car we ran in 2007," Will grins. "As far as power to weight and tires that car was just right. It was a very nice car, very quick. It had a lot of downforce and the harder you drove it, the faster you went. It had really good balance and was really a lot of fun to drive.

"The second one would probably be the Dallara chassis before the current Indy car because I won a lot of races in that car. It was obviously a car that was around for a long time but it suited my style and we won a lot of races in it."

1999 Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack picks the Lola-Ford/Cosworth he drove for Bobby Rahal in 2001 as his favorite car. Brack won four CART races that year and finished second in the championship to Gil de Ferran.

"I've driven many different cars over the years and I think the most awesome car I ever drove was the CART Lola-Ford/Cosworth for Bobby Rahal's team in 2001," Brack grins. "The Lola was a great chassis and we had the Ford/Cosworth engine and we were the factory Ford team. We worked very closely with Cosworth to develop the engine and we had over 1,000 horsepower. There were no drivers aids, no traction control or ABS brakes, nothing. They were serious machines in terms of power and excitement when you drove them.

© Racemaker/Paul Webb
"It's hard to pick one car, but if I had to I would pick that Lola-Cosworth. It was just awesome to drive. I guess you could say that car was the height of the muscle era in Indy car racing because the year after they introduced some boost limits and we had good power but we didn't have the power we had in 2001.

"In the years leading up to that there was a tire war in Indy car racing between Firestone and Goodyear. So we did a lot of tire testing as well. It was just full-on. Everybody was developing their cars, engines and tires. I guess it was the last blast of shall we say free air in Indy car racing.

"For me, that was a good era in motorsports. Back then the cars were allowed to be powerful and the development was full-on. It was a great time. After that it got more and more regulated. Spare cars were disallowed and the regulations got tighter and tighter until you got to where you are today with everyone running the same car.

"I also drove the Williams FW15 Formula 1 car in 1993. That car was more technologically advanced than any race car ever produced, but I never raced the Williams. I only tested it at Paul Ricard. It had a Renault V-10 and was obviously very powerful as well, but I choose the CART car because it was a more brutal beast."

Brack puts into keen perspective the point made repeatedly in this series of favorite car vignettes. CART's Indy cars of the nineties through the turn of the century were high-performing, beautiful cars that were very challenging to drive. They were also the products of white hot competition among many competing car and engine builders, a stark contrast in all ways to what IndyCar is today.

Next week the story continues as we enjoy the favorite rides of Danny Sullivan, Gil de Ferran, Geoff Brabham and Sebastien Bourdais.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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