Champ Car is no more. Once the top American single-seater racing series, home to past and future F1 drivers, it came to an end on April 20th with its final race at Long Beach.
Its influence on Formula One was huge. F1 borrowed innovations from CART* like refuelling pit stops and the current tyre rules. At its height in the early 1990s Bernie Ecclestone even tried to organise a race between top F1 and CART drivers, and looked at putting oval racing on the F1 schedule.
In three decades of Champ Car from 1979 to 2008, 72 drivers from the American series also started F1 races. Starting today this nine-part feature will recall the careers of all of them.
Best known to F1 fans as the 1978 world champion (pictured top), Andretti had an extensive racing career in America that lasted until 1994. He won the Champ Car title for Newman/Haas in 1984 and took 19 victories from 209 starts.
Read more about Mario Andretti: Mario Andretti biography
A giant in Champ Car with 42 wins from 309 starts, he should have won the Indianapolis 500 but suffered dreadful luck. At Michigan in 2000 he was narrowly pipped to victory by Juan Pablo Montoya in one of the most thrilling ends to a race I have ever seen (pictured above).
His son Marco (now in IndyCar) recently claimed sinister forces at McLaren were responsible for Michael’s torrid F1 season in 1993. Wiser observed suggested that commuting from Florida and partnering Ayrton Senna was never going to be the smartest way of starting an F1 career.
Read more about Michael Andretti: Michael Andretti biography
Ashley had a brief F1 career in the 1970s, starting only four races from 11 attempts. He had a similarly brief Champ Car CV of five starts from 1985-87.
Baldi struggled with uncompetitive Arrows, Alfa Romeos and Spirit entries in F1, managing a best finish of fifth at Zandvoort in 1985. He made a single Champ Car start for Dale Coyne in 1994.
Twelve appearances for AGS in 1991 yielded not a single race start for Barbazza in 1991. Two consecutive points finishes for Minardi in 1993 showed he had potential, but he was dropped mid-season.
In between those efforts he returned to Arciero Wells Champ Car team who he had also driven for in 1987 and 1989. Later a huge crash in a 1995 IMSA race left Barabazza in a coma, and he hasn’t raced since.
Bernoldi only achieved fame in F1 when he spent half of the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix holding up David Coulthard, who had fallen to the back of the field following problems at the start. Bernoldi started the final Champ Car race for Conquest this year and finished fourth.
Blundell scored two podiums for Ligier in 1993 and added a third for Tyrrell in 1994. The following year he got a break for McLaren after Nigel Mansell left the team, but the first Mercedes-powered car was an uncompetitive proposition.
He found himself out of F1 and switched to Champ Car where he enjoyed some success, winning an incredibly close race at Portland in 1997 where 0.055s covered the top three. That came after a gigantic crash in only his second race in Rio de Janeiro when his brakes failed, Blundell later admitting he had tried to soften the blow by hitting the sister car of fellow ex-F1 driver Mauricio Gugelmin, but missed. His Champ Car career ended in 2000.
Read more about Mark Blundell: Mark Blundell biography
Boesel raced the generally uncompetitive March and Ligier cars in 1982 and 1983. He had a much longer career in Champ Cars, but never scored a win in 172 starts between 1985 and 1999.
Incidentally, he was the car in third place behind Blundell at Portland in 1997, sandwiching Gil de Ferran. De Ferran, a two-times Champ Car champion, who tested for Williams and Footwork (Arrows) in 1991.
Watch video of the five greatest Champ Car moments at F1 Fanatic’s sister site Maximum Motorsport.
*I’ve used the terms CART and Champ Car interchangeably in the feature, although they are not quite the same thing. CART went bankrupt in 2003 but the series persisted as Champ Car until this year.
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