NOVEMBER 15, 1999
Mercedes rebuilds in the United States
DESPITE losing most of its customer teams in CART this year, Mercedes-Benz is redoubling its efforts to be successful in the series and is expected to announce shortly that it will run its own factory operation alongside Bruce McCaw's PacWest team. In recent weeks Mercedes has lost Penske to Honda and Forsythe to Ford and with Carl Hogan closing his team was facing the 2000 season with only PacWest and Bettenhausen.
Mercedes has, however, secured the services of team manager Steve Newey (from Patrick Racing) and much sought-after engineer Mo Nunn from Target Chip Ganassi Racing and intends to run a team alongside the two PacWest cars. The team - in which McCaw will have a minority shareholding - will be based in the old PacWest workshop in Indianapolis but is expected to move to the current facility later in the year. The team had hoped to sign up rising star Helio Castro Neves but the Brazilian decided last week to join Penske Racing, where he will replace the late Greg Moore.
This has left the Mercedes team with a problem as it needs a top line driver and most are already under contract for next year. An obvious candidate would be Roberto Moreno, who was expected to sign for Patrick Racing. The second seat is expected to go to PacWest Indy Lights driver Scott Dixon. With Bobby Rahal having signed up Kenny Brack (from AJ Foyt's IRL team), the full CART line-up is now emerging.
PacWest has recently tested a number of young drivers at Putnam Park for its Indy Lights team, notably Frenchman Soheil Ayari and Spaniard Oriol Servia.
The number of Mercedes engines in the United States is important in F1 circles as the German company is widely-expected to begin supplying a second F1 team (Prost Grand Prix) in 2001. This will largely depend on the company's capacity at its Brixworth headquarters.
DaimlerChrysler AG - Mercedes's parent company - recently announced its intention to enter NASCAR in 2001 with the Dodge brand. There were rumors last week that Petty Enterprises will switch from Pontiacs to Dodges and that Adam Petty will graduate to the Winston Cup to drive. His great-grandfather Lee Petty won two titles for Chrysler brands Plymouth and Dodge between 1954 and 1959 while grandfather Richard Petty added a further six Winston Cup titles for Dodge and Plymouth between 1964 and 1975.
It is ironic that in the same week as the news leaked out DaimlerChrysler announced that it is to discontinue the Plymouth brand - as part of its North American restructuring.
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