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Foreign drivers supplant Americans

Only three U.S. entrants will compete in Portland race

My goodness, how things change in 20 years.

In 1984, when CART made its debut at Portland International Raceway, 28 cars were entered, and Americans drove about three-quarters of them. In 1994, more than half of the 32 drivers here were Americans.

On Sunday, when the Championship Auto Racing Teams series runs its 20th race at PIR, there will be 19 cars, and Americans will be driving only three of them.

And two weeks ago, before Dale Coyne Racing hired Geoff Boss, only Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay represented the United States.

American Bryan Herta started for PK Racing at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Sunday, but he will be replaced by Italian Max Papis in Portland. Mad Max raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend.

No wonder they changed the title to CART Champ Car World Series.

The international flavor may continue, as a sale of CART to private investors, including Formula One owner Bernie Ecclestone, could come anytime.

Through seven races, Mexico's Michel Jourdain leads in points with 89, followed by Brazilian Bruno Junqueira (83), Canadians Paul Tracy (81) and Patrick Carpentier (70) and Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais (53).

Vasser, a former CART champ, sits tied for 11th with 32 points. Hunter-Reay is 15th with 10. It's safe to say an American won't be challenging for the CART title.

Carpentier, a two-time winner last year who took third in points behind Cristiano da Matta and Junqueira, captured Sunday's race at Laguna Seca.

Carpentier and Tracy drive for Gerald Forsythe, the 26 percent shareholder in CART who hasn't sported the CART champ since Jacques Villeneuve in 1995. Oh, how he and sponsor Player's cigarettes would love to finally break through, especially considering that Player's will depart next year as the Canadian government cracks down on tobacco advertising.

By the way, Carpentier's celebration was something to behold. The French-Canadian, who led from start to finish and survived a nudge by teammate Tracy, tried to spin doughnuts and they 'were not really croissants.'

Jourdain, piloting for Team Rahal, took fourth at Laguna Seca, a good finish after his car failed the post-qualifying inspection. It was found to be underweight, leaving team leaders to say, 'We're shocked and baffled.' He started 13th and groused after the race. 'We had the fastest car,' said Jourdain, who led at Long Beach before losing points because of mechanical failure.

Junqueira hasn't won, but he has been the steadiest driver. He recovered from a flat-spotted tire to finish second. You can always count on Junqueira to take care of the equipment.

Notes: A CART fan event will be held at the Rose Garden from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Several Champ Car drivers will answer questions and sign autographs, and some cars will be on display.

Count hard-charger Tracy among the drivers who like CART's shortage of cars. Nineteen cars have started all seven CART races this season. 'It allows the flow of the race to go better,' Tracy says. 'You don't have to deal with people getting in the way.'