Moreno Takes Long Road To Top Of CART

It’s safe to say that Roberto Moreno has put the "Super Sub" label to rest. He’s got a new one now: "CART points leader."

It may have taken him seven seasons to do it, but with his second-place finish at Portland on Sunday, Moreno has worked his way to the top of the CART FedEx Championship Series. And he’s done it without winning a race, which he was denied a chance to do Sunday when Patrick Carpentier, running 10th, wouldn’t let Moreno pass him.

"He (Carpentier) stopped a good battle to happen at the end of the race, between me and Gil. That's for sure," said Moreno, who at 41 is the oldest driver in CART. "Whether I would pass him or not, only God knows."

"For me, this is water under the bridge. What can you do? You've got to forgive people and hope they will perform in a different way next time."

That next time is Sunday at Burke Lakefront Airport, site of the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland. Moreno finished eighth there last year.

This year, with the points lead in his grasp, Moreno’s task at Cleveland is to better that finish and protect his one-point lead over Gil de Ferran. A win would keep him and Patrick Racing on top. Anything less, and he could lose the points lead.

But Moreno will have none of that. He wants to focus on the race, as hard as that may be.

"I go in with not a lot of expectations, but I'll be very, very careful, and I'll be working very hard to win that race, for sure," said Moreno, who is his first full-time ride since 1996, when he drove for Payton Coyne Racing. "But when I go in and approach a race, I hate the pressure. I hate that pressure when people say, 'Oh, you're leading the championship, you should do well here and there.'

"All we do is we go there, we do the best we can, and if it's our day, we'll come out the winner. And that's the way we always approach racing, and it's been very successful up to this point."

That success includes scoring points in six of eight events, second-place finishes at Homestead and Portland, a third-place finish at Japan and leading a lap in four events. The result: a 68-67 points lead.

"It's a reward, really," Moreno said. "It’s true, because we worked very, very hard, and I never expected myself to be on the podium a couple of times before the sixth or seventh race. I say that because I'm fighting drivers -- full-time drivers for two or three years down there, and some drivers maybe have a year behind, but they have been with good teams testing and all that. So I've been out of the picture for so long, doing bits and pieces for 10 years.

"Consistency is something very important for a race car driver."

Consistency was not a luxury Moreno had before this season.

Last season he started 13 races for two teams -- eight with Pac West Racing Group for injured Mark Blundell and five for Newman-Hass Racing when Christian Fittipaldi went down. In 1998 he competed in just three events after starting nine in 1997, when he ran a partial schedule and substituted at Newman-Haas.

Those years as a substitute were good and bad for Moreno. Racing for different teams prevented him from forming long-term relationships with team members, and that hurt when it came time to discuss the cars’ performance. On the other hand, being able to prove himself capable with no testing and limited practice surely impressed team owners.

"It did help me to get back into the picture again in the eyes of other team managers, team owners like Pat Patrick and Jim McGee and help me to drive," Moreno said. "This year, I'm in the same level at the other drivers, or I'm starting to become the same level, because I did the winter testing. I'm working with one engineer, and I'm becoming better every race I do. It was a handicap in a way, before."

In 1996 he had a full-time ride, his first in CART since 1986, when he raced for Galles Racing.

"When I came to the U.S. in 1996 again -- that went by 10 years since I raced here in CART in 1986 -- people thought I was probably too old for the job," Moreno said. "People had not heard about me. You know, between 1990 and 1996, I had not done much successfully."

Moreno won’t be able to say that next year. No matter how the rest of this season plays out, Moreno can say he led the CART FedEx Championship Series. If only by a point.

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