With five races left in CART's season, journeyman Roberto Moreno is scrambling to win his first title
Roberto Moreno's 10th-place finish at Sunday's Molson Indy Vancouver wasn't the result he was hoping for. Not only did it leave him 11 points behind CART points leader Michael Andretti, but it also allowed Adrian Fernandez, Gil de Ferran and race winner Paul Tracy to slide between him and Andretti with five races to go. Don't, however, expect something like that to get the affable Brazilian down. Moreno has spent the better part of 20 years overcoming bigger obstacles. He's had to do some serious husding to get where he is, and sometimes he had to resort to...well, fraud is such an ugly word, what with its felonious connotations. Moreno prefers to say that he was merely "scrambling along."
In February 1988, the Formula 1 seat Moreno thought he had nailed down slipped away, so he went to England to try to land a Formula 3000 ride. The best he could do on such short notice was raise enough money from Bromley Motorsports to cover operating costs for three races, with one catch: He had to provide his own car. Not the sweetest deal in the world, but it was that or no racing, so Moreno, then 29, started knocking on factory doors, looking for a set of wheels. Rick Gorne, a salesman at Reynard, told him, "Sure, we've got a car for you."
"I said, 'Uh, Rick, the problem I have is I need it free. I need to borrow it,' " says Moreno. "And I couldn't tell him it was for only three races, or he never would have lent me the car."
Thinking Moreno was going to run the entire season, Gorne agreed to let him use the car for �50,000 ($80,000 at the time), payable after the season. Gorne also agreed to forgive the debt if Moreno won the F3000 season tide. How he was going to win the championship of a 12-race series when he had enough money for only three races was a good question. Where he was going to find �50,000 was an even better one.
Scrambling along was nothing new to Moreno. Working his way up through the open-wheel ranks, he often had slept in his car to save money and had cleaned factories on weekends in exchange for shop space. A little creative deal-making was nothing to him. "I was desperate to race," says Moreno.
He got out of the pickle with Gorne by winning his third race and a paycheck of $5,000, which gave him enough money to keep racing. Three more wins landed him sponsorship money, and he won the championship handily. If life were fair, that clutch performance would have been the springboard to a terrific career. Instead it launched Moreno on an 11-year odyssey in which he drove scores of cars with nothing more in common than their number of wheels and the fact that none was a winner.
Last year he finished 14th in the CART standings despite racing only as a replacement driver. Pat Patrick was impressed enough to offer him a full-time job in 2000, and Moreno wasted little time taking advantage of the best opportunity of his career. He finished second in the first race of the season, and another second-place finish in Portland on June 25 put him atop the CART standings, even though he hadn't won a race of any kind since that other George Bush was running for president. Moreno's drought ended on July 2 in Cleveland, and he cried so much that his visor clouded up. When he finally reached the podium, the tape of the Brazilian national anthem was missing, so he took the mike and delivered a brief rendition that made Carl Lewis's Star-Spangled Banner sound like Kate Smith doing God Bless America.
With three of the last five races on road courses, which are Moreno's strength, he is a real threat to finish strong. Whether or not he catches Andretti, Moreno has gained a measure of security with his unlikely success. His scrambling days are over, and he now has the means to go back to Reynard and buy the car he drove to the F3000 title 12 years ago. He wants to display it like a trophy. This time he's going to pay cash.
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