The only one who always believed in Roberto Moreno was the driver himself.
The 41-year-old racing nomad has spent two decades moving from series to series, team to team.
Near the halfway point of the CART season, Moreno is now savoring some unexpected success and saying with a dazzling smile, ''I told you so.''
After his first career victory Sunday -- a win that solidified his hold on the series points lead -- Moreno celebrated with a toast to himself.
''There have been times in my career that only I believed in myself,'' he said. ''Even my friends, they say, 'Are you sure you want to continue doing that?' I say, 'Shut up. Just get away from me.'''
He's now the oldest driver in the series, one who will be introduced July 16 in Toronto as a winner for the first time. What kept him going?
''It's my love of this sport,'' Moreno said. ''It's what I do best in life. As long as my family is secure and healthy, I dedicate my life 100 percent to this.''
Moreno bounced around after his first CART stint in 1985-86, and picked up some points in Formula One in 1990-91.
But he was back in CART in 1996. Driving for the underfunded Payton Coyne team, Moreno had three top-10s finishes in 16 starts.
Still, in the next three seasons he became known as the Supersub. He filled in admirably for injured or released drivers on several different teams. Last year, he had six top-10 finishes -- including a career-best second in Laguna Seca, Calif. -- while spelling Mark Blundell and Christian Fittipaldi.
Fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran, nine years Moreno's junior and third to him in the points race, is happy for his friend.
''I was his fan when I was young,'' de Ferran said. ''He's always been good. He's just had a couple of bad breaks.
''It's tough when you miss the bus. Sometimes it takes a while before the bus comes back.''
It arrived early this year, and Moreno finished second in Homestead, Fla. Points payoffs in seven of nine races and another second-place finish set the stage for his coming out party in Cleveland at the Marconi Grand Prix.
He got his first career pole last Saturday, then led 91 of 100 laps Sunday to win for the first time in 70 CART races.
''He's very young for his age,'' said Bobby Rahal, CART's interim CEO, and a three-time champion as a driver. ''And he still has the talent and enthusiasm to be successful.
''The big thing is that Roberto doesn't believe those young guys are better than he is.''
Moreno does, however, believe that he is just getting the rust off after being a part-time driver.
''Being out of the car for a long time, it gets you down,'' he said. ''There were so many problems I've had, so many things I had to fight. You cannot concentrate and just be a driver. That dries you out.
''Once you get back, it takes time. You've got to work race by race and you build up. It's all coming back to me. And I tell you, I'm still a little short of what I would like to call 100 percent. But I'll get there very soon, I'm sure.''
Confidence at this point comes in part from being with Patrick Racing, a solid team that won the series championship 11 years ago with Emerson Fittipaldi.
''The team is giving me all the possibilities,'' Moreno said.
Can he go all the way from journeyman to champion?
Jim McGee, team general manager and one of the most successful crew chiefs in Champ car history, is optimistic.
''Roberto's not done yet,'' he said. ''He's in a groove right now. There's a long way to go, but I think Roberto will be in this to the end. He's still learning and getting better week by week.''
One lesson Moreno learned Sunday was that he needs to try to keep his emotions in check, at least inside the cockpit of his Reynard-Ford.
''With five laps to go, I started to think I won the race,'' he said. ''It looked like we had a good lead to finish the race and you start thinking about things you shouldn't. I was crying. I almost couldn't see where I was going.''
With the tears flowing, a comfortable lead over Kenny Brack began to narrow. Quickly, Moreno's margin was just three seconds.
''When I saw he was so close, the tears dried up and I got going again,'' Moreno said. ''I still had work to do.''
CART schedule, winners in parentheses, and driver point standings:
March 26 -- Marlboro Grand Prix, Homestead, Fla. (Max Papis)
April 16 -- Toyota Grand Prix, Long Beach, Calif. (Paul Tracy)
April 30 -- Rio 200, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Adrian Fernandez)
May 13 -- Firestone Firehawk 500, Motegi, Japan. (Michael Andretti)
May 27 -- Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix, Nazareth, Pa. (Gil de Ferran)
June 5 -- Miller Lite 225, West Allis, Wis. (Juan Montoya)
June 18 -- Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix, Detroit. (Helio Castroneves)
June 25 -- Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200, Portland, Ore. (Gil de Ferran)
July 2 -- Marconi Grand Prix, Cleveland. (Roberto Moreno)
July 16 -- Molson Indy, Toronto.
July 23 -- Michigan 500, Brooklyn.
July 30 -- Target Grand Prix, Chicago.
Aug. 13 -- Miller Lite 200, Lexington, Ohio.
Aug. 20 -- Texaco Havoline 200, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Sept. 3 -- Molson Indy, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sept. 10 -- Honda Grand Prix, Monterey, Calif.
Sept. 17 -- Motorola 300, Madison, Ill.
Oct. 1 -- Texaco-Havoline Grand Prix, Houston.
Oct. 15 -- Honda Indy 300, Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Oct. 29 -- Marlboro 500, Fontana, Calif.
1. Roberto Moreno, 90.
2. Michael Andretti, 68.
3. Gil de Ferran, 67.
4. Kenny Brack, 63.
5. Paul Tracy, 59.
6. Jimmy Vasser, 59.
7. Juan Montoya, 54.
8. Cristiano da Matta, 49.
9. Max Papis, 47.
10. Patrick Carpentier, 47.
11. Adrian Fernandez, 45.
12. Helio Castroneves, 44.
13. Dario Franchitti, 44.
14. Christian Fittipaldi, 38.
15. Oriol Servia, 31.
16. Alexandre Tagliani, 26.
17. Mauricio Gugelmin, 24.
18. Bryan Herta, 14.
19. Mark Blundell, 14.
20. Tony Kanaan, 11.
21. Michel Jourdain Jr., 8.
22. Shinji Nakano, 7.
23. Memo Gidley, 5.
24. Tarso Marques, 4.
25. Norberto Fontana, 2.
26. Luiz Garcia Jr., 2.
27. Takuya Kurosawa, 1.
28. Gualter Salles, 0.
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