FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, October 20, 1999 When rookie Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and third-year driver Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green square off for the PPG...
FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, October 20, 1999
When rookie Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and third-year driver Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green square off for the PPG Cup in next week's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway, it will mark the fifth time in the '90s that the FedEx Championship Series title race has come down to the wire.
It most recently occurred in 1996 when Jimmy Vasser, who had held the lead since the third of 16 rounds, clinched the championship with a fourth-place finish in the season finale at Laguna Seca. Vasser had held a 14-point advantage (142-128) over Michael Andretti entering the event.
A year earlier, Jacques Villeneuve wrapped up the title by winning the pole and finishing 11th in the 17th and final round of the championship at Laguna Seca. He had entered the finale with a 16-point (169-153) lead over Al Unser Jr., whose sixth-place finish at Laguna Seca did not allow him to overtake Villeneuve.
In 1992, Bobby Rahal's victory at Nazareth in the penultimate round of the championship - the final victory of Rahal's FedEx Championship Series driving career - gave him a 182-170 lead over Michael Andretti heading to Laguna Seca. Though Andretti drove to victory in that event, Rahal was able to clinch his third PPG Cup with a third-place finish, ending with a four-point margin (196-192) in the points race.
Andretti and Rahal were also the principal players in the 1991 PPG Cup race. Andretti clinched the title with a victory at Laguna Seca after entering the event with a 212-200 lead over Rahal, who went scoreless in the finale.
Following his victory in Sunday's Honda Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, Australia, Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) holds a nine-point advantage (209-200) over Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), the marvelous rookie who leads the series with seven victories and seven pole positions. The nine-point margin between the two championship contenders heading into the final round is the closest since 1986 when Rahal held a three-point advantage (174-171) over Andretti before clinching the title with an eighth-place finish at Miami.
Overall, the FedEx Championship Series championship has been decided at the final event of the season eight times since the current scoring system was instituted in 1983. Significantly, the driver leading going into the final round has claimed the title on all eight occasions. The other instances came in 1983 when Al Unser clinched the title over Teo Fabi in the final round at Phoenix; 1984, when Mario Andretti claimed the crown over Tom Sneva in the final round at Las Vegas; and 1985, when Unser edged his son, Al Unser, Jr. by a point (151-150) by finishing fourth in the final round at Miami.
The season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will feature a pair of $1 million awards - one to the race winner and one to either Franchitti or Montoya for winning the PPG Cup.
This marks the second year that the FedEx Championship Series season finale will pay $1 million to win. Vasser drove to victory at California Speedway last year, earning $1 million for the victory and another $500,000 in season-ending bonus money from PPG for clinching second place in the championship in the process.
* BIG BUCKS AT STAKE FOR PIT CREWS, TOO
Max Papis' (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) runner-up finish in Sunday's Honda Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, Australia did more than establish a career best for the fourth-year FedEx Championship Series driver. Team Rahal's two-stop pit strategy helped move Papis' crew into the top spot among the four finalists competing for the $50,000 top prize in the inaugural Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge. Through the first 19 rounds of the championship, Papis' crew amassed a series-leading 161 points, finishing 10 ahead of the crew for Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), which totaled 151. Other finalists include the crew for rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), which finished with 148 points, while the crew for Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) finished with 143. Points were accumulated through the season's first 19 events according to the same scale used to determine the FedEx Championship Series champion, but based on total time spent in the pits at each event. All of the top four pit crews have qualified to compete in a specially staged pit stop competition 3 p.m. PT on Thursday, Oct. 28 at California Speedway to determine the winner of the $50,000 grand prize presented by Craftsman. The finals competition will consist of a five-minute warm-up session, followed by 10 minutes of track time in which all four cars will run simultaneously. Each finalist will be required to make a minimum of two pit stops in the session, during which all four tires must be changed correctly. The winner of the $50,000 prize will be determined following calculation of the total pit times accumulated by each team - plus any penalties assessed in accordance with the 1999 CART rule book - divided by the number of pit stops. Finalists may make more than two stops if they wish in an attempt to lower the average time spent on each stop.
* MARLBORO TEAM PENSKE TURNS TO HONDA
Marlboro Team Penske announced last week that drivers Greg Moore and Gil de Ferran will be Honda-powered during the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season, following an agreement between the team and American Honda Motor Co., Inc. Honda has won three of the past four CART Manufacturer's Championships (1996, '98 and '99), and a Honda-powered driver, either Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) or Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), is assured of winning the manufacturer's fourth consecutive driving title this season. "There is no stronger name in Champ Car racing than Roger Penske," said Tom Elliott, president of Honda Performance Development. "Penske Racing is the winningest team in FedEx Championship Series history. Roger Penske defines the pursuit of excellence in racing. Honda is proud to join this tradition and Marlboro Team Penske's commitment to lead Champ Car racing in the new millennium."
* NATHMAN JOINS PATRICK RACING
Ed Nathman has joined Patrick Racing as the team's technical director, following a two-year stint as team manager for Newman/Haas Racing. Nathman's responsibilities will include the organization and direction of the team's engineering staff and programs. He is beginning his second tour of duty with Patrick Racing, having served as an engineer with the team from 1985-87. "I am pleased to announce that Ed Nathman will be joining Patrick Racing," said team owner U.E. "Pat" Patrick. "He brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the team and I know he will help us in our efforts to achieve our goal of winning another championship." "I am very happy to be joining Patrick Racing as technical director," said Nathman, who has more than 20 years of experience in motorsports and worked as race engineer to current Patrick Racing driver Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) at Galles Racing from 1993-95. "Pat Patrick and [General Manager] Jim McGee have been in this business for a long time and have always been at the forefront of innovations in motor racing. I am just happy to be part of this organization and I am particularly pleased to be working with Adrian again."
* SERIES LEADERS
FedEx Championship Series points and earnings leaders heading into the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Oct. 31 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.:
FedEx Championship Series Points for the PPG Cup
1. Dario Franchitti, Team KOOL Green 209 2. Juan Montoya, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing 200 3. Paul Tracy, Team KOOL Green 161 4. Michael Andretti, Newman/Haas Racing 151 5. Max Papis, Team Rahal 133
FedEx Championship Series Earnings
1. Juan Montoya, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing $938,000 2. Dario Franchitti, Team KOOL Green $840,250 3. Paul Tracy, Team KOOL Green $677,250 4. Michael Andretti, Newman/Haas Racing $575,000 5. Max Papis, Team Rahal $475,000