CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana first day practice and notes

By Ken Plotkin and David Reininger - Motorsport.com Fontana, Calif. (October 27, 2000) - Persistent rain last night and this morning kept the 2-mile California Speedway damp, delaying on track activities until just after noon, when the CART...

By Ken Plotkin and David Reininger - Motorsport.com

Fontana, Calif. (October 27, 2000) - Persistent rain last night and this morning kept the 2-mile California Speedway damp, delaying on track activities until just after noon, when the CART FedEx Series Champ cars, Indy Lights and NASCAR Craftsman Trucks took to the track for practice.

Once the track dried, it was business as usual with Target Team Chip Ganassi driver Juan Montoya topping the charts in practice for Sunday's Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota, with a speed of 242.253 mph, 30.152 seconds. That speed unofficially beat the track record of 240.942 mph set by Mauricio Gugelmin in 1997, and is just shy of the unofficial fastest lap in auto racing history, 242.333 mph, set by Gugelmin in practice that same weekend.

"I was doing a qualifying simulation. I got Helio going down the back straight and I got a little bit of a tow, but I've gotten some bigger tows before. On the ovals, we've been able to get the setup right, and Toyota has been giving us good engines. You don't feel faster when you're driving between 238 or 239 and 242. This track is pretty wild to be honest. You don't get closer racing anywhere. I've had a lot of fun. I think I learned a lot here. When I came in, I didn't know what to expect. I had a great team and a great car."

Second fastest was Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil De Ferran, at 239.198 mph, 30.537 seconds. "I'm happy with the way things went today. We had a good practice session this afternoon. Our test here at California Speedway last month really paid off because the Marlboro car was handling very well right off the truck. I was hoping for more time on the track today, but the weather affected everyone."

DeFerran is currently leading the championship, and hopes to clinch it Sunday.

Third fastest on the day was De Ferran's teammate Helio Castroneves at 238.971 mph, 30.566 seconds. "The Marlboro car was comfortable right off the bat. I had a little understeer behind other cars, but we're going to continue to work on the set-up tomorrow and should be in good shape for qualifying."

Patrick Racing driver Adrian Fernandez, five points behind De Ferran in the championship, took some time getting his backup car up to speed after a gearbox problem with his primary car. "Once we got up to speed the backup car felt good. We changed some of the aerodynamic devices and that made the car quicker. I think we will stay with the backup car because we lost some practice time this morning and there isn't really enough time to evaluate both cars tomorrow."

Even with the minor setback, Fernandez was still the ninth fastest driver at 236.656 mph, 30.865 seconds.

Casey Mears will perform double duty this weekend, driving the Team Rahal WorldCom Ford Reynard in the Marlboro 500, as well as his usual mount entered by Dorricott Racing in the Dayton Indy Lights 100.

Mears was the 18th fastest driver in his Team Rahal entry, at 233.256 mph, 31.315 seconds.

"That was awesome. It felt good to get accustomed to the Champ car and to the routine of leaving the pits. The Indy Lights title is important this weekend. I am focusing in both directions with the Indy Lights and the Champ car. The Champ car is so much faster. The basics apply from Lights - drafting, traffic, etc. I have to get used to the pit stops, tire changes, getting in and out of the pits. This is a great experience and I want to thank Team Rahal and WorldCom for this opportunity. It's been my dream to drive these cars and now I'm here."

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Notes from the Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota at the California Speedway

Robby McGehee, Richie Hearn and Jeff Ward were all interested spectators during today's practice sessions.

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By resolution of the Franchise Owners, the qualifying order for this event will be in reverse current CART FedEx Championship stnding order. The driver with the most points will make his qualifying attempt last.

Qualifying is scheduled for 10:45 AM tomorrow.

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Tonight CARA Charities will present "Runway Madness III", an informal evening of dinner, live and silent auctions of unique memorabilia and specialty items. Live entertainment by the members of the CART FedEx racing series and special guests.

The event will take place at the Lockheed Hangar, Ontario Airport, and will benefit CART Charities, The Children's Fund of San Bernadino County, and Championship Drivers Association Benevolent Fund. Tickets, at $150, will be available at the door.

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Championship Auto Racing Teams announced today PPI Motorsports rookie Oriol Servia was fined $20,000 and will forfeit ninth-place points for on-track infractions in two on-track incidents during the October 15 event at Surfers Paradise. Servia is still credited with the ninth place finish, and drivers behind will not move up or gain points.

Servia violated the yellow-flag rule (CART Rule 6.10.4C) and short cutting the course (6.13.2) on lap 48, when he did not heed a yellow flag displayed for an incident in Turn 1. In the process, Servia passed three cars before stewards moved him back to his proper position.

On lap 59, he made contact with Paul Tracy in Turn 7, forcing Tracy out of the race. Servia was cited for unjustifiable risk (8.13) and unsportsmanlike conduct (1.77).

The ruling was announced by Kirk Russell, CART Chief Steward, after extensive review of the incidents on tape, as well as interviews with Servia and Tracy.

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PPI Motorsports and Toyota announced today the end of their successful 19-year relationship. The partnership will end following this season's Baja 2000 in November, in which PPI will field its Toyota Tundra Trophy Truck with drivers Ivan "Ironman" Stewart and Larry Roeseler.

The relationship began in 1982, when Precision Preaparation, Inc. (PPI), founded as a small off-road racing company in 1979, joined forces with Toyota to field a pair of stadium and off-road championship winning short-course trucks. The team soon expanded into full desert competition, gathering a total of 88 wins and 25 championships to date.

In 1994, when Toyota announced the formation of its CART engine program, PPI established a CART team to support the effort. The team's Ford-powered entry in 1995 paved the way for its expanded relationship with Toyota in 1996, when the two came together for Toyota's first year of competition in the CART series.

"Toyota Motorsports owes a great deal of gratitude to the decades long participation exhibited by the entire PPI Motorsports organization, said Jim Aust, TMS Vice President of Motorsports. "Our unequaled accomplishments in off- road racing coupled with our entrant and success as an engine supplier to the CART FedEx Championship series would not have been possible without the support and dedication of PPIM, Cal Wells III, and his staff."

"We have been a proud part of the Toyota Motorsports family for a long time," said Cal Wells III, PPI Motorsports president. "We've grown to accomplish some incredible successes together, not just in off-road where we had some unforgettable highs, but also in our joint CART program and our participation in the Toyota Atlantic Championship."

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Next year's CART season will kick off at California Speedway, with Sneak Preview 2001 on January 16-18. The event, formerly known as Spring Training, will have feature two days of media availability, rather than the single day of the old format. This will allow media an opportunity for more in-depth interviews and expanded photo sessions. "The primary objective of Spring Training was always to provide driver accessibility to the media as it prepared for the upcoming season, and this further strengthens our commitment to the media," said Mike Zizzo, CART Group Manager of Public Relations.

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