FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 2000) - Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing won the battle, Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske won the war and each of them was rewarded with $1 million for his effort Monday as the Marlboro 500 Presented by...
FONTANA, Calif. (October 30, 2000) - Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing won the battle, Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske won the war and each of them was rewarded with $1 million for his effort Monday as the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota concluded at California Speedway.
On a blustery day which featured 59 lead changes and saw only six of 26 competitors complete the 500-mile event, Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) grabbed the lead for the final 29 of 200 laps - the longest stint on the lead for any driver all day - and drove to a 0.194 second victory over Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing in the event that was completed Monday morning after rain washed out Sunday's action following the completion of 33 laps.
His second career FedEx Championship Series victory brought Fittipaldi a $1 million payday, courtesy of Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, and he was joined in the "Millionaire Boys Club" by de Ferran, whose third-place result clinched Marlboro Team Penske's first series championship since 1994.
De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard), the polesitter, ran at or near the lead all morning, brought home his seventh podium finish of the season and became the second Brazilian driver in CART's 22-year history to claim the series championship, joining Emerson Fittipaldi, Christian's uncle, who claimed the 1989 title for Patrick Racing.
De Ferran joins a glittering list of previous CART champions for Penske Racing including three-time titlist Rick Mears (1979, '80 and '82), two-time champion Al Unser (1983, '85), Danny Sullivan (1988) and Al Unser Jr. (1990). Penske's eight CART championships double the total of second-place Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which had won the previous four titles with Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997 and '98) and Juan Montoya (1999).
By finishing third, De Ferran added four to the six-point advantage he held over Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing entering the event. Fernandez, who entered the day trailing de Ferran by a 154-148 margin, managed a fifth-place finish and wound up second to de Ferran in the championship, 168-158.
Fittipaldi's victory was his first since earning his inaugural career triumph at Road America last year. He averaged 139.563 miles per hour en route to the checkered flag, which made him the record 11th different winner of the FedEx Championship Series season, breaking the series record of 10 established last year.
Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) parlayed his runner-up effort into a career-best third-place finish in the championship, with 147 points. The podium finish was his sixth of the season and marked a career-best performance in a 500-mile event, exceeding third in The Inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996. Fourth-place went to rookie Casey Mears (WorldCom Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal in an outstanding Champ Car debut. A three-year veteran of Dayton Indy Lights competition who finished third in this year's championship, Mears became the first driver ever to compete in Indy Lights and Champ Car events during the same weekend. He actually led 10 laps (Laps 186-195) before being required to make a routine pit stop late in the event.
Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) rounded out the top five by recording his 17th points-paying result in the past 18 events, dating to a victory at Rio de Janeiro.
There were 59 official lead changes among 12 drivers, three fewer than the official Champ Car record of 62 lead changes established at Michigan Speedway during the 1998 U.S. 500. The previous California Speedway record was 24 lead changes in 1998.
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola: "Above all, I am very happy for the day today. The team worked very well. These 500-mile races are all about finishing. A lot of people are learning to run these 500-mile races, and it's starting to get tough. I knew it was going to come down to the last ten to 15 laps. Right at the very end when we went green, Bob [Roberto Moreno] was right behind me. I was going as fast as I could, and I couldn't have gone another tenth of a mile an hour quicker. The car was very good. We played with it a little bit, but I just wanted to make sure that, at the end, we had a very neutral car. Since the car got here on Thursday and we started running Friday, we made very few changes. Everything was perfect for 500 miles, believe it or not. It's obviously very good. It's great to start on a high note for next year. This season was very difficult for me all year. We were always qualifying in the top eight apart from a few races, but for whatever reasons I wasn't able to get it to happen in the races. Gil [de Ferran] proved today that it's really important to score points every race. The championship is ten times harder to win than a race. He played it very well. As everyone knows, it's been two weeks that I've been a very happy person; I'm getting married. That's the most important thing in my life. It's far more important than a race win or a championship. You need to put things in perspective. But I still love to race, and I'm going to do my best next season to kick Gil's butt and Bob's butt and Casey's butt, and maybe you'll all be talking to me about a championship instead of a race win."
ROBERTO MORENO, Visteon Ford Reynard: "This season has just been fantastic. I can't say enough about the team and the job they did to achieve this. I had a couple of handicaps to overcome during this season. There were some places that I'd never seen like Houston and this place, and I hadn't been to Australia since 1996. A lot of times the car wasn't good in qualifying, but we never gave up and the team did a great job. I was setting myself up to pass Christian, but the yellow came out. I didn't have a car that was faster than his, but if I got into his slipstream I was ready for it, believe me. I must say, I was very lucky to stay out of trouble."
CASEY MEARS, WorldCom Ford Reynard: "First of all, I've really got to thank the people that got me here. Bobby Rahal really put his faith in me, and WorldCom stepped up to the plate to get me here, along with Ford. It was just an awesome day. I can't believe I'm sitting up here. At about the halfway point, I got comfortable and was really relaxed in the car. We were out there passing guys, except when we were saving fuel. I got a lot of good advice from my uncle Rick, and he got me up here where he used to finish. Just to be in this field, and to be up here with these guys is unbelievable. I just tried to save the car and get a good finish. It was a great day. The variety of different nationalities brings a lot of different people here. I saw a whole bunch of people here this weekend from Mexico that were here supporting Adrian Fernandez. I also got a lot of support from a lot of people this weekend. I think bringing us American drivers back will really bring interest back into the sport. It will give a lot of people someone to root for here at home. I think Lights does a great job preparing drivers for Champ Cars."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "It's so tough to put this into words. I had a fantastic car all day. I felt that if I got up front, I could run ahead no problem. But I got back into the field running 222, 224 [miles per hour], and I had to be pretty conservative. For me to get ahead, I would have had to take quite a few chances, so I tried to stay out of trouble. There were a couple of incidents in front of me. One that comes to mind is the one that took [Oriol] Servia and Michael [Andretti] out. There was so much smoke, I couldn't tell where the cars were. I think the Lord was definitely on my side, because at one point I was looking right at Michael's face. We were nose-to-nose. I flat-spotted the tires on that, but I came in, the guys checked the car, I went back out and it was okay. Obviously, it's a very, very emotional day for me today. I was trying to keep myself calm, but when I crossed the line, I didn't think I was going to make it back. I've dreamed all my life about winning a title like this. I've been racing since 1982, and there are a lot of people that cross your life and help you, and you try to find a way to pay them back. When I crossed the line, all the emotions just flowed out. A lot of important people in my life are here. My mom and dad are here. My wife is here. A lot of my other friends are here. Jim Hall, who gave me my start over here [in Champ Cars] is here. I'm very, very thankful to him for giving me a shot. Derrick Walker was also here, and I'm very, very grateful to him as well. The only one who's not here is Mr. [Jackie] Stewart. He and his son Paul did so much for my career, and I just wanted to thank him publicly. Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank Mr. Penske, who was on the radio with me all day. When you meet Roger and you start to get closer to him, you start to understand why this team has been so successful. Roger is a very, very special person. I can't believe I'm sitting here as the 2000 champion. Roger will always have a special place in my heart. I'm also happy to win this championship with Honda. I've been with them since 1996, and it's wonderful to have been involved with them, and also Reynard. I've been driving Reynards since 1989, and I'm very, very happy to win the championship in a Reynard. I've always dreamed of this. I always felt it was within my abilities to win one of these championships. To be here talking to you as the champion is very, very satisfying. I'm going to try to enjoy this taste in my mouth for as long as I can. It hasn't sunk in completely yet. When I stepped inside this uniform for the first time, I was very aware of the people that wore it before. Some very special people wore this: Emerson [Fittipaldi], Rick [Mears], Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, they were a lot of great champions. It's a definite sense of mission accomplished.'
ROGER PENSKE, owner, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I think the main thing in this championship is when you think about how things turned around from last year with Greg [Moore]'s death and the other tragedies. This wasn't just a Gil win, or my win, this was a team win. It was a great day. I'm thrilled to win it here in California. We got our 100th win in Nazareth, near where the race team is located. Here in California is a place that is very special to me. I said to Greg [Penske] and Bill Miller [President of California Speedway] that this race was so much better than the NASCAR race. I think it's important that CART and the Champ Car series gets the credit it deserves. If you give this team the right tools, they can be right there. I think we're going to be up there again next year, and I couldn't say that until right now. A lot of times, we were hitting off the tee with a sand iron over the last couple of years. The biggest move for me was to look outside the team."
* Gil de Ferran's (Marlboro Honda Reynard) FedEx Championship Series championship was the first of his six-year career, exceeding his previous championship best of second to Alex Zanardi in 1997 while driving for Walker Racing. De Ferran finished atop the FedEx Championship Series drivers' standings with 168 points, followed by Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, with 158. Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished third with 147 points.
* Rounding out the top 10 were rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, fourth with 135 points; Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, fifth with 134; Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, sixth with 131; Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, seventh with 129; Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing, eighth with 127; Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, ninth with 126 and Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports, 10th with 112. De Ferran, Fernandez, Moreno, Brack, Castroneves and da Matta recorded career-best championship finishes. The top 11 drivers, including Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) with 101 points, topped the 100-point mark, exceeding CART's previous best total of nine 100-point scorers established in 1997 and matched last year.
* Christian Fittipaldi's victory clinched the CART Manufacturer's Championship for Ford, its first such title since 1995. Ford finished the season with 335 points, defeating runner-up Honda (313) by 22. Honda had won three of the previous four CART Manufacturer's titles, in 1996, '98 and last year. Toyota finished third with 275 points. Other winners of CART championships included Reynard, which claimed its sixth consecutive CART Constructor's crown, and Brazil, winner of its second consecutive Nation's Cup. Kenny Brack of Team Rahal earned the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award with 135 points, more than twice the total of second-place Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports, who finished second with 60 points.
* Christian Fittipaldi became the 11th winner of the FedEx Championship Series season, topping the record 10 winners established in the series last year. This year's winners included Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal at Homestead; Paul Tracy at Long Beach, Road America and Vancouver; Adrian Fernandez at Rio de Janeiro and Australia; Michael Andretti at Japan and Toronto; Gil de Ferran at Nazareth and Portland; Juan Montoya at Milwaukee, Michigan and Gateway; Helio Castroneves at Detroit, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca; Roberto Moreno at Cleveland; Cristiano da Matta at Chicago and Jimmy Vasser at Houston.
* Rookie Casey Mears (WorldCom Ford Reynard) finished fourth for Team Rahal, highest-ever result for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights championship in his Champ Car debut. The previous best results had been recorded by Didier Theys, who finished seventh at Long Beach in 1987 and Greg Moore, who finished seventh at Miami in 1996. * Three different Team Rahal drivers led laps Monday, the first time three drivers from the same team had led laps in the same Champ Car event since 1994 at Nazareth Speedway when Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi led laps for Penske Racing. Kenny Brack led a race-high 47 laps for Team Rahal on Monday, while Max Papis led 33 and Casey Mears led 10.
* Helio Castroneves and rookie Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing were transported to Loma Linda Hospital for x-rays following late-race incidents Monday afternoon. According to Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, Castroneves was transported for precautionary x-rays and a possible CT scan of his spinal area after reporting neck pain and pain in his left ankle resulting from contact with the outside wall in Turn 1. Tagliani underwent x-rays which revealed no fracture to the vertebrae after also making contact with the Turn 1 wall. He was expected to undergo a CT scan on Monday evening.
* Tarso Marques (Panasonic/Swift Ford Swift) and Alex Barron (Sports Today Lola Ford) made it a memorable day for Dale Coyne Racing by finishing seventh and eighth, respectively. Both results were career bests. Marques' performance exceeded his ninth-place finish at Rio de Janeiro last year, while Barron's topped his ninth-place showing at Nazareth last year.
The 2001 FedEx Championship Series season, which includes a record 22 events in eight countries, begins with the Monterrey Grand Prix on Sunday, March 11 at Fundidora Park in Monterrey, Mexico.