Zanardi's Pit Crew Helps Him Become First Repeat Winner Of Season At Motorola 300 With a huge assist from his pit crew, Alex Zanardi became the first repeat winner of the FedEx Championship Series season ...
Zanardi's Pit Crew Helps Him Become First Repeat Winner Of Season At Motorola 300
With a huge assist from his pit crew, Alex Zanardi became the first repeat winner of the FedEx Championship Series season Saturday when he drove to his 10th career victory in the Motorola 300 before a crowd of 49,500 at Gateway International Raceway.
Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), the defending PPG Cup champion, took the lead when he was able to exit the pits faster than Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) after a stop for fuel and tires on Lap 175 of 236. He was able to maintain the advantage on the track thereafter, finishing 0.573 seconds ahead of Andretti, to collect a $100,000 payday.
Polesitter Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) finished third, his third consecutive podium performance and fourth of the season. Moore's 71-67 PPG Cup advantage over Zanardi entering the race was reversed as Zanardi exited with an 87-85 lead entering next Sunday's Miller Lite 200 at The Milwaukee Mile.
"We always say it is a team victory, but today it is even more so," Zanardi said following his second career victory on an oval, including last year's U.S. 500. "I'm getting used to this kind of stuff with them [the pit crew]. The fact that they were able to get me out ahead of Michael was really the key to the race."
In addition to his pit crew, Zanardi shared credit for the victory with Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and 1996 PPG Cup champion.
"This morning [during the warm-up], I was a little bit lost," Zanardi said. "Jimmy was running pretty well, and he was nice enough to let us look at his book. We were able to take some information and make the small adjustments we needed, so I want to thank him for that."
Andretti's podium performance was his second of the season, following a season-opening victory at Homestead. He has led more laps than any other driver in both events at Gateway, 66 last year and 133 Saturday to give him 199 out of a possible 472 laps.
"It was a race of track position and traffic, and we didn't get either at the end," Andretti said. "We lost track position in the pits, but I thought we were still going to be O.K. because I felt like we had a better car [than Zanardi] in traffic. But we didn't encounter much traffic at the end.
"The car ran beautifully all weekend," added Andretti, whose runner-up performance was the 21st of his FedEx Championship Series career. "Our pit stop wasn't even bad, they just had a real good one. We gave it our best and we almost came up with it. They just did a great job, you can't take anything away from them."
Moore has finished in the top six of all six FedEx Championship Series events to date and remains the only driver in the series to complete every lap (1,050) and every mile (1,462.401) of competition this season.
"Because we came here without too much testing, we were a bit behind the 'eight' ball," Moore said. "We really didn't know what the car was going to do in traffic. At the beginning of the race, the car was unbelievably loose and that's what allowed Michael to get by me. After that, it was pretty painless. For everyone on the Player's/Forsythe team, especially considering that we didn't have more than 45 minutes of practice on the track two days before the race, we have to be very pleased with our result today."
Moore's loose car forced him to yield the lead to Vasser, the outside pole-sitter, shortly following the green flag. Vasser maintained the lead for 42 laps before Andretti passed him on the front straightaway on Lap 43 to begin his 133-lap stint on the point.
Andretti 's advantage grew to as much as 12 seconds as the race approached the midway point, and he remained in control until the caution flag flew on Lap 173 for Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), who made contact with the wall in Turn 4. Unser Jr. was uninjured in the incident.
Andretti and Zanardi pitted on Lap 175, and the outcome ultimately hinged on Zanardi's ability to return to the track more quickly.
"I think we were being careful to make sure we got every drop of fuel in the car [during the pit stop] because if we hadn't had a yellow flag afterward it would have been really close," Andretti said. "The most important thing is that we collected points. There's a long way to go in the championship and we scored some valuable points today. Unfortunately, Greg and Alex did, too."
Vasser finished fourth for his fifth consecutive top-10 performance and his second best of the season, topped only by a victory at Nazareth. Fifth place went to Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford), who matched a season high with his best showing since finishing fifth in the season opener at Homestead.
Three of the series' four engine manufacturers, Honda, Ford and Mercedes, respectively, were represented on the podium as were two of the three chassis constructors (Reynard for Zanardi and Moore, Swift for Andretti) and both tire manufacturers (Firestone for Zanardi and Moore, Goodyear for Andretti).
Arnd Meier (BAAN Business Software/Total Tel Lola Ford) was transported by air to Barnes University Hospital for a precautionary CAT scan after sustaining a mild concussion as a result of contact with Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) on Lap 108. Tests were negative and Meier was released early Saturday evening.
The Motorola 300 will receive an encore performance Tuesday at 3 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and again at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN.
The FedEx Championship Series continues May 31 with the Miller Lite 200 from The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.
NOTEBOOK: If Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) is looking for omens in his quest to repeat as PPG Cup champion, he found one Saturday when he became the first repeat winner of the FedEx Championship Series season. Four times in series history, the season has opened with five different winners (1987, '91, '95 and this year). In each of those seasons, the first of those five drivers to two victories has gone on to win the championship. Bobby Rahal's victory in Round 6 at the Meadowlands helped him to the 1987 championship while Michael Andretti's second win of the season at Portland helped pave the way to the 1991 title. Jacques Villeneuve's drive to the 1995 championship was fueled by his second victory of the season, which came at Indianapolis.
The PPG Cup championship race traded leaders Saturday, as Zanardi moved past Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) to take an 87-85 lead in the championship. Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) stands third with 55 points, followed by Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) with 51 and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) with 49. Reynard continued its dominance of the Constructor's Championship and holds a 123-52 lead over Swift. Zanardi's victory also helped Honda to a 107-97 edge over Ford in the closely contested Manufacturer's Championship. Mercedes-Benz stands third with 90 points. Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) and JJ Leht o (Hogan Motor Leasing Inc. Reynard Mercedes) scored points in the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year standings Saturday, finishing seventh and ninth, respectively. Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) continues to lead with 22 points, followeby Castro-Neves with 12 and Lehto with seven. Zanardi's victory moved Italy into second place in the Nation's Cup competition with 87 points, all scored by Zanardi. The United States continues to lead with 102 points while Canada trails Italy by a point, 87-86
Andretti led a race-high 133 laps Saturday to extend his reign as CART's all-time leader in that category. Having led a season-high 181 laps entering the Motorola 300, Andretti now has 5,728 laps led for his career and 314 for the season Andretti also praised CART's speedway wing configuration, utilized at Gateway for the first time this weekend. "I like the speedway wings," he said. "I think it's a step forward in making these oval tracks a little safer and more driveable. It's tough it's not an easy way of racing, but it brings a little bit more of the skill back into it, I think, and I like that."
Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) made his 100th career Champ Car start at the Motorola 300, but it was a brief appearance as he exited after only two laps due to contact. Tracy, who entered the race as defending champion, ranks eighth in CART annals in both career victories (13) and career pole positions (12) Moore's third-place finish Saturday extended his streak of top-six finishes to all six events this season. He also continued as the only FedEx Championship Series driver to complete every lap (1,050) and every mile (1,462.401) of competition to date For the second time this season, qualifying for a FedEx Championship Series event was rained out. Moore earned his second career pole position and his second of the season based on having the fastest speed (177.505 mph, 25.757 sec) from Thursday's morning practice. Moore's previous pole position came at Homestead in the season opener. Vasser was the other driver to start on the pole this season, following a rainout of qualifying at Japan. Among the local sports celebrities on hand during the weekend were St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil, assistant coach Mike White and tight end Ernie Conwell, as well as catcher Tom Pagnozzi of the St. Louis Cardinals Entertainer David Letterman, a co-owner of Team Rahal, provided 100 St. Louis-area youngesters with the opportunity to attend Saturday's Motorola 300 through the Dreams for Youth program. Letterman purchased grandstand tickets, box lunches and Team Rahal T-shirts for his 100 guests. Dreams for Youth, which operates under the auspices of the St. Louis Sports Commission, provides memorable experiences for young people who would not otherwise be able to attend sporting events
Marlboro Team Penske announced earlier in the week that it had signed Roberto Moreno to an exclusive agreement to test the '98 Marlboro Penske Mercedes on a limited basis for the remainder of the season. Moreno is a veteran of 47 career Champ Car starts, with a best qualifying effort of second at the 1997 Rio 400 and a top finish of third at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996. "We look forward to having Roberto available to work with us in the continuing development of the '98 Marlboro Penske Mercedes," said Roger Penske, team owner of Marlboro Team Penske. "He will step in when Al [Unser Jr.] and Andre [Ribeiro] are unavailable to test drive due to other race weekend commitments." Moreno, whose most recent start came at Japan, said he was pleased to join the Penske team. "I am very pleased to be involved with Marlboro Team Penske and to have the opportunity to be part of a team with so much success and history," Moreno said. "I look forward tso working with the entire team as they continue the development of the new car and the quest for their 100th victory cand the FedEx Championship Series title."
For the 13th consecutive FedEx Championship Series event, the Marlboro Pole Award rollover bonus went unclaimed at Gateway, thanks to the rainout of qualifying. The $10,000 Marlboro Pole Award, presented at the conclusion of qualifying at each FedEx Championship Series event, rolls over to next week's Miller Lite 200 at The Milwaukee Mile. It will be augmented by an additional $15,000 in rollover bonus money which is awarded for a victory from the pole. The potential jackpot, which has not been claimed since Zanardi's victory at Cleveland in July, is now $230,000, a record for six-year history of the award
Source: CART Online