DETROIT (October 10, 2000) - Over the years, many FedEx Championship Series drivers have treated their annual trip to Australia as a working holiday of sorts, taking a few days on either side of the event to absorb the festive atmosphere on the...
DETROIT (October 10, 2000) - Over the years, many FedEx Championship Series drivers have treated their annual trip to Australia as a working holiday of sorts, taking a few days on either side of the event to absorb the festive atmosphere on the Gold Coast.
With nine drivers retaining chances to win the 2000 title and the $1 million bonus that accompanies it after 18 of 20 rounds, it is reasonable to assume that there won't be quite as much "play time" for the championship principals at Surfers Paradise this year.
The Honda Indy 300 (midnight ET Sunday/late Saturday, live, ESPN) celebrates its 10th anniversary as well as the latest stop in what remains the most wide-open FedEx Championship Series race in history.
At the moment, the driver being pursued is Marlboro Team Penske's Gil de Ferran, who opened a bit of breathing room at the top of the points race with a third-place finish at Houston in Round 18. De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard), who also collected one point each for winning the pole and leading the most laps at that event, brings a series-leading 153 points to Australia in a bid for the first FedEx Championship Series championship of his six-year career. He holds a 19-point lead over Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, who stands second with 134 points.
Tracy, meanwhile, spearheads a pack of eight drivers who are grouped within 17 points and, with a maximum of 44 points available in the season's final two events, still within reach of de Ferran. That group consists of Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, third with 131 points; Michael Andretti (Big Kmart Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing and Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, tied with 127; defending FedEx Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, sixth with 122; Rookie of the Year Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, seventh with 118; and Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske and Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, tied with 117.
Andretti (1994), Tracy ('95) and Vasser ('96) are former winners at Australia while Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green is the defending champion from the pole. Interestingly, the nine previous FedEx Championship Series events contested in Australia have produced nine different winners; Andretti, Tracy and Vasser could give a mighty boost to their championship hopes by becoming the first two-time winner at Surfers.
The Honda Indy entry list features an Australian as Gold Coast resident and regular Dayton Indy Lights competitor Jason Bright will pilot the DIRECTV Toyota Reynard entered by Della Penna Motorsports. In a one-off deal, Bright takes over the seat normally occupied by Memo Gidley, who will return to the cockpit for the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Oct. 29 at California Speedway.
The spirited points battle will add considerable drama to the final two events of the FedEx Championship Series season, which will conclude with the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. For the third consecutive year, the season finale will pay its winner $1 million, courtesy of a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway. An additional $1 million will be awarded to the driver who emerges from the season finale as series champion.
This year, for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history, all cars ride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.
Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has scored championship points in six of his past seven starts, including five top-five finishes, to maintain his lead in the FedEx Championship Series drivers championship. With 153 points, he holds a 19-point advantage over second-place Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, who stands second with 134. De Ferran's recent run includes runner-up finishes at Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio, third at Chicago and Houston, fifth at Vancouver and eighth at Gateway. He also owns 14 top-five qualifying efforts in 18 starts this season, including pole positions at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Houston.
Paul Tracy has finished fourth or better in three of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts to move into second place in the championship with 134 points, 19 behind leader Gil de Ferran (153). Tracy's recent run includes back-to-back wins at Road America and Vancouver, and fourth at Houston. He also owns a victory at Long Beach and podium finishes of third at Homestead, Rio de Janeiro and Toronto. He and de Ferran are tied for the FedEx Championship Series lead for podiums with six each.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in his 11 last starts and 15 of his past 16, beginning with a victory at Brazil. The run also includes podium finishes of second at Toronto and Road America and third at Vancouver. Currently fifth in the championship with 127 points, he has scored in 15 of 18 events this season, the most of any FedEx Championship Series driver.
Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing comes to Australia off a victory at Houston, his first FedEx Championship Series triumph since the 1998 season finale at California Speedway. He has finished eighth or better in six of his past seven starts and has scored championship points in five consecutive events. His victory at Houston moved him over 100 championship points for the fifth consecutive season, dating to his FedEx Championship Series championship campaign of 1996.
Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in six of his past seven starts to stand third in the championship with 131 points, three behind second-place Paul Tracy. The run includes a podium finish of third at Gateway and finishes of fourth at Road America and sixth at Chicago. Overall, Moreno has scored in 13 of 18 events, including his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Cleveland and podium results of second at Homestead and Portland and third at Japan, in addition to his third-place effort at Gateway.
Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has recorded back-to-back podium finishes which have moved him 11th to sixth in the FedEx Championship Series points race. Montoya claimed his third victory of the season at Gateway and finished second at Houston. With 122 points, he trails championship leader Gil de Ferran (153) by 31.
Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske owns top-10 finishes in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, including victories at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. He finished fifth in his most recent start at Houston and has scored championship points in eight of his past 12 starts overall, including his first career victory at Detroit, after scoring in only one of the first six events of the season. He stands eighth in the championship with a career-high 117 points.
Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing has finished sixth or better in three of his past six starts, and has scored championship points in five of those. The run includes finishes of third at Mid-Ohio, fourth at Vancouver and sixth at Houston. He stands 14th in the championship with 76 points.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing owns top five finishes in three of seven career appearances at Australia, including a victory in 1994 in the FedEx Championship Series debut of the Reynard chassis. He also finished third in 1997 and fifth last year. He is CART's career laps-led leader at Australia, including 15 in 1991, 40 in '92, 55 en route to his '94 victory and 51 in '95. He also owns four front-row starts, including poles in 1991 and '95 and outside poles in '92 and '94.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has finished on the podium in each of his past two appearances at Australia, including his victory from the pole last year when he led a race-high 49 laps. He also finished second in 1998, when he led 13 laps, and scored championship points with a ninth-place finish in 1997. He has earned back-to-back pole positions at Surfers Paradise and owns the track qualifying record of 109.724 miles per hour (1 minute, 31.703 seconds), set last year.
Christian Fittipaldi owns two top-five finishes in four career starts at Australia, including a podium result of third in 1998. He also finished fifth in 1996. He sustained a broken leg during a crash in the 1997 event that kept him sidelined for seven events.
Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes) of the PacWest Racing Group owns three top-six finishes in six career starts in Australia and has scored championship points in four of his six appearances. The run includes finishes of fourth in 1995 and '96, sixth in '94 and 12th in '98.
Tony Kanaan (Hollywood/MoNunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing owns top-seven results in both of his career appearances at Australia, seventh in 1998 and sixth last year.
Ford holds a slim 293-290 lead over Honda in the battle for the CART Manufacturer's Championship. Ford, chasing its first manufacturer's crown since 1995, has claimed five FedEx Championship Series victories this season, including two of the past four events on temporary street circuits, with Roberto Moreno doing the honors at Cleveland and Michael Andretti at Toronto.
Honda has won three of the past four FedEx Championship Series events contested in Australia, getting victories from Jimmy Vasser in 1996, Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Dario Franchitti last year. Honda also leads the FedEx Championship Series with eight victories this season, including three each from Paul Tracy (Long Beach, Road America, Vancouver) and Helio Castroneves (Detroit, Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca) and two from Gil de Ferran (Nazareth, Portland).
Toyota earned the first road or street course victory in its five-year history in the FedEx Championship Series with Jimmy Vasser's victory at Houston. Toyota also claimed the first one-two finish in its history when Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola), Vasser's teammate, finished second. Toyota-powered drivers have led a series-high 978 laps in FedEx Championship Series competition this season, led by Montoya, who has led 787 laps, more than double the total (330) of his closest pursuer, Helio Castroneves.
The Honda Indy 300 will air live on ESPN at midnight ET on Sunday, Oct. 15. The race will also air 7 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, and will be broadcast live on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .