CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Race Report

Franchitti Wins Wild Texas Race Houston, TX (October 4, 1998) - Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green became the first driver in five seasons to lead every lap of a FedEx Championship Series race Sunday en route to a rain-drenched triumph in the...

Franchitti Wins Wild Texas Race

Houston, TX (October 4, 1998) - Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green became the first driver in five seasons to lead every lap of a FedEx Championship Series race Sunday en route to a rain-drenched triumph in the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston before an appreciative capacity crowd of 62,455.

Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) notched his third victory of the season by leading all 70 laps of the event, which was shortened from the scheduled 100-lap distance due to lightning-related concerns for the safety of participants and spectators. His wire-to-wire victory made him the first driver to lead every lap of a FedEx Championship Series event since Paul Tracy's win at Laguna Seca in 1994.

FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) finished second and was followed by rookie Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda). Both drivers earned niches in the FedEx Championship Series record books with their finishes.

Zanardi's runner-up effort gave him 250 PPG Cup points, a new series record, eclipsing the previous mark of 234 set by Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) in 1991. Both Zanardi and Andretti amassed their point totals in 17 starts.

Kanaan's third-place performance matched a career best previously established in his most recent start at Laguna Seca. The effort clinched the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award, giving Kanaan an insurmountable 86-33 lead over Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) with a maximum of 44 points available in the final two events of the season.

Franchitti's victory was the third of his career, all of which have come in the past four events. He earned his inaugural triumph Aug. 16 at Road America and then followed that achievement three weeks later (Sept. 6) with a win on the streets of Vancouver. He moved into third place in the FedEx Championship Series points race with 143 points, five behind second-place Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), who finished fourth Sunday.

While a multitude of his fellow competitors battled an assortment of problems behind him, Franchitti maintained his balance from start to finish in an event which saw the field open on grooved rain tires, switch to dry slicks and then revert to rain tires for the final run.

Franchitti's only serious challenge came from Team KOOL Green teammate Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda). Tracy shadowed Franchitti in second place for all but a handful of the first 47 laps before his attempted pass of Franchitti on Lap 48 resulted in contact between the two cars as they headed into Turn 5. Tracy spun into the inside wall and damaged his front suspension, forcing his exit from the event.

Franchitti emerged from the incident unscathed and then built a lead as large as 11 seconds over Zanardi before the full-course caution flag which closed up the field just prior to the checkered flag. It marked the first time a FedEx Championship Series event had been shortened due to inclement weather since 1994 at Milwaukee, when Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) won a race which was concluded after the completion of 192 of a scheduled 200 laps.

Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) finished a career-best fifth and gave Toyota power its best finish ever in three years of FedEx Championship Series competition. After going scoreless through the first eight events of the FedEx Championship Series season, Papis has scored in seven of the past nine events.

Honda's sweep of the top-three finishing positions was the first in its five years of FedEx Championship Series competition, dating to the start of the 1994 season. It also clinched Honda's second CART Manufacturer's Championship in the past three years.

WHAT THEY SAID:

DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Reynard Honda: "First of all, in the warm-up this morning, we were pleased. We hadn't done too many laps, but we had a good balance in the dry and then the rain comes along. And I was quite happy, because it always rains in Scotland and I drive a lot in the rain. Ever since I've been racing go-karts it has rained most weekends there, so that was quite pleasant. But I didn't expect it to be as slippery as it was. The oils were coming up through the tarmac and that really made it quite treacherous to stay on the track. I felt I was just surviving, really just keeping the car on the track but I was pulling away quite well from Paul behind me, so I was quite happy with that. I think we're looking good for a one-two [finish] and then something happened at the end of the back straight. I was turning in and Paul hit me. I don't know what happened there. I was really just surviving the whole day, trying not to make any mistakes. [Technical Director and Chief Engineer] Don Halliday and [General Manager] Kim Green and the guys in the pit called the race perfectly as far as I was concerned. Firestone, Reynard and Honda are obviously the combination to have because of the clean sweep today. Everything just worked really well and I'm delighted."

ALEX ZANARDI, Target Reynard Honda: "The strategy was just one word - surviving. I guess everybody was trying to do that, some with more success, as we did, and some with less success. The first two starts, [were] very interesting, very entertaining. With all that happening, the key word was going to be just keep it cool, just hope for the best, just put pressure on the other people, and that's what I kept doing. My car was good, but Dario [Franchitti] seemed to have a much better balance. He drove very, very smoothly, very well and never made any mistakes. I was just waiting for something to happen which didn't come."

TONY KANAAN, LCI Reynard Honda: "I think the day was difficult for everybody, very difficult conditions. The track was so slippery in the beginning of the race, and we got dry and then got wet again. It was the same conditions for everybody. We just tried to stay on the track, and we did. I knew that if we finished this race, we would finish good. I knew how many points I needed to win the Rookie of the Year and I knew as well it was going to be pretty difficult, because Helio [Castro-Neves] had been running well. This is the second time we had bet for something, and we won, so I'm very happy. [Kanaan and Castro-Neves finished first and second, respectively, in last year's PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship]."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) clinched the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award Sunday with his third-place performance. Kanaan, who moved to ninth in the FedEx Championship Series points race with 86, holds a 53-point lead (86-33) over second-place rookie Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) with a maximum of 44 points available in the final two races.

Dario Franchitti's victory in the KOOL Reynard Honda allowed Honda to clinch its second Manufacturer's Championship in the past three seasons. Honda, whose first manufacturer's title came in 1996, was able to outdistance its competitors - defending champion Mercedes-Benz, Ford Cosworth and Toyota - on the strength of a series-best 11 victories in 17 FedEx Championship Series events. Honda has been paced by PPG Cup champion Alex Zanardi, who owns a series-high six wins. "This has been a fantastic season for Honda, our teams and drivers," said Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda and president of Honda Performance Development, its Champ Car engine subsidiary. "To prevail in such a competitive series and against such strong competition makes this achievement all the more special to all of our associates. Racing is part of the heart and soul of Honda. It is very fitting that we clinch this important title on the weekend that Honda Motor Company in Japan celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding."

Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) established a career-best finish for himself and Toyota with his fifth-place effort. Papis' previous career best was eighth earlier this season at Toronto while the third-year engine manufacturer's previous best was seventh by Robby Gordon (MCI/Panasonic Duskin Reynard Toyota) at Nazareth earlier this season. "This is a wonderful birthday present for me and the MCI team," said Papis, who enjoyed his 29th birthday Saturday. "I am so happy for MCI, Toyota and the Arciero-Wells team. I want to enjoy and remember this moment. This is a great day for all of us."

With his runner-up finish, Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) extended his CART record for podium finishes in a season to 13. It was also Zanardi's ninth top-four finish in the last 10 races.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), winner of three of the last four FedEx Championship Series events, has scored 77 of a maximum 110 points in the last five events. The run has allowed Franchitti to move from eighth to third in the championship race. He trails Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), who is currently second in the points, by five points (148-143).

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) led all 70 laps of the Texaco Grand Prix, marking the fourth consecutive street/road course that he has led at least one lap. He also has led at least one lap in five of the past six street/road races and six of the last eight, dating to Portland.

CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach meted out six fines following Sunday's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green and the team's driver, Paul Tracy, were fined $5,000 each for a brief incident in the pits following Tracy's exit from the race due to contact. Both were fined for not maintaining proper behavior and sportsmanship as well as physical contact (Rules 6.1, 6.2 of the FedEx Championship Series Rule Book). Arnd Meier, Dennis Vitolo, Richie Hearn, and rookie Alex Barron were each fined $2,500 for ignoring the red-flag condition during the event (Rule 6.10.5).

Dario Franchitti's win on Firestones gave the tire manufacturer its 16th consecutive victory and its 27th in the past 28 events.

WHAT'S ON TAP:

The Texaco Grand Prix of Houston will receive an encore performance 2 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN and will re-air 3:30 a.m. ET Thursday on ESPN2.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 18, the Honda Indy, October 18 from the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Richie Hearn , Kim Green , Barry Green