HOUSTON (October 7, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske led every lap from the pole position Sunday to regain the championship lead in impressive fashion with a victory in the Texaco/Havoline...
HOUSTON (October 7, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske led every lap from the pole position Sunday to regain the championship lead in impressive fashion with a victory in the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston before a crowd of more than 60,000.
De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) recorded his second consecutive victory following a triumph at Rockingham, England two weeks ago. The effort allowed him to move past Kenny Brack of Team Rahal and into the FedEx Championship Series lead with 163 points, 10 ahead of Brack, who stands second at 153 after a seventh-place performance on Sunday.
It was the seventh victory of de Ferran's seven-year FedEx Championship Series career, tying him with Adrian Fernandez and Dario Franchitti for 14th place on the all-time CART list.
De Ferran led all 100 laps, becoming the first driver to lead every lap of a FedEx Championship Series event since Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves led wire-to-wire at Detroit this season. He finished 3.430 seconds ahead of Team KOOL Green's Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), whose runner-up result was his third podium finish in four starts at Houston.
De Ferran averaged 79.521 miles per hour to extend a run that has seen him finish fifth or better in six of his past seven starts, dating to a podium result of third at Chicago. He has moved from fifth to first place and scored 91 of his 163 championship points in that span.
Franchitti's podium result was his fourth of the season and his first since a runner-up finish at Michigan in Round 11. He moved from sixth to fifth in the championship with 105 points on the strength of his effort.
Third place went to Memo Gidley (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who claimed his second podium finish of the season, as well as the second of his career. Gidley's improvement of 20 positions from start (23rd) to finish was the greatest in the 26-driver field.
Rookie Tora Takagi (Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota Reynard) of Walker Racing claimed fourth place in a season-best performance. Takagi owns top-seven results in three of his past four FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to seventh at Vancouver.
Rounding out the top five was Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, whose performance allowed him to vault past Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) and into third place in the championship.
Castroneves, who has scored in seven of his past eight starts, takes 133 points into next week's Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey on Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca (Calif.). Castroneves is the defending champion of the event.
Andretti, who came into Sunday in third place in the championship with 125 points, finished 21st due to a mechanical failure and dropped to fourth place, eight points behind Castroneves.
The Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston was Round 18 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the richest paydays in all of motorsports. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending event champion. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "As we get to the end of the year, every race has a little bit extra importance. I was constantly aware of this all weekend. The job ain't done yet. We're not really even commemorating this win, we're already thinking about Laguna and trying to get that one. We've been going fast since the beginning of the season. We've just had not everything coming together on the same weekend as it did this weekend. The pendulum is swinging our way, and we're getting some good weekends now."
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "Traditionally, we've been very fast on street courses, but all three cars [two Team KOOL Green, one Team Motorola] have been struggling this year. What normally has worked for us on the street courses hasn't worked at all this year, so we completely changed everything for qualifying, and we had to hustle it around for a few laps, but it worked. During the race, it was like qualifying laps, one after another, but it was fun. I was just focusing on trying to go as quick as I could every lap. I think a lot of people had the same problems trying to put on the brakes and the rear end came around. It was pretty common for a lot of people."
MEMO GIDLEY, Target Toyota Lola: "I think you guys saw what happened yesterday. We had a good car in practice and made changes for qualifying and wound up 23rd. That's all we had in the car. We made another change for the race. I think a lot of working my way through the field was done in the pits with fuel mileage and the fuel strategy. I passed a few guys on the track, but most of it came in the pits. That's how I got to the front. Team Target gave me a great car. I just pushed as hard as I could. Somebody must be testing me for something. I've gone through the extreme highs and the extreme lows, and yesterday was one of the extreme lows of my career. With [team owner] Chip [Ganassi], he asked me what happened. I told him I was trying to pass [teammate] Bruno [Junqueira], spin the tires, and I hit him. He said, 'Okay,' and walked away."
* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) became the third multiple winner of the FedEx Championship Series season, joining Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola), who owns a series-high four victories, and Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), who has three. De Ferran also became the second driver to win back-to-back FedEx Championship Series events this season, joining Brack, who won at Japan and Milwaukee.
* Gil de Ferran's triumph was the third victory for a Honda-powered driver in four FedEx Championship Series events contested at Houston. The others came from Dario Franchitti in 1998 and Paul Tracy in 1999. Honda also led every lap for the third time in four appearances at Houston, as Franchitti led all 70 laps in '98, then combined with Tracy and Juan Montoya to lead all 100 laps in '99. With the victory, Honda extended its lead in the CART Manufacturer's Championship to 300-250 over Toyota, while Ford Cosworth stands third at 246.
* Honda also collected its fifth victory in six FedEx Championship Series events contested on road or street courses this season. The other victories have come from Helio Castroneves at Long Beach and Detroit, Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) at Cleveland and Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) at Toronto.
* Gil de Ferran's victory allowed him to take the FedEx Championship Series lead with seven podium finishes, breaking a tie with Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola). His earlier podium results have come at Mexico (second), Long Beach (third), Chicago (third), Mid-Ohio (second), Vancouver (second) and England (first).
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) collected his fourth podium finish of the season, including a victory at Cleveland and runner-up results at Detroit and Michigan International Speedway.
* Memo Gidley (Target Toyota Lola) finished third for the second podium finish of his career, joining a runner-up result at Cleveland in July. The effort moved him from 19th to 17th in the FedEx Championship Series with 46 points.
* Tora Takagi's (Pioneer/DENSO Toyota Reynard) fourth-place finish was the best ever for a Japanese driver in CART competition. Takagi's sixth-place finish at Germany had shared the previous mark with Hiro Matsushita, who finished sixth at Michigan International Speedway in 1994. "The car was very good from the start of the race," said Takagi after his third finish of seventh or better in his past four starts. "The big problem here is it's very difficult to overtake - almost impossible. Some drivers underestimated my ability to pass here and gave me room so I was able to pass some cars early, and after that it was a matter of survival until the end of the race."
* Reynard earned its series-high 10th victory of the season and its fourth in the past six events. Reynard has also won all six FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street circuits this season.
* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard) finished 12th to extend a run that has seen him score championship points in seven consecutive events, tying Gil de Ferran for the longest active streak in the FedEx Championship Series. Kanaan's run dates to an eighth-place finish at Chicago and includes a best finish of fourth at Vancouver, one off his season-high of third at Japan.
* Casey Mears (Pioneer Honda Reynard), nephew of three-time FedEx Championship Series and four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears finished 17th in his first start for Mo Nunn Racing since filling in for the injured Alex Zanardi. Mears, who started 25th, was the final car running at the finish, two laps behind winner Gil de Ferran.
The FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 19, the Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, next Sunday, October 14, on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in Monterrey, Calif.