- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi scored his first 500-mile victory, his first CART win on an oval and his second overall win in CART at the Marlboro 500, which was postponed from Sunday to Monday due to rain after 33 of 250...
- Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi scored his first 500-mile victory, his first CART win on an oval and his second overall win in CART at the Marlboro 500, which was postponed from Sunday to Monday due to rain after 33 of 250 laps. Fittipaldi followed up his first CART victory in the 1999 Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America with back-to-back podium appearances at The California Speedway (third in 1999) as well as winning the $1 million payoff. His highest previous 500-mile finish came at the 1995 Indianapolis 500 where he finished second to former Formula One World champion Jacques Villeneuve and was awarded "Rookie of the Year." Fittipaldi's win was also the seventh for the all-new Ford-Cosworth XF engine and was instrumental in clinching the Manufacturers Championship for Ford. In addition to scoring his second victory, Fittipaldi brought Newman/Haas Racing its 58th victory in their 296th Champ car event since being formed in 1983.
The season-finale 500-mile race was originally scheduled for Sunday but after 33 of 250 scheduled laps, the race was postponed until Monday at 10 AM due to intermittent light rain. During the 33 laps on Sunday, Fittipaldi dropped from his third place starting spot and was in sixth place on lap 23 after a yellow came out to remove the crashed cars of Paul Tracy, who lost an engine and Cristiano da Matta, who could not avoid hitting Tracy's engine cover and crashed. The field pitted during the caution and Fittipaldi dropped from his sixth place position due to a problematic stop caused when the outside front airhose became tangled in the front wing. He returned to the race in 14th place before light rain began falling and the race was red flagged while under caution after 33 of 250 laps. Following are Fittipaldi's comments on Sunday:
"The car was good," said Fittipaldi on Sunday. "We had a little bit of understeer but it was not a major problem. It is a shame that we had a bad pit stop but it is a long race and we will have plenty of laps to make up for it. It's a shame that the rain came because the crowd was good and they were all partying and yelling during the opening ceremonies. I hope that they can come back tomorrow."
On Monday, Fittipaldi restarted the race from 14th place and with the aid of a racecar that had been handling great since it was unloaded off of the truck on Thursday, Fittipaldi began moving back to the front.
By lap 52 he was in 10th place. After passing eventual third place finisher and 2000 Champion Gil de Ferran, eventual second place finisher Adrian Fernandez, and Tony Kanaan he was in seventh place by lap 61. As attrition began taking hold as is the case with most 500-mile races, drivers began retiring from the race. Fittipaldi held to the pre-race strategy that was decided of hanging around the top five or six until the late stages to save valuable fuel that would be needed to charge to the front.
He moved into fourth place on lap 73 before making his next pit stop on lap 76 and returned to the race in sixth place as others pit. He held his position through a yellow and restart to remove the car of Memo Gidley and then moved up to fourth place by lap 92 after Kanaan suffered mechanical woes which also took out the cars of Oriol Servia, Michael Andretti and Patrick Carpentier who crashed due the blinding white smoke caused by the engine failure of Kanaan. Fittipaldi was narrowly able to escape being caught up in the accident as well.
He held fourth place behind drivers who were not on the lead fuel strategy for the restart of the race on lap 101 but dropped to sixth place when four drivers went side by side into the corner and Fittipaldi backed off to avoid a potential accident. He pitted on lap 117 and came out ahead of front runner Helio Castroneves with the help of a great pit stop.
He maintained a top-four-through-sixth-place position until he moved into third place on lap 136 and also led for a few seconds although it was not scored because he was not in the lead over the start/finish line. He moved back into the lead from laps 138 to 141 despite the crew telling him to give up the lead to save fuel.
Fittipaldi reported that he just wanted to see how his car drove in clean air at the front of the pack so that he could plan his intended move to the front in the last 10 or 15 laps.
On lap 142, he handed the lead over to Kenny Brack who had to lead the most laps as well as win the race in order to win the Championship. He ran in the top four for the majority of the following laps until he briefly took the lead on lap 153 and again on 154 but was not credited with leading until laps 155 and 156 when he crossed the start/finish line in front. He dropped back again to run in the top five with the lead pack until his next pit stop on lap 164 and returned to the race in 10th place behind others who had not pit yet.
He was back up to fifth place by lap 183 of 250 when he pitted again for a splash of fuel on lap 184 during a caution to remove the car of Max Papis, the latest victim of attrition. He was slightly slow to leave the pits and returned to the race in seventh place but not worried about making up the position due to the speed of his racecar. He reported that the throttle had been jamming on the previous two stints so the crew began monitoring the situation.
He pitted again at the end of another caution to top off his fuel on lap 194 and returned to the track in the same position. He stayed with the lead pack and ran as high as third place on lap 207 of 250 and lurked in the top four in order to make a move to the front in the closing stages of the race.
A caution came out on lap 218 to remove the car of Juan Montoya and Fittipaldi made his final pit stop on lap 221 during the caution while in second place to Castroneves. The Big Kmart/Route 66 pit crew performed flawlessly and Fittipaldi was able to beat Castroneves out of the pits and into the lead which he held through the restart on lap 224 before a yellow came out again on lap 227 for Castroneves who crashed due to a mechanical failure.
The race was restarted on lap 237 but a yellow came back out for Michel Jourdain. Fittipaldi maintained his lead on the restart on lap 243 but Alex Tagliani brought it out again on lap 249 of 250 due to mechanical failure and Fittipaldi took the checkered flag and bettered his previous best 500-mile finish of second place in the 1995 Indy 500.
Following are his post race comments:
"This is a great way to end the season," said Fittipaldi. "The Big Kmart/Route 66 team gave me a great car that we knew we could win with. I was absolutely wide open the last five laps of the race. There was nothing else in the car. The car was perfect since we unloaded it on Thursday. The team has a good set-up for these tracks and we just dialed the car in over the weekend. We were quietly confident we would run up front here but you never know with 500-mile races. We were quick yesterday in the race but had a bad pit stop and dropped to 14th. I was running pretty conservative the whole race today because we knew it would come down to the last 20 laps. I took the lead just to see how the car would run but I was burning too much fuel so they told me to conserve fuel and give up the lead. We knew we had a quick car that could lead at the end. Then we ran in the top-three or top-six until the last two stops when they gave me the word that I could go for it. We knew it was our last chance to win a race this season and we were giving it everything we had to be in the running at the end. I was lucky that I didn't get caught up in a couple of accidents. When Michael lifted after Tony's engine blew, I almost spun trying to avoid him. The Ford engine was perfect for 500-miles which is commendable. Everything held together today and we were able to win. This is perfect for the momentum for 2001. Hopefully at this time next year I am not talking about winning a race but winning the Championship."
- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti's started his 173rd and final event for Newman/Haas Racing but Mother Nature decided to postpone his departure from Sunday to Monday. At the start of the originally scheduled race, Andretti dropped back to fifth but was back in third place at the end of the first lap. He was running in the top five when he made his first stop after a yellow came out to remove the crashed cars of Paul Tracy, who lost an engine and Cristiano da Matta, who could not avoid hitting Tracy's engine cover causing him to crash. The field pitted during the caution and Andretti returned to the race in third place behind Juan Montoya and Dario Franchitti after previous frontrunners Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran had slower stops. Once back on track during the caution period, Andretti began reporting rain sprinkles on the back of the course that developed into a light rain before the field was red flagged and brought into the pits. The team suspected there might be a problem with the car and found that the ninth butterfly (control engine boost, among other things) in the engine was not working and were able to replace it as well as the ECU (Electronic Control Unit). The condensation continued and CART announced that the race would be postponed until the following day. Following are Andretti's comments on Sunday:
"We were actually lucky that the rain came because we were able to fix the ninth butterfly," said Andretti on Sunday. "We were down about 40 horsepower because we were running with about 38" of boost so I was pretty surprised we could stay in the top-three. The car was running good other than that. The rain might have saved us although it is too bad for the fans. It's hard to expect 70,000 people to play hooky tomorrow but it would be nice to have everyone come back because it is going to be a good show when it finally happens."
When the race resumed on Monday, Andretti drove from his third place spot and briefly led a partial lap on 40 but handed the lead back to Montoya before the start/finish line. He led laps 41 to 45 before dropping to second place and into sixth while running in the lead pack on lap 52. He maintained his sixth place position from laps 52 to 64 before moving back into fourth place on lap 66 and then on into the lead for laps 69 and 71 while driving in the top-three. On lap 76 while in second place Andretti pit and returned in third place but moved back up to second on lap 79 before a caution flag came out for the blown engine of Memo Gidley. The race was restarted on lap 86 but two laps later Tony Kanaan's engine blew and white smoke filled the track. Andretti lifted off of the accelerator and ran high through the smoke but Oriol Servia tagged the rear of Andretti's car in the blinding smoke and both cars crashed. It was the sixth race in a row that Andretti was running competitively but failed to score points. His longshot chance of finishing second in the Championship ended with his retirement from the race and he dropped from seventh place in the CART FedEx Championship standings to eighth. For Andretti's 173rd and final race with the team, he had the following post race comments:
"It's a shame to end the race and my 10 years with Newman/Haas this way," said Andretti. "The car was good and we were just waiting for lap 200 to go for it. I could have easily led but they told me not to. It was a white out. I couldn't see anything. I went high when Tony's engine blew but then I guess I got in Servia's way. They told me not to lead so I was just saving fuel and not taking any chances. It's a really big disappointment. I'm extremely disappointed. This team feels like family. It's sad to leave this way after all of the success we have had together."
- 2001 Plan - Newman/Haas Racing will announce the 2001 plans in the upcoming weeks.