DETROIT (July 19, 2000) - The second half of the FedEx Championship Series season kicks off in grand fashion by heading to a venue that has witnessed the series' most thrilling racing in recent years, with two of the four closest finishes in ...
DETROIT (July 19, 2000) - The second half of the FedEx Championship Series season kicks off in grand fashion by heading to a venue that has witnessed the series' most thrilling racing in recent years, with two of the four closest finishes in all-time Champ Car history and an amazing 91 lead changes in the last two events.
The venerable Michigan Speedway, the 2-mile superspeedway in the Irish Hills which began hosting Champ Car races in 1968, will seek to stage another stirring performance as the FedEx Championship Series stars compete in Sunday's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota (ABC-TV, live, 1:30 p.m. ET).
Last year's event possessed all the elements with the second closest race in all-time history, 29 lead changes and the emotions of exuberant first-time winner Tony Kanaan and a heart-wrenching near-miss for the utterly dominant Max Papis.
Papis was in line to steal the show, leading 143 of 250 laps before running out of fuel a mere two turns from the checkered flag on that final lap as he, too, was chasing his first career triumph. The scenario that quickly ensued following Papis' misfortune gave Kanaan the 29th lead change - which ranks tied for third in all-time history - and he edged eventual series champion Juan Montoya by a mere .032 seconds, the second closest race in Champ Car's 92-year history.
Other Michigan Speedway-hosted events that have made their way into Champ Car lore include those of 1990, '95 and '98. The '90 race remains the fastest in history when Al Unser Jr. nipped Bobby Rahal while averaging 189.727 miles per hour en route to his victory. The '95 race produced the fourth-closest finish in history as Scott Pruett edged Unser Jr. by .056 seconds. The '98 event, won by Greg Moore, produced a staggering 62 lead changes, smashing the previous all-time record of 31 set at Ontario in a 500-mile race in 1973.
To intensify the excitement surrounding the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series arrives armed with an intriguing championship race and outstanding competitive depth that has produced eight different winners in the first 10 events.
Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard), the 41-year-old with the former "Super Sub," tag, has rewarded team owner Pat Patrick for a full-time ride this season - only the third full year of his CART career - by leading the championship at the midway point of the 20-race season.
Moreno, who notched his first career win and pole at Cleveland, is clinging to a 90-88 lead over American superstar Michael Andretti heading into Sunday's grueling 500-mile event. Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) closed the gap considerably with last week's win at Toronto, cutting the deficit from 22 to two points in one event, en route to his 40th career triumph.
Positions three through eight in the championship are separated by 14 points, with Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) situated in third with 75 and Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) eighth with 61.
Andretti's win, which gave him sole possession of third for career wins in Champ Car history and bolstered his CART record, allowed him to join de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) as the only multiple winners this season. Andretti's other win came at Japan while de Ferran was victorious at Nazareth and Portland.
Other winners this season have been Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) at Homestead; Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) at Long Beach; Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) at Rio; Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) at Milwaukee; Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Detroit; and Moreno at Cleveland.
The parity also has been prominent on the podium, as 16 different drivers already have posted a top-three finish. The series is chasing the CART record of 10 different winners in a season - set last year - and there are a host of strong candidates who are still searching for their first win of the season.
The group includes previous race winners Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), the series runner-up last season who has six wins in the past two seasons; Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola), an eight-time career winner with one coming at Michigan in 1996; Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), whose first career win came last season at Road America; and Kanaan (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Mercedes Reynard), who is the defending champion. The Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota marks the return of Kanaan, who has missed the past four events after sustaining a broken forearm in a qualifying accident at Detroit.
Others chasing their first career victory and showing signs the that breakthrough may be near are Cristiano da Matta, Patrick Carpentier and rookie Kenny Brack. Da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) finished a career-best third at Cleveland and followed with a strong performance at Toronto, leading a race-high 73 of 112 laps before settling for fourth. Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) has five consecutive top-10 finishes entering Michigan. Included in that run are three top fives, with a best of third at Milwaukee. Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) has four top-five performances on the season, including a best of second at Cleveland, and has been victorious in previous 500-mile events. His last appearance in a 500-miler came in 1999, when he captured the Indianapolis 500.
This year, for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history, all cars ride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) has finished fourth or better in four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, and five of the past seven. The latter run includes victories at Japan and Toronto, a runner-up effort at Milwaukee and fourth-place performances at Portland and Cleveland. Overall, Andretti has scored points in seven of 10 events this season and stands second in the championship with 88 points, two points behind leader Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing.
Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has scored championship points in eight of his 10 FedEx Championship Series starts this season, and joins Andretti as the season's only two-time winner, with victories at Nazareth and Portland. He also owns poles at Homestead and Long Beach and has qualified among the top five drivers in eight of 10 starts.
Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal has scored championship points in seven of his past eight FedEx Championship Series starts and has finished fifth or better in five of his past seven, highlighted by a career-best runner-up effort at Cleveland. Also included in the latter run are finishes of third at Nazareth, fourth at Milwaukee, fifth at Japan and sixth at Portland. He stands fifth in the championship with 66 points and holds a commanding lead over Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team), who has 36 points, in the chase for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award.
Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports led a race-high 73 laps en route to a fourth-place finish at Toronto in his first appearance since recording a career-best runner up finish at Cleveland on July 2. He has finished fifth or better in five of his last eight starts, including fourth at Rio de Janeiro and Japan and fifth at Portland, and stands seventh in the championship with 62 points.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in six of his last seven FedEx Championship Series starts, beginning with a victory at Rio de Janeiro. He comes to Michigan Speedway, site of his only career pole position in 1998, off a second-place finish at Toronto last weekend and stands eighth in the championship with 61 points.
Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing has scored championship points in six of seven FedEx Championship Series starts to date, and has finished fifth or better in four of those. The run includes a season-best result of third at Milwaukee as well as fifth-place efforts at Homestead, Detroit and Cleveland and seventh at Toronto. Despite missing three events with a small fracture of the left wrist sustained in an April accident at his Las Vegas home, Carpentier currently stands 10th in the championship with 47 points.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing owns a victory - in The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996 - and three pole positions (1996 U.S. 500, 1996 Marlboro 500, 1999 U.S. 500) during his career at Michigan Speedway. He owns the track qualifying record of 234.665 miles per hour (30.682 seconds), set during qualifying for the 1996 Marlboro 500. He finished second at Michigan in 1998, seventh in '95 and ninth last year.
Michael Andretti is a two-time winner at Michigan (1987 from the pole, '89). He also scored a podium finish of third in 1988 and has started among the top three drivers five times in his career. He has led 647 laps in his career at Michigan, including 65 last year, when he started and finished fourth.
Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has scored championship points in five of nine career starts at Michigan Speedway, including podium finishes of second in 1992 and third last year. He also finished seventh at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996, fourth in '97 and ninth in '98.
Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) of the PacWest Racing Group has finished sixth or better in three of four career appearances at Michigan, including a runner-up effort in 1997. He also finished fifth in The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996 and sixth at the Marlboro 500 later that summer. He did not compete at Michigan last year while recovering from a small fracture of the seventh cervical vertebra sustained in a testing accident at Gateway International Raceway.
Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes) has finished among the top six drivers in three of his past five appearances at Michigan, including a runner-up effort in The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996. He also finished third in the 1996 Marlboro 500 and sixth in the 1997 U.S. 500. He has led at least one lap in four of his past six appearances at Michigan.
Firestone celebrates a milestone this weekend at Michigan by competing in its 100th CART event since the tire maker joined the series in 1995. It couldn't come at a better place as far as Firestone is concerned, since Michigan was the site of Firestone's first pole position (Parker Johnstone) and race victory (Scott Pruett), both in '95. Firestone has achieved extraordinary success in the FedEx Championship Series. The tire maker will earn its 72nd pole and 73rd race win this weekend.
Honda has won four of the past five FedEx Championship Series 500-mile events contested at Michigan Speedway, getting victories from Jimmy Vasser at The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996, Andre Ribeiro at the 1996 Marlboro 500, Alex Zanardi at the 1997 U.S. 500 and Tony Kanaan at the 1999 U.S. 500.
Ford has won three of the five FedEx Championship Series events contested on ovals this season, getting victories from Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) at Homestead, Adrian Fernandez at Rio de Janeiro and Michael Andretti at Japan. NOTEWORTHY
Defending Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota champion Tony Kanaan (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) will be evaluated by CART Chief Steward J. Kirk Russell during a brief on-track session Thursday morning at Michigan Speedway, after which it will be determined whether he will return to FedEx Championship Series competition this weekend. Kanaan has been sidelined since sustaining a broken left forearm and four cracked ribs in a qualifying accident at Detroit on June 17.
He has been rehabilitating the injury in Indianapolis with CART Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Terry Trammell, and has logged more than 600 laps of work in go-karts during the past week. "I'm just so happy at the thought of coming back," Kanaan said. "I'm feeling very good, all things considered. Pain is not really an issue as I drive the go-kart around the track. I've been driving hard, even one-handed for a good bit of the time. It's not over until the doctor says in can race on Thursday, but I sure feel pretty good."
Della Penna Motorsports announced Monday that American Memo Gidley will pilot the team's DIRECTV Toyota Reynard in this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota, sitting in for the team's regular driver, Argentine rookie Norberto Fontana. Gidley has made 13 career FedEx Championship Series starts over the last two years, competing for Walker Racing, Payton Coyne Racing and Player's/Forsythe Racing. His career-best finish of eighth came for Player's/Forsythe Racing at Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, while substituting for the injured Patrick Carpentier. "We were scheduled to test Norberto at Michigan Speedway, but we weren't able to go there because he was still recovering from his incident in Japan a week earlier," team owner John Della Penna explained. "Due to the race schedule, we weren't able to reschedule the test. Norberto and I discussed the upcoming superspeedway race and decided it was better to put someone else in the car. Norberto is completely unfamiliar with racing on a two-mile superspeedway and is still getting accustomed to ovals." Said Gidley: "It's great to have the opportunity to get out and drive again. I welcome the experience to work with a new team, engineer and personnel. As far as driving on a superspeedway, it's great for me. While it's not easy to get a car set up on an oval, I enjoy the challenge and think it's going to be a lot of fun."
Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske will make his 100th career FedEx Championship Series start at this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota. De Ferran has started every FedEx Championship Series event since entering the series at the beginning of the 1995 season. He owns five career victories, including two this season at Nazareth and Portland, and eight career pole positions in his six seasons of competition.
At the midway point of the FedEx Championship Series season, Luiz Garcia Jr. (Hollywood/Embratel/Tang/Banco Sofisa Mercedes Reynard) of the Arciero Project Racing Group holds the lead in the season-long standings for the inaugural Budweiser Hard Charger Award. The award recognizes the FedEx Championship Series driver who improves the most from start to finish on both an event-by-event and season-long basis. Drivers earn one point for each position gained over the course of the race and the season. Through 10 rounds of the championship, Garcia totals 71 points, followed by Cristiano da Matta with 58, Paul Tracy with 53 and Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez Mercedes Lola) of Bettenhausen Motorsports, with 45. At season's end, the driver who shows the greatest improvement in positions gained will receive $10,000 from Budweiser, the Official Beer of CART.
CART Charities is holding its "Ultimate Garage Sale" from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in the paddock area at Michigan Speedway. The "Garage Sale" will include a variety of collectible merchandise donated by CART, its teams and sponsors, with all proceeds going CART Charities. During the 2000 season, monies raised by CART Charities will benefit CARA (Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary) and the Buonoconti Fund, part of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
ON THE AIR
Qualifying for the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota will air 12:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, with ABC-TV's live race broadcast following at 1:30 p.m. ET. The race will also air live on the Armed Forces Radio Network, reaching 165 countries around the world, on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .