CHAMPCAR/CART: Rio 200; International portion of CART season opens

DETROIT (April 24, 2000) - With drivers representing 12 different countries and a variety of global sponsors, the FedEx Championship Series boasts worldwide appeal. And nowhere is that appeal more evident than in Brazil, homeland to nine...

DETROIT (April 24, 2000) - With drivers representing 12 different countries and a variety of global sponsors, the FedEx Championship Series boasts worldwide appeal. And nowhere is that appeal more evident than in Brazil, homeland to nine drivers currently competing in the series.

The Brazilian contingent made history last year by claiming the Nation's Cup, awarded annually to the country whose drivers score the highest finishes during the FedEx Championship Series season. It marked the first time in the award's five-year history that it was claimed by a country other than the United States.

Brazil is once again the early Nation's Cup leader as the series prepares for its first international event of the season, Sunday's Rio 200, on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (12:30 p.m. ET, live, ESPN).

Brazil's Nation's Cup lead has been powered by a pair of poles and most laps led points from Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Homestead and Long Beach; as well as runner-up finishes from Rio native Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) and Helio Castro-Neves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Homestead and Long Beach, respectively. Brazil holds a 36-34 lead over Canada while the four-time Nation's Cup champion United States stands third at 26 points.

While Brazil holds the Nation's Cup lead, it is Canadian Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green who stands atop the driver standings. Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), a 1999 CART All-Star selection, has parlayed a third-place finish at Homestead and his 16th career FedEx Championship Series victory at Long Beach into 34 points. It marks the first time he has led the championship since 1997 when he held the top spot following Round 11 at Toronto.

Tracy is one of two former Rio 200 winners in the field, having scored a dramatic victory in 1997 when leader Bobby Rahal ran out of fuel with just over a lap remaining. Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola), the defending FedEx Championship Series champ and a '99 CART All Star, joins Tracy as a former winner at Rio. Montoya drove to victory last year in a dominant performance that saw him lead 93 of 108 laps and culminate a three-race winning streak.

Montoya's Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) currently stands second to Tracy in the championship with 26 points. He owns top-four finishes in each of the season's first two events - fourth at Homestead and third at Long Beach.

Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), a '99 CART All Star and winner of the season opener at Homestead, stands third with 20 championship points and is followed by Moreno and De Ferran, with 20 and 18 points, respectively. Papis holds the higher ranking over Moreno based on his victory at Homestead.

Following the Rio 200, the FedEx Championship Series continues its international swing with the Firestone Firehawk 500, Saturday, May 13, at the Twin Ring Motegi motorsports complex in Motegi, Japan.

WHO'S HOT

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) owns podium finishes in each of the first two events of the FedEx Championship Series season - third at Homestead and a victory at Long Beach - and leads the championship with 34 points. His last championship lead came in 1997, following Round 11 at Toronto. He has scored points in five of his past six starts, dating to last year at Laguna Seca, and is one of two drivers - Gil de Ferran is the other - to have led laps in both FedEx Championship Series events this season. He is a former winner at Rio, having driven to victory in 1997.

* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) has earned pole positions at Homestead and Long Beach and has gone on to lead race-high totals of 41 laps at Homestead and 30 at Long Beach. He leads the series with 71 laps led. On the strength of sixth and seventh-place finishes at Homestead and Long Beach, respectively, he stands fifth in the championship with 18 points.

* Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) has a pair of top-four finishes in his first two starts, topped by third at Long Beach. He stands second to Tracy in the championship with 24 points and has given Toyota power two of its three best finishes during its five-year participation in the FedEx Championship Series, fourth at Long Beach and third at Homestead.

* Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) has led an impressive crop of FedEx Championship Series rookie drivers by recording points-paying results in each of his first two starts - ninth at Homestead and fourth at Long Beach. He stands seventh in the championship with 16 points.

* Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) matched a career best with a runner-up performance at Homestead, equaling last year's showing at Laguna Seca, and followed with a ninth-place effort at Long Beach, where he also led 10 laps. He stands fourth in the championship with 20 points.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) earned his first career FedEx Championship Series pole position on the speedway named after his uncle Emerson last year. He earned the pole with a track-record lap of 174.002 miles per hour (38.565 seconds). He went on to finish third and also owns a fifth-place result at Rio in 1996, when he started 27th.

* Jimmy Vasser has scored championship points in three of four career appearances at Rio. He earned finishes of eighth in 1996, ninth in '97 and sixth in '98.

* Roberto Moreno's career-best FedEx Championship Series qualifying performance came at Rio in 1997. He captured the outside pole while substituting for the injured Christian Fittipaldi in the Newman/Haas entry. Moreno also owns scoring finishes of ninth in 1996 and 11th last year, in his first event as a substitute for the injured Mark Blundell at PacWest Racing. This also is truly a home track for Moreno, the only Brazilian among the nine competing who was born in Rio de Janeiro.

* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) earned the pole position at Rio de Janeiro in 1998 and drove to a runner-up finish last year. He has led 10 laps at Rio over the past two seasons.

* Gil de Ferran has scored FedEx Championship Series points in three of his four career appearances at Rio de Janeiro, with finishes of 10th in 1996 and '99, and 11th in '97.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Jimmy Vasser's third-place finish at Long Beach brought Toyota the first podium finish of its five-year participation in the FedEx Championship Series. Vasser had equaled Toyota's previous best, established by Cristiano da Matta at Nazareth last year, with a fourth-place performance at Homestead in the season opener.

* With three poles and two race victories in four events, Honda has been the dominant manufacturer in FedEx Championship Series competition at Rio de Janeiro. Honda's victories have come from Andre Ribeiro (1996) and Juan Montoya last year. The poles were recorded by Alex Zanardi (1996), Dario Franchitti (1998) and Montoya last year.

* Mercedes-Benz also has enjoyed success at Rio with a pole and pair of wins. Mauricio Gugelmin landed the pole in 1997 while Paul Tracy and Greg Moore earned wins in 1997 and '98, respectively.

* Ford has won the past two FedEx Championship Series events contested on ovals, with victories from Adrian Fernandez in last year's season finale at California Speedway and Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) in the 2000 season opener at Homestead.

MILESTONES

* Michael Andretti's next triumph will allow him to set a CART record for most seasons with at least one race victory. Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), CART's all-time victory leader with 38, is currently tied for the top spot with Rick Mears. Both have notched at least one victory in 12 seasons. Andretti is in his 17th season of FedEx Championship Series competition.

* Jimmy Vasser's next start will move him into sole possession of 13th place on the CART career starts list, with 130. Vasser, in his ninth career FedEx Championship Series season, is currently tied with Tom Sneva at 129 career starts.

NOTEWORTHY

* CART Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Craig will be the keynote speaker during the afternoon session of the Racing for Global Profits: Global Opportunities and Local Impacts of the Motor Sports Industries conference Tuesday at the Omni North Hotel in Indianapolis. His address will focus on the impact racing has on manufacturing and services in general. The conference is being coordinated by the Global Business Information Network at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

ON THE AIR

* The Rio 200 will air live 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Rick Mears , Tom Sneva , Nelson Piquet , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing