CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Race report

Mario Dominguez wins first career CART Fedex Championship series event in rain-soaked Surfers Paradise. SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia - (October 27, 2002) - Sun-drenched Surfers Paradise may be one of the most aptly-named places on the...

Mario Dominguez wins first career CART Fedex Championship series event in rain-soaked Surfers Paradise.

SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia - (October 27, 2002) - Sun-drenched Surfers Paradise may be one of the most aptly-named places on the planet but the resort town on Australia's Gold Coast turned from paradise to a water park on Sunday afternoon for the Honda Indy 300.

Queensland, Australia residents had been hoping for a break in the country's worst drought in 94 years and they got it in spades on Sunday as the rains came early and often to the streets of Surfers Paradise. The rains soaked the 2.795-mile street course throughout the day and caused the CART FedEx Championship Series Round 17 event to be shortened from 70 to 40 laps - but as heavy rains often do - the rains yielded a surprising rainbow as rookie Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took his very first Champ Car victory.

Dominguez was at the head of the field when CART stewards decided to call an end to the event, which saw 34 of its 40 laps run under caution, taking his first win and also giving the Herdez squad its first CART victory, dating all the way back to its previous incarnation as Bettenhausen Motorsports.

The day started under rough circumstances for half the field, including Dominguez, as a nine-car pileup took place on the front stretch at the drop of the green flag. With visibility down because of the rain, a tap between Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) quickly became a race car-breaking melee, with the cars of Vasser and Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) ending up upside-down on the track.

The cars of Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) were also involved in the wreck and came to a stop beside the flipped car of Vasser, wherein the two drivers bravely jumped out of their cars and attended to the stricken Team Rahal race car and driver. Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Office Depot Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Dominguez and Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) all suffered major damage in the crash, which resulted in a lengthy red-flag delay for a cleanup and created the need for a total restart.

CART Stewards ruled that the teams that damaged cars in the accident could go to their backup machines for the restart and 16 of the 18 drivers were able to answer the bell, minus the cars of Fernandez and Takagi who needed medical attention. The race was shortened at that time from 70 to 50 laps for the restart.

The race would restart with three laps of caution before the emerald banner waved to set the drivers racing, with polesitter and series champion Cristiano da Matta (#1 Caltex/Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) setting the pace ahead of Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone).

Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) took advantage of the slick track to get around Kanaan and into third place on the first lap while his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) threatened to make it three team cars in the top five as he pressured Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone for fifth.

The rains would then intensify and lessen visibility even more, causing CART to call for a yellow flag on Lap 10. The race machines pulled in behind the pace car and waited for the rains to subside, but with no end in sight, the cars were simply left to turn laps in formation, with teams peeling off occasionally to meet the 20-lap mandatory pit window set for the race.

The race became official at 36 laps as per the CART rule book which states that the race must go to half of its scheduled distance to be counted as a full race. That fact played into the pit strategies of many teams as it became clear that CART stewards were going to keep the cars circulating as they waited for a break in the weather. Andretti, Vasser and Fittipaldi were among those that tried to play the fuel card to their advantage, but the decision was made to run 40 laps, to ensure that everyone had to stop twice in the race.

That being the case, the strategies that were geared toward Lap 36 became moot, and when the cars running under that strategy pitted, Dominguez was promoted into the lead. He would lead the last four laps of the event ahead of Carpentier and Tracy to take his first CART win.

The two drivers that could not take the restart were taken to Gold Coast Hospital where they were attended to by CART Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Steve Olvey. Fernandez suffered small fractures of the T2 and T3 vertabrae and will be unable to race in Fontana next week. He was fitted with a cervical collar for comfort and was released from the hospital. Takagi suffered minor fractures to his pelvis but will be able to race in Fontana if his comfort level allows him to get in the car.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUOTES

MARIO DOMINGUEZ (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone):
"What goes around comes around. We've had a lot of bad luck this year. The team had a wonderful strategy. The team really put the car back together after the first lap incident. I feel like the luckiest man in the world at the moment. I really think it will be the first of many for this team. We had the good luck for once today. I kept thinking I could win this thing if this or that strategy played out. But our bad luck turned around and we won. It was unbelievable. A win is a win and you take it no matter what."

PATRICK CARPENTIER (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone):
"Every weekend is different. And when you get conditions like this it's always difficult. It was too tough of conditions but it was the right decision to run the race behind the pace car. In a race like that, that's just the way it is. I've lost races like this, but I ended up second today and I'll take it. It's a shame that we had to do it behind the pace car but that's the way it goes and that's the way racing goes."

PAUL TRACY (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone):
"Well it started raining and it just got worse and worse and worse. I didn't really understand what was going on and my team didn't understand what was going on. It was tough for me because I didn't think the race was going to go on as long as it did. It was getting dark, and I had a dark visor on. The track was flooding and it was no one's fault. It was just Mother Nature."

NOTEWORTHY:

* Mario Dominguez became the first rookie to win a CART race since Bruno Junqueira turned the trick last year at Road America. He also takes an 18-point lead in the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year standings with two races left.

* Toyota clinched the 2002 CART Manufacturers Championship with a fourth-place finish from Kenny Brack and a single point for leading the most laps awarded to Cristiano da Matta. The championship is the first for Toyota since the award's inception in 1995.

* Ford-Cosworth earned its first 1-2 finish of the season and its first since last year's race at the Lausitzring in Germany when Kenny Brack and Max Papis led a Team Rahal sweep.

* Today's rain-soaked race was the slowest in CART history at an average speed of 55.849mph. The old record came from an rainy event in Vancouver in 1999 where Juan Montoya won with a race average of 65.279mph.

-cart-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Mario Dominguez , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing