CHAMPCAR/CART: Vasser wins fastest 500-mile open wheel race in Fontana

Jimmy Vasser nips Michael Andretti in fastest 500-mile race in open wheel history. FONTANA, Calif. - (November 3, 2002) - Jimmy Vasser ( ...

Jimmy Vasser nips Michael Andretti in fastest 500-mile race in open wheel history.

FONTANA, Calif. - (November 3, 2002) - Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Rahal capped off an amazing race that saw 43 lead changes among seven drivers with a pass of Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Motorola on a lap 248 restart to win The 500 Presented by Toyota Sunday at California Speedway. With an average speed of 197.995 mph, Sunday's race was the fastest 500-mile open wheel event in history - and quite possibly the fastest 500-mile race in motorsports history - breaking the record of 189.727 mph Al Unser Jr. set at the CART FedEx Championship Series Michigan 500 in 1990.

Leading with two laps remaining in the 250-lap event, Andretti was a sitting duck on the final restart of the race after CART race officials red-flagged the race for Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola Bridgestone) whose car grinded to a halt on the frontstretch as a result of mechanical failure. As had been the story all day long, the second-place contender was able to get a run and cruise by the race leader on the restart as Vasser jumped Andretti and led a two-lap dash to the finish, crossing a scant 0.400 seconds in front of CART's all-time victory leader.

After the Shell Team Rahal crew captured $50,000 for winning Saturday's Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge for the second-straight year, the weekend was sweetened with the team's first win on California Speedway's monstrous 2.029-mile superspeedway. The win was Vasser's 10th of his Champ Car career and the first as a member of Team Rahal. In all, Vasser led a race-record 148 laps en route to the checkered flag, surpassing the previous mark of 114 laps led by Andre Ribeiro in 1997.

Andretti posted his fourth top-five finish of the season, leading 37 laps in all before his very competitive machine gave way to Vasser. The effort resulted in Andretti moving to seventh in the series point standings with 110 on the season.

Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Player's/Forsythe Racing completed the top three, wrapping up two of the top-three positions for Ford-Cosworth, which scored its third victory in the past four years at Fontana. The podium was the fifth for Carpentier who now stands third in the point race with 145, just three markers back of Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who finished ninth after starting on the outside of row one.

Polesitter Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) of Mo Nunn Racing managed to lead 10 laps on the day but eventually finished 2.502 seconds off the record pace. The result was Kanaan's fifth top-five of the season, leaving him 12th in points with 93.

Oriol Servia (Visteon Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) of Patrick Racing completed the top five after starting 18th on the grid, his first top-five performance of the year. Servia set the race's fast lap in the process with an orbit of 31.469 seconds (232.114 mph) on Lap 234.

Recently-crowned 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series champion Cristiano da Matta (#1 Chevron Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) of Newman/Haas Racing would finish a disappointing 11th after starting third as mechanical gremlins ended a strong performance that saw him out in front of eventual race winner Vasser as late as lap 231. Da Matta, appearing to be Vasser's strongest challenger, led 14 laps but frequently swapped the top spot with the race winner late in the event.

The CART FedEx Championship Series season will conclude at the inaugural Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa in Mexico City, Mexico on the 2.75-mile road course on November 17th.

CHAMP CAR TOP-THREE QUOTES

JIMMY VASSER (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "First of all, it's a great win for me and the Shell team. You don't want to go the entire season without a win. All the credit goes to the guys on the team. They busted their butts to get the car put back together after Australia. They won the pit stop competition on Friday and had great stops today. The red flag was the right call to make. It's all about the fans, giving them a green flag finish. Had it not been for Dario [Franchitti] causing the red flag, it would have been difficult to catch Michael [Andretti] under race conditions. Michael drove a great race. He expertly knew how to take away my air and just drove a great race. At the end, he was in a tough position. The guy leading in that situation is like a sitting duck out there. I think Cristiano [da Matta] had a little left in his hip pocket because he really started playing with me at the end. He was going to be tough to beat."

MICHAEL ANDRETTI (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "After the yellow (for da Matta's engine), I thought I had the race won. Then Dario's car lost a motor and I became a sitting duck. What's fair is fair. The yellow came out and cost Jimmy and the red flag came out and cost me. The red flag is in the rule book so it was the right decision. I'm sure Jimmy loved the red flag. Jimmy probably had the best car and deserved to win. I tried to catch him in turns three and four at the end but came up a little short. I radioed to the crew, 'I'm done.' First, the car was pretty good all day. Team Motorola did a good job in the pits and the Honda engine was strong. In traffic, the car was not as good. We made an adjustment and started coming on strong."

PATRICK CARPENTIER (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone): "It was wide open all day. It was fun racing. I enjoyed it. The car started out with a push and we improved it on every stop. On the last stop, though, I don't know what happened but the car got really loose and I couldn't challenge Jimmy and Michael. Jimmy was strong and Michael was strong. But I got third place and I'm quite happy."

NOTEWORTHY

* With the win, Jimmy Vasser became the first two-time winner (1998) at California Speedway in CART's sixth appearance, giving Team Rahal its first 500-mile race win the process.

* Today's race marked the first one-two finish by American drivers since the roles where reversed earlier this year when Michael Andretti out-dueled Jimmy Vasser to the checkered flag in Round 2 at Long Beach.

* Michel Jourdain (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) of Team Rahal finished 13th after mechanical failure ended his afternoon on lap 218. The result ends Jourdain's streak of consecutive points-paying finishes at 17.

* The record pace was slowed by only four cautions periods, none as a result of contact. The day's only minor brush with the wall came in the pits when Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota/Reynard Bridgestone) spun entering pit lane and came to a rest backwards after nosing into the wall. Takagi, recovering from a pelvis injury sustained in last week's race in Australia, suffered no additional injuries.

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