CHAMPCAR/CART: Andretti, Fittipaldi Gold Coast race notes

Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi jumped from his ninth place start into fifth on the first lap and ran as high as second place before being hit during the end stages of the race after driving the second fastest lap in the Honda...

Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi jumped from his ninth place start into fifth on the first lap and ran as high as second place before being hit during the end stages of the race after driving the second fastest lap in the Honda Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise, Australia. On the first lap of the originally scheduled 65-lap Honda Indy 300 in Australia, Fittipaldi passed eighth place Helio Castroneves before a multi-car accident moved him up to fifth place after polesitter Juan Montoya, points leader Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti made contact. He held fifth place through the restart and began pressuring Tony Kanaan until he finally passed him on the eighth lap. He held fourth place and began pressuring Jimmy Vasser while running a mere half-second behind him. When current race leader Paul Tracy went off course after building a 10-second lead, Fittipaldi moved into third place behind new race leader and teammate Andretti and second place Vasser. He held third place until his first pit stop on lap 24 and returned to the race in 12th place behind previously rear-field drivers who pitted under the caution for Tracy on lap 13. When Castroneves dropped back, he moved into 11th place behind the top eight drivers who were out of pit sequence with the previous leaders but running third of those on the lead strategy. He held his position until moving up to third place as the others pitted by lap 38. He moved into second place on lap 39 when teammate Andretti pulled off course due to an engine failure, which led to a fire. He made his second stop on lap 42 under the caution period for Andretti and beat Vasser out of the pits but was behind Tracy who was out of sequence due to the off course excursion at the beginning of the race and being out of pit sequence. The race was restarted on lap 44 but a caution period immediately came out when Alex Barron slid sideways and Roberto Moreno, who was behind him, braked hard and crashed. The extended yellow period played into the strategy of those that started the race in the back of the field and were able to gamble and pit under the first caution. Due to the length of the caution, the current front runners would not need to stop for a splash of fuel to complete the race. The race was restarted on lap 47 with Fittipaldi in fourth place until Oriol Servia passed him by driving through the chicane when Tracy and Max Papis made contact. CART rules forced Servia back behind Fittipaldi a few laps later before the restart on lap 51. During the restart, fifth place runner and eventual third place finisher Jimmy Vasser ran into the rear of Fittipaldi's car and punctured his tire, forcing him to retire in 15th place after 51 of 59 laps in the two-hour timed event. Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:

"Vasser hit me and punctured my rear tire and that was it for us," said Fittipaldi. "What a shame because we would have been on the podium. The car was good all day since the morning warm-up. Stuff was flying everywhere from the crash at the start but luckily we got through without running over debris. This race is always a wild one but it was even wilder this year. The guys did some good pit stops also. It was awesome when I got out of the pits in front of Vasser (who was previously the race leader). I thought, "Now I have it." Unfortunately all of the yellow laps played into the hands of the guys who were not on the same pit strategy as the previous front runners. That enabled them to stay up front and not pit. Despite that, we could have finished in the top three if we weren't hit which would have been great for the team."

Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti's Championship hopes went up in flames as his car caught on fire after leading 12 laps of the Honda Indy 300 and he subsequently retired with mechanical failure when he lost power after 38 of 59 laps in the two hour timed race. Andretti started the race without the aid of two-way communication with the team in the pits due to intermittent radio transmission. At the start, Andretti drove from sixth place but jumped into second by the end of the first lap after avoiding an accident that involved polesitter Juan Montoya, points leader Gil de Ferran and Dario Franchitti. With points leader de Ferran out of the race, Andretti was poised to make an advance in the Championship in race 19 of 20 in the CART FedEx Series. He held second place through the restart and drove at a conservative pace behind race leader Paul Tracy in order to collect as many championship points as possible. Andretti inherited the lead on lap 12 when Tracy went off course. Eleventh place and back made use of the caution period and pitted in hopes that the risky strategy would play into their favor at the end of the race. The team initially planned to have Andretti pit but he did not hear the request until after he passed the entrance to pit lane. Fortunately those behind him followed his strategy. Andretti then held the lead until he made his first stop on lap 24 and returned to the race in 11th place behind those who were on a different pit strategy as well as current race leader Jimmy Vasser who was able to stay on track one more lap and thus gain enough track position to get the lead. He held 11th place until Helio Castroneves dropped back. After those who were out of pit sequence made their next stops, Andretti was back up to second place behind Vasser on lap 38. The following lap, Andretti reported to the crew that there was a problem with his engine. The car immediately caught fire and Andretti had to pull into a runoff area, which brought out another caution period. He retired in 20th place and therefore collected no points for the race. Seventh place starter Adrian Fernandez benefited from numerous yellow periods and a different pit strategy due to being in the back of the field at the time of the first yellow and moved into second place in the standings heading into the season finale. Following are Andretti's post race comments:

"I could feel the engine going," said Andretti. "It is such a shame because the race was going our way. The start was so beautiful for us and we were in second place after all of the accidents. I felt helpless when the radio went before the race even started. It's definitely not a good way to start a race. I didn't hear them call me to pit after Tracy went off but luckily I was the leader and most of the drivers follow the leader in that situation. Everything was looking so good for the Championship because of all of the contenders that went out of the race. They were all having the bad luck that we have had in the past six or seven races. Then it happened to us also. Now we just change the focus to ending the season strong and having me get the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford into Winner's Circle for the last time with this team. We have always run strong there and there is nothing I would like better to have my last race with this team be one that we all celebrate in Winner's Circle together."

Drivers Took a Break Before the Action - Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Fittipaldi landed "Down Under" on Friday and took a break on Frazier Island before coming to the Gold Coast area on Wednesday night of race week. Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Andretti and friends came straight to the Gold Coast area on Monday of race week for some relaxation and pool time.

- Next on the Schedule - The CART FedEx Championship Series season finale takes place in two weeks in Fontana, California at The California Speedway. The annual CART banquet takes place the following Monday night in Los Angeles.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan