CHAMPCAR/CART: Championship race wide-open heading to Laguna seca

DETROIT (September 6, 2000) - Three quarters of the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season have passed, and remarkably, the points race is virtually as close after Round 15 as it was following Round 1. When Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of...

DETROIT (September 6, 2000) - Three quarters of the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season have passed, and remarkably, the points race is virtually as close after Round 15 as it was following Round 1.

When Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal drove to his first career victory at Homestead last March, the top five drivers in the championship were separated by 10 points. Today, as the series heads to Round 16, the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula (3 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ABC-TV), the top five drivers in the title chase are covered by a mere 11 points.

Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing continues to hold the championship lead with 126 points, but his then-22-point advantage following Round 12 at Chicago has been trimmed to six, thanks to the emergence of Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green. Tracy has won the past two events at Road America and Vancouver to move into a close second place, with 120 points.

Also filling Andretti's mirrors are Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, third with 117 points; Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, fourth with 116; and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard), Fernandez' Patrick Racing teammate, fifth with 115.

All five of the championship principals have experienced considerable success at Laguna Seca. Andretti is a two-time winner from the pole in 1991 and '92, and owns six podium finishes in 16 career appearances at the venue.

Tracy is also a two-time winner on the Monterey Peninsula (1993 and '94), the latter victory coming from the pole, and has four top-five finishes in nine career starts there. Fernandez has scored championship points in six of his seven career appearances at Laguna Seca, topped by a fifth-place finish last year.

De Ferran claimed his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Laguna Seca during his rookie season of 1995 and owns three top-six results in five career starts at the venue. Moreno, meanwhile, recorded a then-career-best runner-up finish there last year, which he exceeded with his first career victory at Cleveland this season.

While the intense points race has captured most of the spotlight, this weekend is also noteworthy for the return of two-time defending Laguna Seca champion Bryan Herta, who will be making his sixth start of the season, but his first in the Ford Reynard entered by Forsythe Championship Racing. Herta has claimed both of his career FedEx Championship Series victories from the pole at Laguna Seca, in 1998 and '99, and also holds the track qualifying record of 118.666 miles per hour (one minute, 7.985 seconds), set en route to the 1997 pole.

This weekend's entry list includes a fifth winner at Laguna Seca, Jimmy Vasser of four-time defending FedEx Championship Series champion Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) drove to victory at Monterey in 1997 and owns four top-five finishes in his last five appearances there.

This year for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history, all cars ride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.

The spirited points battle will add considerable drama to the final five events of the FedEx Championship Series season, which concludes with The Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Oct. 29 at California Speedway. For the third straight year, the season finale will pay its winner $1 million, thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway. An additional $1 million will be awarded to the driver who emerges from the season finale as series champion.

The Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 is the second of three consecutive event weekends for FedEx Championship Series competitors. The series continues with Round 17, the Motorola 300 on Sunday, Sept. 17 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has won back-to-back FedEx Championship Series events, at Road America and Vancouver, to move within six points of Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing in the chase for the Vanderbilt Cup, emblematic of the FedEx Championship Series championship. Tracy's consecutive wins have brought him to 120 points while Andretti continues to lead the championship with 126. Tracy owns a series-high three victories this season (Long Beach), and also leads the series with six podium finishes, including third-place efforts at Homestead, Rio de Janeiro and Toronto.

Michael Andretti has scored championship points in 11 of his last 13 starts, including victories at Japan and Toronto and podium finishes of second at Milwaukee, Michigan and Chicago. He leads the series in laps completed (1,935 of a possible 2,102) and miles completed (3,113.969 of a possible 3,470.041) and leads the FedEx Championship Series with 126 points.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in 12 of his past 13 FedEx Championship Series starts, and has moved from 26th to third in the championship in that span. His scoring run began with a victory at Brazil and includes podium finishes of second at Toronto and Road America and third last week at Vancouver. With 117 points, he is only nine points behind championship leader Michael Andretti (126) and only three behind second-place Paul Tracy (120).

Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has finished fifth or better in three of his past four FedEx Championship Series starts. The run consists of third at Chicago, a runner-up effort at Mid-Ohio and fifth at Vancouver. He has qualified among the top five drivers for 12 of his 15 starts this season, including poles at Homestead, Long Beach and Mid-Ohio, and stands fourth in the championship with 116 points.

Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal has scored championship points in 11 of his last 13 FedEx Championship Series starts, including podium finishes of second at Cleveland, third at Nazareth and third at Road America. He stands sixth in the championship with 106 points and holds a commanding 106-46 lead over Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports in his quest for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award.

Rookie Oriol Servia is the only FedEx Championship Series driver to have scored championship points in as many as seven of the eight road or street course events contested this season. The run consists of finishes of sixth at Long Beach, a career-best third at Detroit, eighth at Portland, 11th at Toronto, 10th at Mid-Ohio, 10th at Road America and 11th at Vancouver. Servia stands 15th in the championship with 46 points and second to Kenny Brack of Team Rahal (106-46) in the battle for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award.

Bryan Herta (Forsythe Championship Racing Team Ford Reynard) of the Forsythe Championship Racing Team is the two-time defending champion of the Shell 300 from the pole, having won in 1998 and '99 while driving for Team Rahal. He also won the 1997 pole at the current track-record speed of 118.666 miles per hour (1 minute, 7.985 seconds). He finished second at Laguna Seca in 1996 and sixth in '97 and has qualified on the front row for all five of his career starts at the venue. Herta's 226 laps led at Laguna Seca, including all 83 en route to last year's victory, make him the leader in that category among all active drivers.

Michael Andretti owns two career victories at Laguna Seca (1991, '92), both from the pole, with additional podium finishes of second in 1998 and third in '84, '86 and '90. He has led 179 career laps at the venue, including all 84 en route to both his victories.

Paul Tracy is a two-time winner at Laguna Seca (1993, '94 from the pole) with additional top-five results of second in 1995 and fourth last year. He has led 165 career laps on the Monterey Peninsula, including all 84 en route to his 1994 victory.

Gil de Ferran owns three top-six finishes in five career appearances at Laguna Seca, where he recorded his first career FedEx Championship Series victory during his rookie season of 1995. He also finished third in 1997, when he was runner-up in the FedEx Championship Series, and sixth last year.

Adrian Fernandez has recorded six points paying finishes in seven career appearances at Laguna Seca Raceway, topped by fifth last year. He also finished seventh in 1994 and '98, 10th in '95, 11th in '96 and 12th in '93.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has collected five points-paying results in eight career starts at Laguna Seca, topped by a victory in 1997. He also finished second in 1995, fourth in '96, fifth in '98 and eighth in '95.

During Sunday's Shell 300, Honda will be seeking a sweep of FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses during the 2000 season. Honda-powered drivers have already won the first three road course events of the campaign, with Gil de Ferran winning at Portland, Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske winning at Mid-Ohio and Paul Tracy winning at Road America. Honda has won a series-high seven events this season and has moved within nine points of Ford (256-247) in its bid for a third consecutive CART Manufacturer's Championship, and its fourth in five seasons.

Ford has won the past two FedEx Championship Series events contested at Laguna Seca - getting back-to-back victories from Bryan Herta in 1998 and '99 - and four of the past five poles, with Jacques Villeneuve (1995) and Herta (1997-99) doing the honors.

Championship Auto Racing Teams and Laguna Seca Raceway will host a special Fan Forum on Friday, from noon to 1 p.m. PT. Guests will include interim CART President and CEO Bobby Rahal; Mo Nunn, co-owner of Mo Nunn Racing; Lon Bromley, CART Director of Safety and ABC/ESPN broadcaster Parker Johnstone. Fans holding tickets entitling them to paddock access on Friday are welcome to attend the forum and ask questions of the guests. For further information on the Fan Forum, contact Laguna Seca Raceway at (831) 648-5111.

Qualifying for the Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, with ESPN's live race broadcast slated to begin 3 p.m. ET. The race will also air live on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Chip Ganassi , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing