CHAMPCAR/CART: Competiton Heats up a Nazareth

COMPETITION HEATS UP AS FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HEADS INTO BOSCH SPARK PLUG GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY TOYOTA DETROIT (April 27, 1999) - As closely contested as the FedEx Championship Series points race for the PPG Cup is at present, it is only...

COMPETITION HEATS UP AS FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HEADS INTO BOSCH SPARK PLUG GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY TOYOTA

DETROIT (April 27, 1999) - As closely contested as the FedEx Championship Series points race for the PPG Cup is at present, it is only fitting that the series' next stop is one of the most competitive on the entire 20-race circuit.

That would be the 0.946-mile oval at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway, site of Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota (12:30 p.m. ET, live, ESPN). The fourth round of the championship will be contested at a venue where 25 of the top 26 qualifiers last year were separated by 0.913 seconds.

Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard), the outside pole-sitter at last year's race, arrives in Nazareth with the FedEx Championship Series points lead following top-eight finishes in the season's first three events, including a victory in the opener at Homestead.

Moore finished third at Nazareth last year, and in doing so, assumed the championship points lead for the first time in his then three-year career. Moore continued in the lead following his subsequent victory at Rio de Janeiro before yielding the top spot to eventual champion Alex Zanardi for the balance of the season.

This year, Moore enters Round 4 with a 39-33 points advantage over Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) and Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard). Fernandez is classified second in the championship chase based on a higher finish, his April 10 victory in Japan. De Ferran, runner-up in the 1997 championship, is off to a strong start this season, with top-six finishes in the first three events, topped by a runner-up effort in Japan.

Lurking just outside the top three in fourth place is Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift), Nazareth's hometown favorite. Andretti is a two-time winner (1987, '96) and polesitter (1987, '92) at Nazareth, where he owns eight top-five finishes in 11 career starts. He has also recorded 646 of his CART career-leading 5,884 laps led at Nazareth.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) comes to Nazareth as defending race champion. Vasser's victory over Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Zanardi by 1.400 seconds last year started Vasser on the way to a sweep of FedEx Championship Series events contested on one-mile ovals. He completed the double five weeks later with a victory at The Milwaukee Mile.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) has been almost as successful at Nazareth as Andretti. He owns victories in 1994 and '97 and a total of four podium finishes in eight career starts. Tracy also won back-to-back pole positions at Nazareth in 1996 and '97 and has logged 536 of his 2,116 career laps led at the venue. Following the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series makes the season's second international junket for the May 15 Rio 200 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

WHO'S HOT FedEx Championship Series points leader Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) has finished fourth or better in nine of his past 10 starts on ovals, including victories at Rio de Janeiro and Michigan Speedway last year and in this year's season opener at Homestead. The run also includes runner-up efforts at Homestead and California Speedway last year, third-place showings at Nazareth and Gateway last year and fourths at Japan last year and this year. Moore started on the pole for three of those events, at Homestead both years, and at Gateway last year.

Rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) comes to Nazareth after making a bit of history with his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at the April 18 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. By winning in only his third series start, Montoya became the second-quickest to his first career triumph in CART history, trailing only Nigel Mansell, who won the season opener at Australia in 1993. He was the first FedEx Championship Series rookie to score a victory since Alex Zanardi at Laguna Seca in 1996, 38 events earlier.

Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) has finished sixth or better in each of the season's first three events, including sixth at Homestead (after starting 25th), second at Japan and sixth at Long Beach. The streak of three top-six results is his first since the final three races of the 1997 season, when he finished a career-best second in the championship.

Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) has scored FedEx Championship Series points in his past five starts, dating to last year at Australia. The streak is his best since scoring in nine straight events between Round 5 (Nazareth) and Round 13 (Mid-Ohio) in 1996. Fittipaldi's finishes this year include ninth at Homestead, third at Japan and fifth at Long Beach.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK Nazareth is Michael Andretti's hometown, and the veteran FedEx Championship Series driver has treated Nazareth Speedway like his personal playground. In 11 career starts at the venue, Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) owns two victories (1987, '96) as well as pole positions in 1987 and '92. He also recorded runner-up finishes in 1988, '92 and '97 and has collected eight top-five finishes in his career, including third in 1991and fifth in '89 and '90. In addition, Andretti is the all-time laps led leader at Nazareth, with 646, including a race-high 102 last year.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) joins Andretti with two career victories at Nazareth (1994, '97) as well as two poles (1996, '97). He owns seven top-10 finishes in eight starts and has led 536 laps at Nazareth, second only to Andretti.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) has won the past two FedEx Championship Series events contested on one-mile ovals, at Nazareth and Milwaukee last year. Vasser led 41 laps at Nazareth and finished 1.400 seconds ahead of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and eventual FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi. Of the 15 combined victories Vasser and Zanardi had recorded from 1996 through Nazareth '98, none had come on a mile-oval prior to Vasser's triumph. Vasser followed up five weeks later with a victory at The Milwaukee Mile, and his past three FedEx Championship Series victories have come on oval tracks, including last year's triumph in the season finale at California Speedway, which earned him $1 million.

Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota MANUFACTURING SUCCESS The first three events of the FedEx Championship Series season have seen three different engine manufacturers in Victory Circle. Series leader Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) won the season opener at Homestead for Mercedes-Benz. He was followed by Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), who guided a Ford Cosworth-powered Reynard to victory in Japan. Rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) then gave Honda its first victory of the season at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Heading to Nazareth, Honda holds a two-point advantage over Ford Cosworth (53-51) in the Manufacturer's Championship. Mercedes-Benz is third with 39 points.

Firestone has won 21 FedEx Championship Series events in a row, dating to Adrian Fernandez' victory in Japan last year, and 32 of the past 33, dating to Greg Moore's 1997 victory at Milwaukee.

ON THE AIR The Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota will air live at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN. "CART 2Day" airs noon ET on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to the live race broadcast.

Source: CART Online

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Series IndyCar
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing