CHAMPCAR/CART: De Ferran takes flag-to-flag victory in Houston

By Mike Stucker - Round 18 (of 21) of the CART FedEx Championship Series took place today on the streets of Houston, Texas, with the 100 lap Texaco Havoline Grand Prix. Pole sitter Gil de Ferran lead the field to the green flag ...

By Mike Stucker -

Round 18 (of 21) of the CART FedEx Championship Series took place today on the streets of Houston, Texas, with the 100 lap Texaco Havoline Grand Prix. Pole sitter Gil de Ferran lead the field to the green flag on the track's back straight with rookie Bruno Junqueira on the outside. Championship leader Kenny Brack started third with de Ferran's Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in fourth.

Into the first corner, Turn 5, de Ferran lead Junqueira. Alex Tagliani and Dario Franchitti passed Castroneves at the start. Tagliani, on a tear, then passed Brack in Turn 7.

By the third lap, de Ferran had checked out on the opposition, with a 2.314 second lead on Junqueira.

After 10 laps, the running order was de Ferran, Junqueira, Tagliani, Brack, Franchitti, Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Cristiano de Matta, Mauricio Gugelmin, and Roberto Moreno in the top ten. On lap 11, Brack slid wide in a corner, and Franchitti passed under him. This also put Castroneves right on Brack's tail.

After 20 laps, de Ferran had expanded his lead to 5.118 seconds. The rest of the field had fallen into a procession with no passing, which sometimes happens at the streets races. Castroneves, Dixon, and de Matta packed in behind fifth place Brack, with this becoming the best race on the track.

On lap 30, Castroneves finally made his move in Turn 7, but Brack defended his position. By this time, de Ferran's lead had expanded to over 9 seconds. De Ferran continued to enlarge his lead and Castroneves continued to hound Brack, coming up under his rear wing in every corner. Finally, Castroneves was by for fifth when he went to the inside as they entered Turn 7. Castroneves then began driving away from Brack and the others, quickly pulling 6 seconds clear of them.

The first pit stop occurred with 65 laps to go, as Patrick Carpentier, well pack in the field, came in for routine service. De Ferran's lead was now 10 seconds over Junqueira. Castroneves was also lapping faster than his teammate de Ferran.

Three laps later Moreno had his rear end break loose in Turn 4 and spun, but he recovers to continue. In Turn 7, Oriol Servia passed Michael Jourdain but got in too deep and hit the tire barriers, ending up with Jourdain's car's nose under his rear wheels. The course went local yellow only, but the leaders began to pit.

De Ferran and Brack were in and out of the pits with no problems, but Junqueira's stop was much too long. Michael Andretti smacked the wall near pit out. Because of this and the Servia/Jourdain incident, CART brought out a full course yellow.

The green came back out with 55 laps to go, but in Turn 2 Shinji Nakano rear ended teammate Adrian Fernandez, and the track went back to yellow. The top ten were de Ferran, Dixon, Tagliani, Junqueira, Castroneves, Franchitti, de Matta, Gugelmin, Brack, and Tony Kanaan.

With 52 laps to go, the track went green again, but Paul Tracy hit Nakano when Nakano tried to avoid a sliding Brian Herta.. All continued so the track was left green, although Tracy had to pit.

Junqueira punted Dixon down a runoff area, but then was passed by several cars as his nose was damaged. The full course caution was again waved. Junqueira came into the pits and retired.

The yellows and differing pitstop strategies had scrambled the field, and when the track went green again, the top six were de Ferran, Tora Takagi, Franchitti, Gugelmin, Moreno and Jimmy Vasser. Franchitti and Gugelmin quickly passed Takagi.

With 35 laps to go, the running order was de Ferran, Franchitti, Gugelmin, Takagi, Vasser, Memo Gidley, Tagliani, Max Papis, Castroneves, and de Matta. De Ferran lead by 1.153 seconds with Gugelmin more than 10 seconds back of Franchitti. Moreno had fallen out with gearbox problems. Within a few laps, Tagliani passed Gidley, but then the field settled down into another procession.

With 22 laps left, Franchitti pitted under green for fuel and tires. This put him back in sixth. A lap later the full course yellow came out because of debris on the track. De Ferran made a 5 second stop for fuel only. Takagi and Vasser also made fuel-only stops.

When the green flag fell with 16 laps to go, everyone had made there second pit stop. The top ten were de Ferran, Tagliani, Franchitti, Gidley, Takagi, Papis, Castroneves, de Matta, Brack, and Christian Fittipaldi.

With ten laps to go, de Ferran had pulled out a 3.090 second lead over Tagliani who had Franchitti only .480 seconds behind him. Gidley was in fourth but was putting out the occasional puff of smoke or fluid from the rear of his car. Papis had fallen back two places to eighth.

With seven to go, Tagliani suffered a "tank Slammer" coming out of Turn 5 while under pressure from Franchitti, destroying his right front suspension and ending his day. He managed to limp his car back to the pits. Franchitti later commented, "I feel sorry for Tagliani because he drove a great race. He was driving on tires that were far past their best and still doing terrific lap times."

As they came to the end, de Ferran lead Franchitti and Gidley, all comfortably ahead of each other and the opposition. Papis allowed Brack to pass him so that Brack could pick up extra points in the championship battle.

With two laps to go, Dixon spun and hit the wall. Although his right rear tire separated from the wheel, he continued on to the pits, avoiding a late full course yellow.

Gil de Ferran brought his Marlboro Penske Reynard-Honda home for the win 3.430 seconds ahead of Dario Franchitti in second and Memo Gidley in third. Tora Takagi finished fourth, Helio Castroneves fifth, and Cristiano de Matta sixth. De Ferran lead from flag-to-flag while Gidley came up through the field from the 23rd starting position. Gidley credited the team for making all the right changes overnight to give him a car he could drive fast while conserving the tires and brakes. This finish was Gidley's second best of the year, after a second at Cleveland. Tora Takagi's fourth was also his best finish of the year.

The winner's average speed for the 152.7 mile race was 79.521 mph (127.977 kph). The win was de Ferran's second in a row and the his second this season. It is the seventh Honda victory this year and the fifth for Team Penske. De Ferran received the maximum number of points for the race, with 1 for pole, 1 for most laps lead, and 20 for the win. Jimmy Vasser turned the race's fastest lap at 1:00.928 for 90.225 mph (145.198 kph).

With three races left in the CART season, de Ferran leads the championship standings with 163 points. Kenny Brack is second with 153, Helio Castroneves third with 133, Michael Andretti fourth with 125, Dario Franchitti fifth with 105, and Christian de Matta sixth with 100. With a total of 66 points available for the remainder of the season, these are the only drivers with a mathematical chance of winning the championship.

The Champ Car's next race is the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, on October 14.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Brian Herta
Teams Team Penske