CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship 2001 season review

De Ferran's Successful Title Defense Highlights Record-Setting FedEx Championship Series Campaign DETROIT (November 19, 2001) - Amid a swirl of real and manufactured controversies off the race track, Championship Auto Racing Teams produced...

De Ferran's Successful Title Defense Highlights Record-Setting FedEx Championship Series Campaign

DETROIT (November 19, 2001) - Amid a swirl of real and manufactured controversies off the race track, Championship Auto Racing Teams produced a 2001 FedEx Championship Series season on track that once again justified its claim as the most competitive form of open-wheel racing in the world.

The season opened with a series-high race-day crowd of more than 116,000 for the inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez at Monterrey, Mexico, and closed on a spectacular note with an all-time Champ Car-record 73 lead changes among a record 19 different drivers in the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway.

Both of those events were won by Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing, the latter of which brought him a $1 million prize. Da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) was one of five multiple race winners in a season that was arguably the most competitive in the 23-year history of the CART FedEx Championship Series.

The thrilling season produced 11 different winners in all, tying the CART record established just one year earlier, and also produced an amazing 19 different podium finishers among a starting field that averaged 25 entrants. Even more impressive on the competitive front was the fact that of the 25 drivers who started at least 15 events, 22 of them posted at least one top-four finish.

"The competition is tougher in the CART FedEx Championship Series than it was ten years ago," said Michael Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader (41), who finished third in this year's championship following an outstanding first season with Team Motorola. "Teams are more closely matched, rules have become a little more stable and you don't get the discoveries like ground effects that allow one team to jump ahead. Racing has also become so much more popular, so the drivers are better and younger. It is now like a lot of other sports, where kids are coming out of high school and being competitive. And it has become much tougher than it used to be, I can tell you that."

Even so, when the checkered flag finally flew at Fontana, there was a familiar face at the top of the championship heap as Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske successfully defended the FedEx Championship Series title he had first claimed in 2000. De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) finished sixth or better in nine of the season's final 10 events, including back-to-back victories at England and Houston, to become only the fourth driver in CART history to win consecutive championships. He joins an elite group consisting of Rick Mears (1981-82), Bobby Rahal (1986-87) and Alex Zanardi (1997-98). He won Team Penske's record ninth CART championship and its 11th Champ Car title overall.

2001 FedEx Championship Series Season Highlights

"I tell you," said de Ferran, "it's very strange to hear my name mentioned beside all these people, because these are guys ... that I had pictures of on my wall as I was growing up and as a teenager. These are people that give me a lot of inspiration. To be mentioned in the same phrase [with them] is something unbelievable, [and] something I'm very proud of."

De Ferran ended the season with series-high totals of 199 championship points and eight podium finishes. In addition to his victories, he finished runner-up at Mexico, Mid-Ohio and Vancouver, and third at Long Beach, Chicago and Laguna Seca. He also recorded pole positions at Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Germany, Houston and Laguna Seca, and started fourth or better in eight of the season's final nine events.

Meanwhile, Team Rahal's Kenny Brack followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2000 with a strong runner-up finish in the championship. Brack (Shell Ford Lola) led the FedEx Championship Series with four victories - Japan, Milwaukee, Chicago and Germany - six pole positions, and 621 laps led.

Brack was the series' dominant driver on ovals, with six podium finishes and 581 laps led. Brack's 163 championship points were the most for a Team Rahal driver since team owner Bobby Rahal scored 196 en route to the 1992 FedEx Championship Series championship.

The 2001 FedEx Championship Series season produced numerous other highlights as well:

* De Ferran, Brack and da Matta were joined by Marlboro Team Penske's Helio Castroneves and Team Rahal's Max Papis as multiple race winners. Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) claimed victories at Long Beach, Detroit and Mid-Ohio, leading every lap en route to his triumphs at Long Beach and Detroit. Castroneves also drove to victory at the 85th Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend, spearheading a sweep of the top five finishing positions by CART drivers. Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) claimed a victory from the pole at Portland, then set a CART record by driving from the 25th starting spot to victory at Laguna Seca. It was the deepest starting position in history for a race winner on a road or street course. Other race winners during the campaign included Scott Dixon (Nextel Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group at Nazareth; Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green at Cleveland; Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola at Toronto; Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) at Michigan; Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) at Road America and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) at Vancouver.

* Four different drivers had recorded their first FedEx Championship Series career victories during the season. Kenny Brack won at Japan, Patrick Carpentier at Michigan International Speedway and rookies Scott Dixon at Nazareth and Bruno Junqueira at Road America.

* CART drew more than 318,000 fans for its season-opening inaugural Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix Presented by Herdez in Monterrey, Mexico, and pulled in a record 286,610 fans, including a race-day crowd of 110,187, for the Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia.

* CART drivers were utterly dominant at the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, sweeping the top five finishing positions. Helio Castroneves executed his customary fence-climbing routine after claiming the victory and was followed across the finish line by Gil de Ferran, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and Bruno Junqueira, respectively. In addition, Tony Stewart finished sixth in a car entered by CART team owner Chip Ganassi.

* Michael Andretti, CART's all-time winningest driver, recorded a spectacular last-to-first drive following an early off-course excursion at Toronto to claim his 41st career FedEx Championship Series victory. It marked his 14th CART season with at least one win, a series record. Andretti also broke Al Unser Jr.'s record of 273 CART career starts, concluding the season with 290.

* Scott Dixon's victory at Nazareth made him the youngest driver ever to win a CART, Formula One or Indy Racing League event, at age 20 years, 9 months and 14 days. Dixon, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, went on to capture the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award.

* CART's final event at the Michigan International Speedway was one for the ages as 10 different drivers exchanged the lead 60 times at the start/finish line and an amazing 167 times around the race track before Patrick Carpentier emerged with the first victory of his five-year FedEx Championship Series career.

* CART made its first-ever visit to Europe in September and gave European fans their initial taste of oval racing. Kenny Brack captured the renamed American Memorial 500 before a crowd of 87,689 at Germany's EuroSpeedway. A week later, Gil de Ferran edged Brack on the final turn of the final lap with a spectacular move to win the inaugural Rockingham 500 in England.

* Max Papis' victory on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca was the 100th CART win for Firestone tires since the company's return to Champ Car racing in 1995. Impressively, Firestone had taken only 127 FedEx Championship Series events to reach those 100 victories. With that win, Papis established a CART record for driving to victory from the furthest starting position on a road or street course (25th).

* The FedEx Championship Series season finale at California Speedway produced an all-time record 73 lead changes among a record 19 different drivers before Cristiano da Matta emerged victorious. The previous Champ Car record of 62 lead changes had been established at Michigan International Speedway in 1998 while the previous record of 12 different leaders had been established at California Speedway in 2000.

* Continuing in its role at the forefront of motorsports safety, CART mandated use of the HANS (Head and Neck Support) Device for competition at all 2001 oval events, and has mandated its use for all FedEx Championship Series events beginning in 2002. In an effort to reduce the potential for pit lane injuries, CART also implemented single-point refueling for all FedEx Championship Series entrants early in the 2001 campaign.

* Driven, a feature film using the FedEx Championship Series as a backdrop with an all-star cast including Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds, premiered in theatres across the country in April and reached No. 1 at the box office.

* The CART Wheels for Kids program was launched in 2001 in a cooperative effort between CART. Ford Racing, Shell and Simple Green. The program featured FedEx Championship Series drivers visiting schools and day camps in race markets to address children on the importance of automobile, helmet and seat belt safety. More than 5,000 children participated in the program during the 2001 season.

* CART Entertainment, an offshoot of Championship Auto Racing Teams headquartered in Los Angeles, was formed in early 2000. One of its first projects was formation of the RPM (Racing Powered Music) band, headed by lead guitarist Kenny Brack of Team Rahal. At various times during the season, the band also included guitarist Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing, drummer Patrick Carpentier of Player's Forsythe Racing, singer Bryan Herta of Forsythe Championship Racing, former Blue Oyster Cult drummer Rick Downey, bassist Michael Anthony of Van Halen and singer Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys. RPM concluded its season by playing a free concert before an estimated 8,000 fans at California Speedway as a warm-up act for The Doobie Brothers.

* As a result of another CART Entertainment project, "Biff" Henderson, stage manager of CBS-TV's popular The Late Show with David Letterman, visited the Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit in June. Henderson and his crew filmed several segments with FedEx Championship Series personalities, which aired on The Late Show during the subsequent week.

* FedEx, title sponsor of the FedEx Championship Series since 1998, announced in November that it will continue to serve as the series' title sponsor. The agreement, with an option year, could run through 2005.

* In November, CART announced a 2002 schedule that will include races in three vibrant new markets: Montreal, Denver and Mexico City. The Montreal and Denver events are scheduled for late summer while the race in Mexico City is slated for the autumn.

* During a Champions' Tour of New York in early November, FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran, on behalf of the CART Community, donated a check for $500,000, the equivalent of the race purse for the Sept. 15 American Memorial in Germany, to the Twin Towers Relief Fund, in memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Kenny Brack , Rick Mears , Chip Ganassi , Cristiano da Matta , Michael An
Teams Team Penske