FONTANA, Calif. (October 27, 2000) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya of Target Chip Ganassi Racing unofficially recorded the fastest lap in auto racing history Friday when he led the opening day of practice for the ...
FONTANA, Calif. (October 27, 2000) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya of Target Chip Ganassi Racing unofficially recorded the fastest lap in auto racing history Friday when he led the opening day of practice for the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN).
Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) scorched the two-mile superspeedway oval with an incendiary lap of 242.253 miles per hour (30.152 seconds), unofficially bettering by more than two mph the track and all-time CART qualifying record of 240.942 mph (30.316 seconds) established by Mauricio Gugelmin in 1997. Earlier that same weekend, Gugelmin had established a practice speed of 242.333 mph, but that speed does not stand as a record, since they can only be established in qualifying or race conditions. Final qualifying begins 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday, with an all-important championship point at stake in the most wide-open points race in championship history. Sunday's season finale features a $1 million award to the race winner while an additional $1 million will go to the winner of the FedEx Championship Series championship.
Montoya will be seeking his eighth pole of the season Saturday, which would tie him for third place in CART single season annals. Montoya has already won seven pole positions in each of his first two seasons of FedEx Championship Series competition.
Montoya was more than three mph faster than Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, who was second fastest at 239.198 mph (30.537 seconds). De Ferran, who enters the weekend with a five-point advantage (153-148) over Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing in the championship, will be seeking his fifth pole of the season Saturday.
Fernandez was ninth-fastest Friday among the 26 cars posting qualifying speeds, at 236.656 mph (30.865 seconds).
Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske was third fastest at 238.971 mph (30.566 seconds). He owns three poles this season but seeks his first on an oval.
Rounding out the top five drivers were Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing, fourth fastest at 238.909 mph (30.574 seconds) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, fifth fastest at 238.270 mph (30.656 seconds).
Tracy, third in the championship with 134 points, is one of five drivers who remain alive in the championship hunt heading into the season's final weekend. In addition to de Ferran and Fernandez, the others are Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, 13th-fastest at 235.542 mph and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, 16th-fastest at 233.487 mph (31.284 seconds). Brack and Tracy are tied at 134 points entering Saturday's qualifying session, while Moreno is fifth with 131.
A maximum of 22 points is available this weekend, including 20 for the race victory and one each for winning the pole position or leading the most laps.
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Toyota Lola: "I was doing a qualifying simulation. I got Helio [Castroneves] going down the back straight and I got a little bit of a tow, but I've gotten some bigger tows before. On the ovals, we've been able to get the setup right, and Toyota has been giving us good engines. You don't feel faster when you're driving between 238 or 239 and 242. This track is pretty wild to be honest. You don't get closer racing anywhere. I've had a lot of fun. I think I learned a lot here. When I came in, I didn't know what to expect. I had a great team and a great car."
GIL de FERRAN, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I had a good far so far thanks to work we did here at the test. It was difficult to get a clear lap at the end. I would have like to get the car a little bit more comfortable, but it rained and it was the same for everybody. To be honest, I'm a little more relaxed than I was at Houston and Australia. I'm not going to race any different than I would approach any 500-mile race. So many things can happen. If I'm last and Fernandez is leading after the first lap, there's still 500 miles to go, so anything can happen. I just need to get the car to the end of the race, and that's the way I'm going to approach it."
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "Right off the bat, the car was feeling very comfortable. The speed was amazing compared to when we tested here. At the test, we were doing 235, and now we're doing 238-239. It was going pretty good, and then had some mechanical problem on the back straight. For me, it was easy to learn respect for the ovals. I hit the wall very hard. It took a little while, and it was good that last year I developed the Lola chassis. I got to learn a lot of things and get experience."
* Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) will be seeking his eighth pole position of the season Saturday, and his sixth on an oval. His earlier poles have come at Japan, Nazareth, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Gateway and Australia.
* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) is hoping to extend a run that has seen him qualify among the top-five drivers for 15 of 19 FedEx Championship Series starts this season. He owns earlier poles at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Houston.
* Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) is chasing his fourth pole of the season, but his first on an oval. His earlier poles have come on the road courses at Portland and Laguna Seca and on the streets of Toronto.
* Target Chip Ganassi Racing, winner of an unprecedented four consecutive FedEx Championship Series championships, announced Friday that Brazilian Bruno Junqueira and Frenchman Nicolas Minassian will serve as the team's drivers during the 2001 season. They replace Jimmy Vasser , the 1996 series champion, and Juan Montoya, winner of the 1999 title. Junqueira, 23, joins the team following a championship-winning effort for the Petrobras Junior team in the FIA International F3000 Series. He earned four victories en route to the title and has served as the Team Williams F1 test driver since 1999. "Bruno and Nicolas displayed a lot of talent and experience during our tests and they both have impressive racing resumes," said team owner Chip Ganassi. "On thing that jumped out at us was how similar their attitudes and racing styles were to Vasser and Montoya. We believe these guys will quickly become stars in the series." Said Junqueira, "I am very proud and very lucky today. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has proven that it is one of the world's best teams and expects a lot from its drivers. I expect a lot of myself, and I know that with the talent at Team Target, we can expect many good things in the future." Minassian called his selection the fulfillment of a dream. "I've been working for a long time to achieve my goals in auto racing," he said, "so today, I'm happy to say that one of my dreams has come true. Team Target is known all over the world for being a championship organization, filled with many great talents who work together to win races and titles. I'm confident that more of my dreams will come true soon."
* The crew for Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, headed by Team Manager and Crew Chief Tony Cotman, successfully defended its championship in the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Friday and divided a $50,000 award from Craftsman, the Official Tool of CART, for the performance. Tracy's crew defeated the crews for Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Racing, Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing, and the joint Patrick Racing entries of Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) in the second annual competition. The winners averaged 37.191 seconds for the two fastest of the eight pit stops they made during the competition. Da Matta's crew finished second with an average of 38.102 seconds, followed by Carpentier's, at 38.125 seconds; Moreno's, at 38.227 seconds and Fernandez', at 38.584 seconds. Members of the winning crew included Cotman, the outside front tire changer; Eric Haverson, the outside rear tire changer; Stephen Price, the inside rear tire changer; Lenny Gauci, the inside front tire changer; Jeff Stafford, the vent/air jack man; and fuel man Chuck Miller.
* CART Chief Steward J. Kirk Russell announced Friday that PPI Motorsports rookie Oriol Servia was fined $20,000 and forfeited the championship points earned for his ninth-place finish in the Honda Indy 300 as a result of on-track infractions stemming from separate incidents during the Oct. 15 event at Surfers Paradise, Australia. Servia was cited for unjustifiable risk, (CART Rule 8.13), unsportsmanlike conduct (CART Rule 1.77), violation of the yellow-flag rule (CART Rule 6.10.4C) and short-cutting the course (CART Rule 6.13.2), all of which came in two separate incidents on the 48th of 59 laps. Servia first did not heed a local caution flag during the lap in question, passing three cars in the process, then made contact with Paul Tracy, forcing Tracy's retirement from the event. He received the fine and the loss of four points as a result. Servia will be credited with his finishing position although he won't earn the points. The drivers who finished in 10th through 13th positions will not move up in the finishing order. Russell issued his ruling following extensive review of the incident on tape, as well as Friday morning interviews of Servia and Tracy.
* Casey Mears (WorldCom Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal recorded the 18th-fastest practice time of the day at 233.256 mph (31.315 seconds). Mears is attempting to become the first driver in CART history to compete in Dayton Indy Lights and FedEx Championship Series events in the same weekend. Mears, who stands third in this year's Dayton Indy Lights championship, trails series leader Scott Dixon by five points heading into the season's final event at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday. "That was awesome," said Mears after his first official Champ Car practice session. "It felt good to get accustomed to the Champ Car and to the routine of leaving the pits. The Indy Lights title is important this weekend. The basics apply from Lights - drafting, traffic, et cetera. I have to get used to the pit stops, tire changes, getting in and out of the pits. This is a great experience and I want to thank Team Rahal and WorldCom for this opportunity. It's been my dream to drive these cars, and now I'm here."
* Phil Giebler of Oxnard, Calif. and Joey Hand of Sacramento earned the right to represent the United States in next month's Formula Palmer Audi Winter Series in England after winning a six-driver shootout Friday at Silverstone, England as part of the Valvoline Team USA Scholarship program. Giebler and Hand were chosen from a group of six young American drivers who were selected for the test by virtue of their results, and their personalities, during the current season. The two join a list of former Team USA scholarship recipients which includes Champ Car drivers Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta and Memo Gidley; as well as Indy Lights alumni Tony Renna and Jeff Simmons and reigning Toyota Atlantic Champion Buddy Rice. Giebler, 21, was runner-up on the French Formula 3 Championship Promotion class while Hand, 21, won the 1999 Star Mazda series and has tested for the PTG factory BMW M3 team. In addition to Giebler and Hand, the six candidates for this year's scholarship included Tom Dyer, 24, of San Rafael, Calif. winner of the ACC class of this year's Formula 2000 National Championship; Ryan Hunter-Reay, 19, of Boca Raton, Calif., Rookie of the Year and fifth place finisher in the Barber Dodge Pro Series; Andy Lally, 25, of Northport, N.Y., a veteran of Barber Dodge Pro Series and Toyota Atlantic Championship competition and Bryan Sellers, 18, of Centerville, Ohio;, runner-up in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship. Danica Patrick,, 18, of Chicago and Patrick Long, 19, of Oak Park, Calif. declined to be considered for the scholarship due to prior commitments to contest the Formula Ford Zetec Winter Series in England, which conflicts with the Formula Palmer Audi dates at Snetterton (Nov. 12) and Brands Hatch (Nov. 19). The Team USA Scholarship is made possible by contributions from Valvoline, CART, the Tasman Motorsports Group, Mitel Semiconductor, Mercedes-Benz of North America, the PacWest Racing Group, Klein Tools, Skip Barber Racing School and Racer and Champ Car magazines.
WHAT'S ON TAP
Pole qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.