CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Friday Wrapup

BLUNDELL RECORDS FASTEST PRACTICE LAP AT MARLBORO 500 PRESENTED BY TOYOTA FONTANA, Calif. (October 29, 1999) - Mark Blundell of the PacWest Racing Group, chasing the first pole position of his four-year FedEx Championship Series career, showed...


FONTANA, Calif. (October 29, 1999) - Mark Blundell of the PacWest Racing Group, chasing the first pole position of his four-year FedEx Championship Series career, showed good form Friday while recording the fastest lap on the opening day of the practice for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota (3 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN).

Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes), whose career-best starting position is second, averaged 235.292 miles per hour (31.044 seconds) on his fastest lap of the 2.029-mile superspeedway. He will be among 27 drivers seeking the pole when qualifying begins 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

One of Blundell's three career FedEx Championship Series victories came in the inaugural Marlboro 500 at California Speedway in 1997.

The Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota is the last of 20 events in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series. The race will pay $1 million to the winner and another $1 million will be paid by PPG to either Juan Montoya or Dario Franchitti, one of whom will win the FedEx Championship Series title this weekend.

Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) owns a nine-point lead, 209-200, over Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) in the championship and can clinch his first career championship with a podium finish Sunday.

Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) was second fastest at 234.747 mph (31.116 seconds). He is chasing his second career pole position after earning his first at Chicago earlier this season.

Montoya was third fastest in the field at 233.539 mph (31.277 seconds). He is seeking his series-high eighth pole of the season, which would break the CART rookie record of seven he currently shares with Nigel Mansell (1993).

Defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) was fourth fastest at 233.308 mph (31.308 seconds) and followed by Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) at 233.271 mph (31.313 seconds). Franchitti was 11th at 232.269 mph (31.448 seconds).

All of the top speeds came in the 90-minute morning practice session. The afternoon session was plagued by gusting winds that kept speeds down and caused many drivers to utilize their secondary cars. Montoya paced the afternoon practice with a fast lap of 230.707mph (31.661 seconds).


MARK BLUNDELL, Motorola PacWest Mercedes: "The car came off the truck pretty quick this morning. We pretty much had to trim everything out with our package to try and get the lap, which fortunately worked. We're getting ready for the weekend when we have to have a good race car underneath us. We've had some success here. We won in '97, so we know our way around. Hopefully, that will help us."

MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "The setup from Michigan to Fontana is very different. We changed a lot of things but it seemed like it was running well from the beginning. With the cars all drafting off each other, it's very difficult to find a clear lap and not fool yourself. But I'm very happy with what we've done and what we've accomplished."

JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "It was a good day. We did a few changes in the car just trying to find a good race car. It's very difficult to know how good a car you have until qualifying, because everyone is drafting off one another. My goal is just to try to beat Dario. We'll see. When you get to the race, you have to finish to win. It's a long race, and we need to be there at the end."


* Target/Chip Ganassi Racing announced Friday that it had entered a partnership with Toyota to supply the team's engines for the next three years. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has won the past three FedEx Championship Series championships with Honda-powered drivers Jimmy Vasser (1996) and Alex Zanardi (1997 and '98) and could conceivably win an unprecedented fourth title with rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) this season. "The Toyota engine has made significant strides recently and is experiencing a great deal of momentum heading into 2000," Ganassi said. "I've had the opportunity to get to know the people at Toyota, and I believe they're hungry to win. We've enjoyed a very successful four-year partnership with Honda and are appreciative of its role in building our team," Ganassi added. "This was the most difficult decision I've had to make in several years, but I am confident it will prove to be a good mover for Team Target."

* Naoki Hattori (Alpine Honda Reynard) was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center for precautionary x-rays following an incident in the morning practice session. According to Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, Olvey was awake and alert and had no apparent injuries. Hattori was scheduled to undergo a CT scan and x-rays of his cervical spine to rule out the possibility of a neck injury.

* Ford and Cosworth unveiled Ford's next generation Champ Car engine, the Ford-Cosworth XF, Friday. The new XF is two inches shorter and 18 percent lighter than the XD, and revs at a range approaching 16,000 rpm. The engine is not just lighter and smaller, but the design for ancillary components such as the cooling system have also been minimized. "The XF is the finest CART engine we have ever produced and is something that all of us at Cosworth are very proud of," said Bruce Wood, CART program director for Cosworth Racing. "The decrease in size and weight is very significant. It gives our teams more flexibility and allows our chassis makers and teams to better optimize their set-ups." Newman/Haas Racing driver Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift), who tested the new engine, said, "I can't wait to run this engine. Hands down, this is the best engine Cosworth has ever designed. They have made tremendous gains in the area of driveability, an area that we struggled with a bit this year."

* Dayton Tire, title sponsor of the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Series, announced Friday that one of its top five dealers will win a replica of the Dayton PPG Pace Car at Sunday night's PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Award Championship Banquet at the Ontario Convention Center. The pace car, a black, red and white Ford Mustang convertible, was introduced as the official pace car for all PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship races earlier this season. Five Dayton dealers have traveled to Fontana for the season-ending race, each of whom will be presented with a key for the replica car at the banquet, one of which will start the Mustang. The holder of that lucky key will win the car, which is painted exactly like the Dayton PPG pace car used at the track.


Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 while ESPN's live race broadcast begins 3 p.m. ET.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Christian Fittipaldi , Alex Zanardi , Nigel Mansell , Mark Blundell , Naoki Hattori , Chip Ganassi
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing