CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Mercedes Race Report

Moore Just Misses Marlboro Million Four Mercedes-Benz Cars Among Top 10 Greg Moore came within 0.036 seconds of claiming the $1 million winner's purse at the Marlboro 500 and becoming the first driver to win both of CART's 500-mile races in a...

Moore Just Misses Marlboro Million Four Mercedes-Benz Cars Among Top 10

Greg Moore came within 0.036 seconds of claiming the $1 million winner's purse at the Marlboro 500 and becoming the first driver to win both of CART's 500-mile races in a single season since Rick Mears accomplished that feat in 1991. The Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes driver, who won the U.S. 500 earlier this season, finished a close second to Jimmy Vasser at the 1998 FedEx Championship Series season finale, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process.

After nearly 500 miles of running at speeds over 230 mph, the race was decided in a single-lap dash. Paul Tracy spun on a re-start on lap 246, bringing out the 10th and final yellow flag of the day. Moore led Target Chip Ganassi teammates Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi to the green flag for the last re-start on lap 249. Taking advantage of the aerodynamic benefit of running with his teammate, Vasser passed Moore entering the first corner and held the advantage for the remainder of the two-mile lap. Although Zanardi attempted to slingshot past as well, Moore was able to hold the position.

Moore finished the season ranked fifth in points behind champion Zanardi, Vasser, Dario Franchitti and Adrian Fernandez.

PacWest Racing driver Mauricio Gugelmin, who set the record for the fastest lap in racing history when he took the pole here last year, drove the Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes to fifth, challenging for a podium finish right to the end and leading 40 laps along the way. He finished the season ranked 15th. His teammate Mark Blundell, who won the 1997 Marlboro 500, led for a short time, brought the Motorola Reynard/Mercedes home sixth and ended the year 18th.

In his final race as a CART rookie and the second 500-mile race of his career, Helio Castro-Neves finished 10th. He was second in the final rookie points standing and 17th in the overall championship. Fellow rookie JJ Lehto was not so fortunate in the race. He retired with engine troubles after 124 laps. He was third in rookie points and 20th in the championship.

The second Player's/Forsythe Racing entry, piloted by Patrick Carpentier, succumbed to gearbox failure on lap 59. He ended the year 19th. The Marlboro Team Penske duo of Al Unser Jr. and Andre Ribeiro had their day shortened by identical leaks in the oil overflow tank. Ribeiro crashed on lap 6 when the oil got on his right rear tire, causing him to lose traction and spin. When the team detected the same leak on Unser's car, they elected to park it. Unser finished the season 11th, and Ribeiro was ranked 22nd.

Mercedes Quotes

Greg Moore, No. 99, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Second

"It's like Michigan, this is a track where you don't want to be leading on the last lap. I think we would have been better off following Paul Tracy for a couple of laps and then racing him for it at the end. I knew I had to try to get the best restart I could at the end. I had six or seven car lengths on Zanardi and Vasser, and then they just came out of nowhere. It was amazing how quickly they passed me. Then Alex bobbled and I got around him. Jimmy was just too far ahead for me to catch him. It's a bitter pill to swallow. Our season shouldn't have come down to a one lap sprint to the finish."

Mauricio Gugelmin, No. 17 Hollywood Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Fifth

"The work in the pits today was amazing. I was coming in so fast and then really hard on the brakes. The stops were unbelievable. For some reason, we had a huge advantage over everyone else with fuel consumption. We could go three or four laps farther than anyone else. The car had good balance, and I could run very consistently. We just lacked a little bit of speed that I think we needed to win."

Mark Blundell, No. 18 Motorola Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: Sixth

"I had my best car of the year today. A lot happened in front of me, (Dario) Franchitti blew up in front of me, Scott Pruett crashed, and (Gil) de Ferran lost an engine. I spun in de Ferran's oil and ended up on the grass. Fortunately, we made out on that okay. We had a great race car, but I think it was a bit over-geared. That made us slow on re-starts. We actually went down a lap at one point, but the guys came up with an excellent strategy and got us our lap back. I'm happy to finish in the top six. We've had good results in five out of six 500-mile races, which is a pretty good record."

Helio Castro-Neves, No. 16 Alumax Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 10th

"My car was understeering a lot, and the split between the gear ratios was a little too large, so I was losing a lot of time on re-starts. On one pit stop, I let the rpm drop too much and stalled the engine, so the team had to push start me. Other than that, everything went okay. I made it 249 laps, so only one more to go to get the full 500 miles. But it's only my second 500-mile race, and I'm quite happy with a top-10 finish."

JJ Lehto, No. 9, Hogan Racing Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 21st

"We had an engine problem which ended our day. It's really too bad because the car was really working well. We had a good morning warm-up session, and I was just hanging in there. The racing was really good fun out there today."

Patrick Carpentier, No. 33, Player's/Indeck Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone: 26th

"I felt that something was wrong with the gearbox. I put my hand on the gear selector, and I felt an unusual vibration. I waited for my first pit stop to check it out, and when I tried to leave the pits, it would not engage into first gear. Following repairs, I returned to the track, nine laps down, but unfortunately the problem was not fixed, and I had to retire."

Al Unser Jr., No. 2 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 27th

"It was really sad to go out of the race so early because the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes ran so well this morning, and the guys worked really hard to get ready for the race. It was a big disappointment for the whole team, but stopping when we did was the smart thing to do. We didn't want to oil down the track or take a chance with the car."

Andre Ribeiro, No. 3 Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear: 28th

"I was coming down the back straight, preparing to go into the corner when I completely lost the rear and went into the wall. The team checked the car, and it looks like we had a leak in the catch tank, which put oil on my right rear tire. It's a real shame because the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes was starting to show improvement, and we were moving up the field. For sure it is very frustrating for the whole team, but that's racing."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Rick Mears , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , JJ Lehto
Teams Team Penske