CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Preview

FRANCHITTI, MONTOYA TAKE IT TO THE WIRE IN MARLBORO 500 PRESENTED BY TOYOTA AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY DETROIT (October 25, 1999) - As the FedEx Championship Series wraps up its 21st season of competition and prepares to head...

FRANCHITTI, MONTOYA TAKE IT TO THE WIRE IN MARLBORO 500 PRESENTED BY TOYOTA AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY

DETROIT (October 25, 1999) - As the FedEx Championship Series wraps up its 21st season of competition and prepares to head into the 21st century, it seems only fitting that the 1999 season finale takes place at a venue which is not that far from Hollywood.

That's true in both the literal and figurative sense, since the culmination of this memorable season is shaping up as a scriptwriter's dream.

For the ninth time in CART's 21-year history, the FedEx Championship Series title and PPG Cup - symbol of the series driving championship - remain up for grabs heading into the season finale, Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway (3 p.m. ET, live, ESPN). Scotsman Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green and Colombian rookie Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing will not only be battling for the $1 million winner's share of the race purse, but also for the $1 million cash bonus which goes to the winner of the PPG Cup.

Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) vaulted past Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) with a perfect 22-point performance in Australia two weeks ago, winning the race from the pole while leading the most laps. That effort allowed Franchitti, who trailed Montoya by 13 points (200-187) going in, to take a 209-200 lead with only Round 20 remaining in the championship.

It marks the third-closest points race in CART's 21-year history, and the closest overall since 1986. Al Unser held a 139-136 advantage over his son, Al Unser Jr. entering the final event of the 1985 season at Miami. A year later, Bobby Rahal led Michael Andretti, 174-171 heading into the season finale, also at Miami.

Unser and Rahal went on to claim championships in those seasons, and Franchitti enters Sunday's showdown buoyed by the awareness that, in CART's 20 previous years of racing, the points lead has never changed hands at the final event of the campaign. Franchitti also owns a series-high 11 podium finishes and has erased a 28-point deficit (199-171) to Montoya in the past two events, following finishes of second at Houston and a victory at Australia.

Another podium finish at Fontana would wrap up Franchitti's first FedEx Championship Series title and the first for Team KOOL Green owner Barry Green since Jacques Villeneuve's run to the 1995 championship.

Montoya, meanwhile, can draw strength from the knowledge that he has dominated this season like no rookie in FedEx Championship Series history. He has already established CART rookie records for victories (7) and laps led (929) and has tied the rookie mark for pole positions (7). Now, Montoya seeks to cap his campaign by joining Nigel Mansell (1993) as the only rookies to win the FedEx Championship Series driving title.

Should Montoya succeed in his quest, he will make Target/Chip Ganassi Racing the first team in CART history to win four consecutive championships. The team's current run includes titles from Jimmy Vasser in 1996 and Alex Zanardi in 1997 and last year, tying them with Penske Racing, which won three straight titles from 1981-83.

Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) drove to victory at California Speedway last year to earn his second $1 million payday in three years, following his triumph in The Inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996. Vasser's slingshot pass of Greg Moore heading into the last of 250 laps provided a thrilling capper to the campaign in a race which featured 24 lead changes among seven drivers. Vasser finished 0.360 seconds ahead of Moore.

WHO'S HOT

* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) has erased a 28-point deficit to rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) in the FedEx Championship Series points race during the past two events and enters the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota as the championship leader. He owns a series-high 11 podium finishes, including victories at Toronto, Detroit and Australia. At Australia, his 22-point sweep for winning from the pole and leading the most laps moved him into a 209-200 led over Montoya, who had held the points lead since winning at Chicago. Franchitti's sweep marked the sixth time this season that a driver has scored the maximum possible points in an event. Other sweeps were recorded by Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Team, Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) at Homestead; Montoya at Nazareth, Cleveland and Vancouver; and Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) at Laguna Seca.

* Juan Montoya has scored a FedEx Championship Series-high 90 points on ovals, including victories at Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago and a podium finish of second at Michigan. He leads the series with seven victories, a CART rookie record; seven pole positions, which ties the rookie mark established by Nigel Mansell in 1993 and 929 laps led, third on CART's all-time single-season list.

* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) comes to Fontana off a career-best runner-up finish at Australia and has finished fifth or better in five of his past six starts, including fifth at Mid-Ohio, fourth at Chicago (where Papis recorded his first career pole position) and Houston; and third at Laguna Seca. He stands a career-best fifth in the FedEx Championship Series points race with 133 points.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) has finished sixth or better in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, and seven of the past nine. The run encompasses podium finishes of third at Road America and Australia, as well as fourth at Portland, fifth at Milwaukee and Laguna Seca and sixth at Toronto and Michigan. Fernandez missed four starts from Detroit through Vancouver after sustaining a fractured radius bone in his right wrist during a practice crash at Detroit.

* Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) owns top-five finishes in his past three FedEx Championship Series starts dating to his victory at Laguna Seca. He also finished fifth at Houston and fourth at Australia.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in 11 of his past 13 FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to his victory at Milwaukee. The run also includes finishes of second at Toronto, Detroit and Mid-Ohio; third at Michigan; fourth at Cleveland and Laguna Seca; fifth at Portland; seventh at Australia and 11th at Road America. Tracy enters the season finale with a 10-point lead (161-151) over Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) for third place in the FedEx Championship Series championship and is seeking his best championship finish since taking third in 1994.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) established a world record which still stands when he recorded the fastest official lap in auto racing history, 240.942 miles per hour (30.316 seconds) during qualifying for the 1997 Marlboro 500 at California Speedway. Gugelmin has also recorded top-five finishes in both his career appearances at the venue, including fourth in 1997 and fifth last year.

* Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) has enjoyed outstanding success in his two career appearances at California Speedway with a victory last year and a runner-up effort to Mark Blundell in 1997. Vasser led a race-high 63 laps en route to last year's victory, which marked his second $1 million payday in three years, including his triumph in The Inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) has recorded a pair of top-four finishes in his two appearances at California Speedway, including a remarkable drive from the last row to fourth place last year. He started 27th in the 28-car field after not posting a qualifying time due to contact with the wall during one of his warm-up laps. Fernandez also finished third in his first start at California in 1997.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Honda, the 1999 CART Manufacturer's Champion, has won 14 of 19 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and eight of the past nine, dating to Dario Franchitti's victory at Toronto. Honda-powered drivers have also won five of the past seven 500-mile FedEx Championship Series events, including wins from Jimmy Vasser and Andre Ribeiro at Michigan in 1996; Alex Zanardi at Michigan in 1997; Vasser at California in 1998 and Tony Kanaan at Michigan this year.

* CART Constructor's Champion Reynard has won 17 of 19 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and 35 of 38 since the start of the 1998 season.

* Firestone has won 18 of 19 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and 36 of 37 overall, dating to Adrian Fernandez' victory at Japan last year.

MILESTONES

* By winning the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Juan Montoya could tie the CART record of eight victories in a season established by Michael Andretti in 1991 and matched by Al Unser. Jr. in 1994. Montoya already owns the rookie win record of seven with victories at Long Beach, Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro, Cleveland, Mid-Ohio, Chicago and Vancouver. A pole position at California would give Montoya the rookie pole record of eight, breaking the tie he currently shares with 1993 series champion Nigel Mansell. Montoya's poles this season have come at Nazareth, Gateway, Portland, Cleveland, Detroit, Vancouver and Houston. Montoya also owns the rookie record of 929 laps led in a season, and is just 37 shy of passing Michael Andretti's 1991 total of 965 laps led, which ranks second in CART single-season annals. Andretti's 1992 total of 1,136 laps led tops the list.

* By starting Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) will extend his CART record to 273 career starts. Unser Jr. also stands second to Michael Andretti (38) with 31 CART career victories; shares the record of eight wins in a season with Andretti; shares the record of four consecutive race victories (1990) with Alex Zanardi; is tied for third with Emerson Fittipaldi in most seasons with at least one CART victory (11); and ranks third on CART's career laps led list (3,113).

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Mark Blundell , Emerson Fittipaldi , Barry Green , Chip Ganassi , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Al Unser
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske