CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Race Report

$1.5 Million Afternoon For Jimmy Vasser! Fontana, CA (November 1, 1998) - Jimmy Vasser capped off a spectacular season for the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team on Sunday when he drove to a victory worth $1 million in the FedEx Championship...

$1.5 Million Afternoon For Jimmy Vasser!

Fontana, CA (November 1, 1998) - Jimmy Vasser capped off a spectacular season for the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team on Sunday when he drove to a victory worth $1 million in the FedEx Championship Series season finale, the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway.

Before an estimated crowd of more than 105,000, Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) earned his eighth career victory and clinched runner-up honors to teammate Alex Zanardi in the FedEx Championship Series points race by taking the lead from Greg Moore on a slingshot pass heading into the final lap of 250 on the 2-mile oval.

Vasser finished 0.36 seconds ahead of Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) while Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) extended his FedEx Championship Series record for podium finishes in a season by finishing third. It was Zanardi's 15th top-three performance of the season. Vasser led a race-high 63 laps in an event which featured 24 lead changes among seven drivers.

Vasser collected his second million-dollar payday in three years for the victory, which paid $1 million to win, and added another $500,000 for clinching second place in the FedEx Championship Series points race. He moved ahead of Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), whose 22nd-place finish due to engine problems left him scoreless Sunday.

Vasser will finish the season with total earnings of $2,084,250 when the PPG Cup point fund bonuses are presented Monday evening at the FedEx Championship Series awards banquet.

The 250-lap, 500-mile event shaped up as a dash to the checkered flag after leader Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) spun in Turn 2 while preparing for a restart on Lap 246. The ensuing caution period bunched the field, with Moore inheriting the lead and Vasser lurking behind.

Ironically, the situation was a reversal of fortune and positions at the July 26 U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway. During that event, Vasser led entering the final lap and Moore was able to draft past him and claim the checkered flag in a race which featured a FedEx Championship Series record 62 lead changes.

Moore's second-place effort secured a fifth-place finish in the championship with a career-high 140 points. He has improved his championship standing by two positions in each of his three years in the series, from ninth in his rookie season of 1996, to seventh last year, to this season's fifth-place standing.

Zanardi's third-place performance extended his series-record FedEx Championship Series point total to 285. His 116-point margin over Vasser obliterates the previous first- to second-place spread of 47 points (225-178) between Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1994. CART's current scoring system was instituted in 1983. Rounding out the top five were Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), who finished fourth in both the race and the series, clinching a career-best finish in the championship. Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes), whose fifth-place effort represented his best of the season on an oval. He also recorded his second consecutive top-five performance at California Speedway, following fourth last year.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), the three-time PPG Cup winner (1986, '87, '92) who concluded his 17-year driving career Saturday, finished 11th to clinch 10th place in the championship. It marked the 16th top-10 championship showing of his 17-year career.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:

JIMMY VASSER, Target Reynard Honda: "It was a fantastic way to finish the season. The million dollars is great, but the goal for me coming in here was to finish second in the championship. Alex has had the championship won for some time, and it's been a goal of our team for me to finish second. A lot of things have been done to help me accomplish that, and quite frankly, at times, I've felt that I let the team down. We've had an uphill battle [to finish second] and it's great to get it accomplished. [On his departing teammate, Alex Zanardi] I've learned a lot from Mr. Zanardi, more out of the cockpit than in it. He's been a great teammate and a great friend; it's great to be up here with him. [On the last lap pass of Greg Moore] "I saw Greg had a big gurney flap on his car, which gives it a lot more downforce and makes the car run better in traffic, but I knew that he'd have trouble running by himself. I knew that if I had a good restart, get a good run on him. He was really a sitting duck; there was nothing he could do about it. The same thing happened to me at Michigan."

GREG MOORE, Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes: "They [Vasser and Zanardi] came out of nowhere. It was amazing how quick they caught up with me. Alex got loose in [Turn] 2, then I caught Jimmy's draft into [Turn] 3 and 4, but he was too far ahead. Second place today is the first loser. It's a bitter pill to swallow. I thought Paul [Tracy] and I would be able to break away. I thought it was going to be a two-horse Canadian race for the last 10 laps. Then Max [Papis] and Bryan [Herta] got together and that was it. We had five or six laps to go and I was running second, and I radioed to my guys, 'Does this look familiar?' [It's where Moore was at Michigan with five laps remaining]. I would have been happy to follow Paul for a couple of laps and then go for it. I wasn't sure if we'd get a restart or not, but I stayed on it really hard because I didn't know if Paul had spun or continued or not. Once I came back around and saw him standing by his car, he gave me a wave and I thought, 'Gee, as long as he's O.K., I really hope he hit the wall hard, so it will take awhile to clean up.' "

ALEX ZANARDI, Target Reynard Honda: "I'm very surprised to be here. At the beginning of the race, I was pushing very hard, but my car was not in good balance and going as well as I wanted it to. But one small change and surprisingly, it came around. We went one lap down and made a little mistake and had to come in to serve a penalty. We were lucky and brave because Chip [Ganassi] did the right calls and we were able to get back on the lead lap. Then, I was able to start passing the cars in front of me. We got third [place], which is much better than I thought, so I'm very happy. I will take with me some good memories, and this is one of them."

BOBBY RAHAL, Miller Lite Reynard Ford: "Last night, I was so tired. I had lots of owner stuff with meetings at starting at 7 a.m. yesterday [Saturday], then practice and qualifying and more meetings. I didn't get back to the hotel until 6 and by the time 10 p.m. rolled around I was out. I had thought I might have trouble sleeping on the night before my last race, but I didn't have any trouble at all. I don't really know what I'm feeling right now. The enormity of turning that page is the biggest thing I feel. I don't feel melancholy or joy, or any of those things you might think I'd feel. A long chapter of my life is now over, and a new chapter starts. Where that will take me, I don't know. [On the tribute in pit lane following the morning warmup] That was pretty good. Some of those people have never looked better. Of course, they shall remain nameless."

[On the late race get-together between Bryan Herta and Max Papis, next year's Team Rahal teammates] "I hope that was not the future of Team Rahal. I had already introduced Max to Bryan some time ago. I didn't think he'd feel the need to do it again. The thing that has struck me the most this year is the people that have had the opportunity for me to say 'Thank you' to them. Every race this year, there's been something very special that has touched me emotionally. The races tend to blur to be honest, but those are the things that I remember. Early in the race, the car was running strong, then the car went real loose on the second or third set of tires. I lost a lot of ground trying to get it sorted out and we got out of sync, to be honest. We've let some races get away from us. Obviously, you can't let that happen if you hope to be competitive in the series. I finished ahead of some very talented people, and more than anything, I think we retired on a competitive footing, and that's what I wanted to do more than anything else."

WHAT'S NOTEWORTHY:

The FedEx Championship Series points race saw only one change among the top-10 drivers Sunday as winner Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) overtook Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) for the season-ending second-place award of $500,000. Vasser had trailed Franchitti, 160-148, in the points race entering Sunday's race, but scored 21 points - 20 for the victory and one for leading a race-high 63 laps - to overtake Franchitti, who completed only 112 of 250 laps before engine problems relegated him to a scoreless 22nd-place finish. Vasser finished with 169 points.

Vasser's victory allowed him to tie Franchitti for second place in wins this season. Vasser recorded triumphs at Nazareth, Milwaukee and California while Franchitti won at Road America, Vancouver and Houston. Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), the two-time and reigning FedEx Championship Series champion, won a season-high seven events, the most in the series since Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) won a record-tying eight events en route to the 1994 championship.

Zanardi and Vasser became the first teammates to finish first and second in the FedEx Championship Series championship since Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi, swept the top two spots in 1994.

Vasser's victory enabled the United States to remain the only country to win the Nation's Cup in its four years of existence. The U.S. scored 303 points to 285 for runner-up Italy, which received all its points from series champion Zanardi. Brazil finished third with 203 points, followed by Canada with 181. Drivers in the Nation's Cup competition scored points according to the same scale used to determine the PPG Cup winner (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1), with only the highest-finishing driver scoring for his country at a given event. Single bonus points are awarded to the country whose driver wins the pole position or leads the most laps. The U.S. has won every Nation's Cup since the advent of the award in 1995.

Vasser's victory was Reynard's 50th in CART competition, dating to the start of the 1994 season, when Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) won the chassis manufacturer's Champ Car debut in Australia. Reynard was the chassis of choice for 18 of 19 race winners in the FedEx Championship Series this season, and the manufacturer takes an 18-race winning streak into next year's season opener at Homestead, Fla.

When Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) took the lead on Lap 82 Sunday, it marked the first time he had led a FedEx Championship Series event this season. Blundell's last stint on the lead came here on his way to victory at last year's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, where he led the final 11 laps.

Herdez/Payton Coyne Racing announced an enhanced program Sunday morning for its participation in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series. The team will enter the third year of a long-team association with Herdez - a large Mexican salsa and food producer - by campaigning a Lola chassis, Ford power and Firestone tires for driver Michel Jourdain, Jr. The team also announced that it will be expanding its engineering department to get maximum performance from its new equipment. Jourdain Jr. will enter his fourth FedEx Championship Series season in 1999. He received the series' Most Improved Driver honor by vote of his peers in 1997. "The multi-year agreement between Herdez and Payton Coyne shows that our main goal is to be a successful team," said team co-owner Dale Coyne. "We have an aggressive testing program beginning in November to develop the new package to its fullest and we cannot wait to get started on our off-season testing and development." Jourdain Jr. looks forward to working with the team's new package. "After three years of experience and a very tough 1998 season, I think that with our testing program, better engineering and improved communication skills between the team and I, we can give good results the next season."

Among the celebrities attending Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota were actors Matthew McConaughey, Ray Liotta and Paul Reubens as well as Smashing Pumpkins lead vocalist Billy Corgan. Anthony Edwards, star of the top-rated television series ER, gave the command to start engines.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The 1998 FedEx Championship Series season concludes Monday with the FedEx Championship Series awards banquet at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, Calif.

Source: CART Online

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Mark Blundell , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore , Dale Coyne , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing