CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana season finale preview

With Championship Decided, Drivers Focus On $1 Million To Win At Season-Ending Marlboro 500 Presented By Toyota DETROIT (October 31, 2001) - Although the 2001 FedEx Championship Series champion has finally been decided, more than $1 million of...

With Championship Decided, Drivers Focus On $1 Million To Win At Season-Ending Marlboro 500 Presented By Toyota

DETROIT (October 31, 2001) - Although the 2001 FedEx Championship Series champion has finally been decided, more than $1 million of unfinished business remains as the series prepares to conclude its 2001 campaign with this weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway.

A winner's prize of $1 million awaits the driver who claims Sunday's season-ending event, which will bring the curtain down on one of the most competitive campaigns in FedEx Championship Series history. The series has already tied its record of 11 different race winners in a single season and established a new standard with 19 different podium finishers, and it is entirely possible that both totals could grow this weekend, given that none of CART's past three winners on the two-mile California Speedway oval has yet claimed a victory this year.

Among those drivers who have reached victory circle is Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske, who clinched his own $1 million prize by wrapping up his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series championship last weekend. De Ferran's fourth-place finish at Australia brought Team Penske its record-ninth CART championship, its 10th Champ Car title overall, and made de Ferran one of only four drivers ever to earn back-to-back FedEx Championship Series crowns.

De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) comes to California with fond memories of last year's event, when he established a world closed-course speed record of 241.428 miles per hour (30.255 seconds) while winning he pole, then finished third in the race to clinch his first series championship. De Ferran arrives this year as the hottest driver in the championship, having finished fifth or better in eight of his last nine starts, with victories at England and Houston. With 191 championship points, he could post only the eighth 200-point season since CART's current scoring system took effect in 1983 with a finish of fifth or better this weekend.

The runner-up spot in this year's championship, and the $500,000 payout that accompanies it, has also been wrapped up by Kenny Brack of Team Rahal. Brack (Shell Ford Lola) has been the most successful oval driver in the series this season, with victories at Japan, Milwaukee, Chicago and Germany and runner-up finishes in Nazareth and England. Of his series-leading 621 laps led, 581 have come on ovals, more than three times the total of his next closest pursuer.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske and CART career victory leader Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola are tied for third with 141 championship points, while Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing stands fifth at 120 points following last Sunday's victory in Australia.

A considerable amount of jockeying remains as drivers finishing from third through 10th in the championship will collect bonus monies of between $300,000 and $100,000 from the season-ending FedEx Championship Series point fund.

Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion, and will be looking for his first victory of the 2001 season with a repeat performance. Other past winners at California Speedway, both of whom are looking to get into the victory column for the first time this season, are 1999 champion Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) of Fernandez Racing and 1998 winner Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing.

All FedEx Championship Series entries ride on Firestone Tires, the Official Tire of CART.

Following the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series will honor its 2001 champion at its annual awards ceremonies on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

WHO'S HOT

* Two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske finished fourth at last weekend's Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia to become only the fourth driver in CART history to win back-to-back championships. De Ferran's accomplishment allowed him to join Rick Mears (1981-82), Bobby Rahal (1986-87) and Alex Zanardi (1997-98) as winners of consecutive crowns. He also joined Al Unser (1983, '95) and Al Unser Jr. (1990, '94) as winners of multiple CART driving titles. De Ferran has scored championship points in nine consecutive events, dating to a podium finish of third at Chicago, and owns eight top-five results in that span, including victories at England and Houston. The run also includes podium finishes of third at Laguna Seca and second Mid-Ohio and Vancouver. De Ferran's 191 championship points are a career high in his seven FedEx Championship Series seasons, and he has also started fourth or better in his past eight events, with poles at Mid-Ohio, Germany (where the starting grid was based on championship points), Houston and Laguna Seca.

* Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal has finished eighth or better in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts to clinch a runner-up finish in the 2001 championship. Brack's run includes a victory in Germany and a runner-up finish in England, and was extended by a fifth-place finish at Australia last weekend. He is the only driver to have earned four victories this season, the others having come at Japan, Milwaukee and Chicago. Brack also leads the FedEx Championship Series with six pole positions and 621 laps led, and has scored championship points in 13 of 19 starts.

* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola has finished fifth or better in five of his past seven FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a runner-up result at Road America and including podium finishes of third at Vancouver and second at Australia last week. Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader (41), has tied reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske for third place with 141 championship points, and has clinched his 11th top-five finish in 18 seasons of FedEx Championship Series competition.

* Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing owns finishes of sixth or better in three of his past four FedEx Championship Series starts, including a victory in last Sunday's Honda Indy 300 on Australia's Gold Coast. Also included is a podium finish of third at Rockingham, England. Da Matta has moved from eighth to fifth place in the FedEx Championship Series championship during the run, with 120 points.

* Scott Dixon (Nextel Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group clinched the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award for 2001 at Australia last weekend when he exited the event with an insurmountable 98-56 lead over Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon's season has included six top-five finishes, including a victory at Nazareth, which made him, at age 20 years, nine months and 14 days, the youngest driver ever to win a major open-wheel event. Dixon also leads the FedEx Championship Series in laps completed, with 2,306 of a possible 2,309, and miles completed with 3,914.982 of a possible 4,074.603.

* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) of Team Rahal owns points-paying results in five consecutive FedEx Championship Series events, with a victory at Laguna Seca and a podium finish of second at Germany. Papis is one of five multiple race winners during the current FedEx Championship Series season, joining Team Rahal teammate Kenny Brack (4), reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (3), FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (2) and Cristiano da Matta (2). During his current run, Papis has moved from 16th to eighth in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 90 points.

* Memo Gidley (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has scored championship points in three consecutive FedEx Championship Series events, with podium finishes of third at Houston and second at Laguna Seca, which equaled a career-best result established at Cleveland in July. He stands 15th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 65 points.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Gil de Ferran recorded a third-place finish at California Speedway last year, which clinched his first career FedEx Championship Series championship and the eighth for Marlboro Team Penske. He established a world closed-course speed record of 241.428 miles per hour (30.255 seconds) while winning the pole position, and led 23 of 200 laps. Overall, de Ferran owns three points-paying finishes in four career appearances at California Speedway, including sixth in 1997, when he led nine of 250 laps, and ninth in 1999.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) of Fernandez Racing owns four top-five finishes in as many career starts at California Speedway, including a victory in 1999, for which he claimed $1 million. He also finished third in 1997, fourth in 1998 and fifth last year.

* Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion, having led 35 laps en route to last year's victory, which brought him a $1 million winner's purse. He also owns a podium finish of third at the Speedway in 1999, when he led 37 laps, and scored championship points with finishes of seventh in 1998 and ninth in '97.

* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing owns three top-five finishes in four appearances at California Speedway, including a $1 million victory in 1998. He also finished second in 1997 and fifth in 1999. Vasser led a race-high 63 laps en route to his 1998 victory, and has qualified sixth or better for all four appearances at the venue, including outside poles in 1997 and '98.

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group has enjoyed outstanding success at California Speedway with finishes of fourth in 1997, fifth in '98 and sixth in '99. He qualified on the pole in '97 at an average speed of 240.942 miles per hour (30.316 seconds), which stood as the fastest lap in auto racing history until Gil de Ferran's lap of 241.428 miles per hour (30.255 seconds) last year. Gugelmin has led at least one lap in all four appearances at California Speedway, including 66 laps in '97, 40 in '98, two in '99 and eight last year.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Thanks largely to the efforts of Kenny Brack, Ford-powered drivers have won five of seven FedEx Championship Series events contested on ovals this season. Brack has led the way with a series-high four victories, at Japan, Milwaukee, Chicago and Germany, while Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) claimed Ford's other triumph at Michigan Speedway, the first victory of his FedEx Championship Series career. Ford has scored a series-high 137 Manufacturer's Championship points on ovals this season.

* Cristiano da Matta's victory at Australia last Sunday was the ninth of the season for Lola, bringing it one behind Reynard's series-high total of 10 wins. Although Reynard has already clinched its seventh consecutive CART Constructor's Championship, Lola and Reynard could finish the season deadlocked at 10 victories each if Lola scores a win on Sunday at California Speedway.

NOTEWORTHY

* For the second consecutive year, the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway will pay tribute to The Legends, a group of drivers, active and retired, who have played a major role in shaping the heritage of Champ Car racing. Among the Legends expected to participate in a variety of fan-focused activities throughout this weekend are Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Jim McElreath, Danny Sullivan, Wally Dallenbach and Tom Sneva. Current FedEx Championship Series competitors and champions Michael Andretti, Gil de Ferran and Jimmy Vasser will also participate in the program. Included on the weekend program will be a Fan Forum on Friday at 3 p.m. in the Chalet Village at California Speedway; an autograph session on Saturday at 9:45 a.m. in the Toyota Hospitality Tent at Turn Four of the Speedway; and a pre-race parade lap prior to Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. Media are also invited to participate in a Legends press conference in the Drivers Meeting Room at California Speedway at noon on Friday, as well as a Legends luncheon at 1 p.m. Friday at the Marlboro media hospitality trailer. For further information on the Legends program, contact Jordan Miller, at (818) 344-6195, extension 110.

* Pit crews for the Marlboro Team Penske cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran; the Team Rahal car driven by Kenny Brack and the Sigma Autosport car driven by Oriol Servia (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola) joined the crew for the PacWest Racing Group car driven by Mauricio Gugelmin in qualifying for the $50,000 Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Shoot Out, to be held next Saturday, November 3, following qualifying for the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway. Now in its third season, the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge was instituted in 1999 to recognize the efforts of the mechanics who build, maintain and service the race cars. Champ Car teams competed all year, scoring points according to the same scale used to score FedEx Championship Series drivers, but based on least time spent in the pits at each CART event. The top four teams at the conclusion of last Sunday's Honda Indy 300 qualified for the season-ending Shoot Out, while Gugelmin's crew earned its wildcard berth by spending the least time in the pits during the July 22 Harrah's 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway. Castroneves' crew finished the season with 156 points, followed by the crew for de Ferran, with 150. "Part of our success each race weekend is due to the excellent work of our crews, and I feel that our position in the points is a reflection of their effort and commitment," said de Ferran, who clinched his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series championship with a fourth-place finish last weekend. Brack's and Servia's crews rounded out the top four finishers, with 117 and 112 points, respectively. The shootout will consist of two timed pit stops per entrant, with the fastest time claiming the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Trophy and $50,000 in cash. The Team KOOL Green crew of Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) won back-to-back Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge championships in 1999 and 2000.

* Runway Madness IV, "A Red, White and Blue Celebration," will take place on Friday, Nov. 2 at the Ontario (Calif.) Convention Center, a new venue for the event located just one mile from the Ontario Airport hanger which hosted the first three Runway Madness celebrations. An annual fundraiser for Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary (CARA) Charities, Runway Madness IV will feature food and refreshments and a full lineup of entertainment featuring FedEx Championship Series drivers, other members of the CART community and celebrities from the Hollywood and music industries. Honorary co-chairs of this year's event are Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti and actress Ashley Judd. Academy Award-winning actor Paul Newman, co-owner of the Newman/Haas Racing Team, will also be in attendance. Proceeds from Runway Madness IV will benefit the New York Police and Firefighter's Widows and Children's Benefit Fund. A new feature of this year's Runway Madness IV celebration is an on-line auction, featuring a wide variety of CART memorabilia, which can currently be viewed at http://cara.cmagic.com . Among the more than 80 items available are autographed driving suits from FedEx Championship Series drivers Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, Roberto Moreno, Adrian Fernandez and Bruno Junqueira; full autographed rear-wing assemblies from Patrick Racing - signed by team owner Pat Patrick and former Champ Car driver Scott Pruett - and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, signed by the entire Target Ganassi team; and dozens of additional autographed items, including driving shoes, gloves and helmet visors. One of the highlighted items in the on-line auction is the original art work of the Legends lithograph designed by Canadian artist David Arrigo, which will be autographed on stage by the Champ Car legends attending Runway Madness IV. The on-line auction, which runs through Nov. 12, is created and hosted by Seventh Gear.com and its partners, Cinemagic.

* CART Vice President of Broadcast Services Keith Allo has resigned his position, effective November 9, to pursue another opportunity. Allo, who joined CART in the spring of 1997 from Fox Sports Detroit where he was executive producer, has served as CART's liaison with its television partners - ESPN and ABC - and has worked closely with them on the production of race events. Among other projects, Allo developed the CART Radio Network and also served as CART's liaison to Franchise Pictures on the movie, Driven. He also produced Inside CART and CART Insider during his tenure at the company. "I have enjoyed my time at CART and will truly miss working with many of the people at the company," said Allo. "The CART television environment offers many opportunities and is very challenging. I was able to learn a great deal, particularly about international broadcasting, over the four-plus years I spent there. I wish everyone at CART well and am positive the new television package with Fox Cable Networks and CBS will be a winner for CART and the FedEx Series."

ON THE AIR

* Qualifying for The 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN's live race broadcast begins 3:30 p.m. ET. Sunday's race will also air live on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Scott Pruett , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Parnelli Jones , Danny Sullivan , Paul Newman , Chip Ganassi , Jim McElreath , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing