CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Sunday Wrapup

CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana Sunday Wrapup
Nov 1, 1999, 5:35 AM

TRAGEDY TEMPERS MARLBORO 500 PRESENTED BY TOYOTA WIN FOR FERNANDEZ, FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES CROWN FOR ROOKIE MONTOYA FONTANA, Calif. (October 31, 1999) - Adrian Fernandez closed the season Sunday with a $1 million prize for winning the Marlboro ...


FONTANA, Calif. (October 31, 1999) - Adrian Fernandez closed the season Sunday with a $1 million prize for winning the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota and rookie Juan Montoya won the season's biggest prize - the FedEx Championship Series crown - but both triumphs were tempered by a tragic accident involving Greg Moore at California Speedway.

Moore, a 24-year-old driver from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, sustained massive head injuries as a result of contact with a wall exiting Turn 2 on Lap 10. He was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:21 p.m. PT by Dr. Jeff Grange, Medical Director of California Speedway.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing led the final 10 laps of the 250-lap season finale - the only laps he led all race - to earn his second victory of the season and fifth of his career. He averaged 171.666 miles per hour en route to a 7.634-second margin of victory over runner-up Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard). Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) finished third.

A fourth-place finish by Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), coupled with a 10th-place finish by Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), was just enough to give him the series title and PPG Cup in the closest finish in CART's 21-year history. Montoya, who entered Round 20 trailing by nine points, scored 12 points while Franchitti earned three to place the remaining two title contenders in a tie at 212 points.

Montoya captured the title by virtue of the first championship tiebreaker - highest race finish - as he posted a CART rookie-record seven victories to three wins for Franchitti. The previous closest points race was in 1985 when Al Unser topped his son, Al Jr., by a point, 151-150.

Montoya became the youngest champion in series history at 24 years, 1 month and 11 days - topping 1995 champion Jacques Villeneuve (24 years, 4 months, 1 day) - and joined 1993 champ Nigel Mansell as the only rookies to win the championship.

Montoya also continued Target/Chip Ganassi's unprecedented run of excellence as the team became the first in history to win four consecutive FedEx Championship Series crowns. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, which broke a tie with Penske Racing at three in a row (1981-83), began its dominance with a championship by Jimmy Vasser (1996) and followed with a pair of titles by Alex Zanardi (1997, '98).

Papis, who led a race-high 112 laps, matched his career best established the previous race at Australia with the runner-up finish. He closed the season with four consecutive top-four efforts to finish a career-best fifth in the championship. For Fittipaldi, it was his fifth podium of the season and fifth top-eight performance in the last six starts.

Following Montoya and Franchitti among the top five in the series championship race were Paul Tracy (Team KOOL Green), Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) and Papis. It was the best championship finish for Tracy since taking third in 1994. For Andretti, it was the 15th consecutive season he has finished among the top 10 in the title race and best performance since taking fourth in 1995.


ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard: "It's so hard, because Greg was such a good friend of ours. We've been racing for awhile, and we shared so many moments, inside and outside the track. I can't express how sad I feel. The win doesn't mean anything. My heart goes out to his dad, I'm sure he's hurting. We should all remember his family in our thoughts. We will remember him as a great friend, a great gentleman and a fantastic race car driver."

MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "He [Greg Moore] is up there in the sky, and these are the messages that God sends to us. I'm so sad. There are no words ... there is nothing. Greg was a special person, in and out of the track. I came across the finish line and I thought I'd won, then Bob [team owner Bob Rahal] came on the radio and said, 'I have very bad news to tell you.' I had no idea ... no idea. We are not here for this ... we are not here for this."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI, Big Kmart Ford Swift: "Obviously, this is a very bad moment for all of us. Obviously, my thoughts go to Team Penske. This has been very, very difficult for them. I have no words. Definitely, Greg will be missed everywhere, inside and outside the track."

JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "First, I want to say I'm really sad about what happened to Greg. I think he was a great guy, and I'm really sad for his family and friends. I think he was a great guy to be around. It's very satisfying to win the championship, even though we had some problems toward the end of the season."

CHIP GANASSI, owner, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing: "We certainly don't want our light to shine at the dimming of others. Let's not underestimate the charge Team [KOOL] Green made in the second half of the season. You live your whole life and dream about days like today, and you're never prepared for what ultimately happens. This guy next to me [Montoya] and our team had a great year. Team Green's tough. They're gonna be tough next year, and I'm damned glad the season is over. I've known Greg for five or six years. I think everybody who's ever driven one of these cars can tell you that maybe he's not burdened with these things anymore. Our sport seems so small and insignificant in times like this. Maybe this is a good time for everybody to take a step back. Everybody in this sport needs each other. Maybe it's time for us all to be back together."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard): "Today I lost one of the best friends I ever had in Greg Moore. In the last couple of years, ever since I've known him, we shared a lot of good times together. He was the guy I competed the hardest with on the track, and he was the guy that I had the most fun with away from the track. The guy was going to be a champion, many, many times over. He was my friend. With what's happened, nothing else matters."


* The FedEx Championship Series season concluded Sunday with Max Papis and Paul Tracy recording or matching career-best finishes in the championship. Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) finished fifth with 150 points to top his previous season-best of 21st established last year. Papis, who ended up one point behind fourth-place Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift), finished the season with 11 top-five finishes, including four in a row to conclude the season.

In addition to back-to-back, season-ending runner-up finishes at Australia and Fontana, Papis also scored a podium finish at Laguna Seca, where he finished third. Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), meanwhile, matched his season-best finish of third in the championship established in 1993 and matched a year later. Tracy's season was highlighted by victories at Milwaukee and Houston; runner-up efforts at Toronto, Detroit and Mid-Ohio; and thirds at Nazareth and Michigan. Tracy's PPG Cup point total of 161 represented a high for his nine-year FedEx Championship Series career.

* The remaining top-10 finishers in the FedEx Championship Series included rookie champion Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), with 212 points; runner-up Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), with 212 points; sixth-place Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), with 140 points; seventh-place Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift), with 121 points; eighth-place Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) with 108 points; ninth-place Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) with 104 points and 10th-place Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) with 97 points.

* Montoya's victory in the championship marked the first time in the 21-year history of the FedEx Championship Series that the points lead changed hands in the final event of the season.

* Montoya finished the season with $973,000 in earnings to lead the FedEx Championship Series prize money list, and will collect an additional $1 million bonus from PPG Industries when he is presented with the PPG Cup at the FedEx Championship Series Awards banquet Monday evening in Los Angeles.

* Brazil ended the United States' four-year dominance of the Nation's Cup on the strength of Christian Fittipaldi's third-place finish in the season finale. Brazil held a four-point edge, 257-253, heading into the final race and Fittipaldi's effort allowed the South American country to secure the Cup by a 271-264 margin over the U.S. The United States, paced Sunday by Jimmy Vasser's fifth-place finish, had won the Nation's Cup every previous year since its inception in 1995.

* Patrick Racing General Manager Jim McGee registered his 88th career victory with Adrian Fernandez's win Sunday, making him the all-time winningest chief mechanic/team manager in all-time Champ Car history. The win allowed McGee to break a tie for the honor with the legendary George Bignotti, who recorded 87 career wins from 1958-83.

* The Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota was the final race for retiring CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach. Dallenbach has been the sanctioning body's chief steward since 1981 and has overseen 285 CART-sanctioned events. Dallenbach was honored as Grand Marshal of Sunday's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. His illustrious career as a chief steward and former Champ Car driver will be recognized at Monday's FedEx Championship Series Awards Banquet in Century City, Calif.

* Juan Montoya, the FedEx Championship Series champion, will be a featured guest on CBS-TV's Late Show with David Letterman on Thursday. The program airs following the late local news in most markets.

* Al Unser Jr.'s (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) start in the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota extended his CART career record in that category. Unser Jr. has made a record 273 starts in his 18-year CART career.


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