CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana TargetChip Ganassi Racing Preview

Oct. 22, 1998 JIMMY VASSER AND ALEX ZANARDI, TARGET/CHIP GANASSI RACING PRE-RACE NOTES What: Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Round 19 of CART's 19-race FedEx Championship Series. When: Sunday, Nov. 1, 12:30 p.m. local start time....

Oct. 22, 1998


What: Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Round 19 of CART's 19-race FedEx Championship Series.

When: Sunday, Nov. 1, 12:30 p.m. local start time.

Where: California Speedway, Fontana, Calif., 2-mile oval.

Distance: 250 laps/500 miles.

Broadcast: ESPN-TV and the CART Radio Network, 3:30 p.m. EST.

History: Jimmy Vasser started second and finished second at last year's inaugural Marlboro 500 at Fontana. He finished 0.847 seconds behind Mark Blundell. It marked Vasser's third consecutive podium finish. Alex Zanardi, who had already clinched the PPG Cup championship, did not race on Sunday after sustaining a concussion in two accidents during Friday's practice sessions. Former Target/Chip Ganassi driver Arie Luyendyk replaced Zanardi in the race but completed just 39 laps before a crash with Arnd Meier ended his day.

Fan Phone: Racing fans can hear the latest CART news on the Target Fan Phone, the Official Fan Phone of the FedEx Championship Series. Gary Gerould, well-known ABC and ESPN reporter, provides complete practice, qualifying and race results. The toll-free number from the U.S. and Canada is 1-800-297-9590. The Fan Phone is available for use by the public and media.

Fast Facts: Zanardi, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Oct. 23, has posted a CART-record 14 podium finishes this season. The previous record was 11 by Michael Andretti (1991), Bobby Rahal (1991) and Al Unser Jr. (1994). Zanardi has posted seven victories this season, which is tied for the third-highest single-season total in CART history. A win at Fontana would equal the record of eight held by Michael Andretti (1991) and Al Unser Jr. (1994). Since posting his first CART win at Portland in 1996, Zanardi has finished on the podium in 27 of 42 races, a remarkable success rate of 64 percent. He has been on the podium in 78 percent of the races this season (14 of 18). Zanardi clinched his second consecutive PPG Cup championship with his fourth-place finish at the Molson Indy Vancouver on Sept. 6. He set a CART standard by clinching the championship with four races remaining. The previous fastest to clinch was Michael Andretti, who wrapped up the 1991 title with three races left. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has won three consecutive PPG Cup championships, with Jimmy Vasser winning in 1996 and Zanardi winning in 1997 and 1998. Penske Racing is the only other team in CART history to win three straight championships, accomplishing the feat with Rick Mears in 1981 and 1982 and Al Unser Sr. in 1983. Zanardi owns a whopping 111-point lead in the PPG Cup point standings and will easily shatter the CART record for largest margin of victory (47 by Al Unser Jr. in 1994). The current point system began in 1983. Zanardi ranks eighth in CART career victories with 15. Zanardi's four consecutive wins earlier this season (Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Toronto) tied the CART record set by Al Unser Jr. in 1990. Zanardi tallied a CART-record 250 points through 17 races, breaking the previous 17-race record of 234 set by Michael Andretti in 1991. The present scoring system has been in place since 1983. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has posted 22 victories since the start of the 1996 season. The rest of the CART field has 29 wins. Zanardi and Vasser are trying to become the first teammates to finish 1-2 in the PPG Cup standings since Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi accomplished the feat with Team Penske in 1994. Zanardi has 20 podium finishes in his previous 25 races, including seven victories, five runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes in the first 18 races this season. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has been on the podium in 23 of the previous 26 races dating back to last year's race at Cleveland. The three exceptions were this year's races at Motegi, Mid-Ohio and Vancouver. Zanardi and Vasser have shared the podium four times during that stretch (Laguna Seca in 1997 and Nazareth, Toronto and the U.S. 500 in 1998), giving the team 26 podium appearances in 25 races. Thirteen of Zanardi's 15 CART victories, 21 of his 27 podium finishes and eight of his 10 pole positions have come on road or street courses.

Vasser, who led all CART drivers in races completed in 1996 (16) and 1997 (15), has finished all but three races this season and has completed 51 of his previous 57 races dating back to Cleveland in 1995.

Since the start of the 1996 season, Vasser has scored points in an amazing 84 percent of his races (43 of 51 races). Zanardi has scored points in 80 percent of his races (40 of 50 races). Zanardi and Vasser have gone scoreless just once in their three years as teammates. The only race that neither driver scored a point was this year at Mid-Ohio. Zanardi placed 12th in that race but had his one point taken away following the race as part of his CART penalty for "unjustifiable risk." Zanardi owns the best winning percentage among the 12 drivers with 10 or more CART victories. Following are the top three: Zanardi .300 (15 wins/50 starts); Bobby Unser .270 (10 wins/38 starts); Michael Andretti .162 (37 wins/229 starts). Vasser has finished in the top eight in 18 of his previous 23 races. He has scored points in 51 of his previous 60 races dating back to the 1995 season.

Vasser has started 85 consecutive races since the 1993 season, the third-longest streak among active CART drivers. Only Bobby Rahal (96) and Mauricio Gugelmin (87) have more consecutive starts.

Quick Quotes: Jimmy Vasser: "I suspect the racing at Fontana will be similar to what we saw at the U.S. 500. I think we (the drivers) learned a lot from that race that we can use in California. It won't be as new an experience as it was in Michigan."

Alex Zanardi: "I'm certain it will be a very exciting race for the fans, just like Michigan was. It will be much more fun to watch than to drive in. As I said at Michigan, I don't think this kind of race allows the driver to use his skills as much as road or street courses do. It's not as challenging. The car is much more important. But I'm sure the race will be very entertaining and will have a lot of wheel-to-wheel racing and plenty of passing."

St. Jude Children's Hospital: Once again this year, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is donating $5,000 for each race win, $1,000 for each pole position and $25 for each lap led to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Contributions are being used for construction of the Target House at St. Jude's. The team has raised $65,300 this season. Target contributed an additional $1,000 when Alex Zanardi registered his 1,000th career lap led in the Rio 400 on May 10, bringing the grand total raised this season to $66,300. In 1997, the team raised $46,275 for St. Jude's Hospital. In recognition of the team's back-to-back championships, Target matched that donation and rounded up to bring the total donation in 1997 to $100,000. The team's top five single-race totals over the last two seasons are as follows: $7,975 at Cleveland 1998; $7,600 at U.S. 500 1997; $7,575 at Gateway 1998; $6,925 at Milwaukee 1998; $6,750 at Cleveland 1997.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Arie Luyendyk , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske