CHAMPCAR/CART: Fontana to decide championship and $ 2 million

DETROIT (October 24, 2000) - Who wants to be a millionaire? Or in the case of five championship contenders, who wants to be a multi-millionaire? Those questions will be answered this weekend as the FedEx Championship Series concludes its 22nd ...

DETROIT (October 24, 2000) - Who wants to be a millionaire? Or in the case of five championship contenders, who wants to be a multi-millionaire?

Those questions will be answered this weekend as the FedEx Championship Series concludes its 22nd season with the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN), an event that promises to be overflowing with drama as well as plenty of cash.

Five drivers - Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske, Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green, rookie Kenny Brack of Team Rahal and Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing - are eyeing the $1 million prize for winning the series championship, while any of the 26 drivers entered in the 500-mile event could claim the $1 million prize that will go to the race winner, thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway.

By the close of Sunday afternoon, there could be two instant millionaires or one multi-millionaire if one of those five can garner a race win and series title.

With payouts ranging from $500,000 for second place in the championship through $100,000 for 10th place, there is considerable additional money at stake across the board. The ninth- through third-place drivers are separated by a mere 11 points.

Through 19 of 20 events, the championship chase remains the most wide-open in CART history. All five of the contenders are pursuing their first-ever FedEx Championship Series title.

At the top of the list is de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard), who is seeking to bring the legendary Penske organization its eighth CART championship, 10th Champ Car title, and first since Al Unser Jr. claimed the crown in 1994. De Ferran, who has led the championship since Round 16 at Laguna Seca, sits atop the point standings with 153 points, a five-point edge over Fernandez. His best previous championship finish was second to Alex Zanardi in 1997, while driving for Walker Racing.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) made huge gains with his victory two weeks ago at Surfers Paradise, Australia, jumping from fifth in the title race to second with 148 points. After going scoreless through the first two events of the season, Fernandez broke through with a victory at Rio de Janeiro and has been a model of consistency ever since, scoring championship points in 16 of his past 17 starts. Fernandez, the defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion, is seeking Patrick Racing's second CART championship and third Champ Car crown. Patrick Racing's last series title came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi and Fernandez's best previous championship finish was fourth for Patrick in 1998.

Tracy and Brack are in the championship mix, tied for third with 134 points each. Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) is tied for the series lead with three victories this season and is looking to bring Team KOOL Green its second championship, following Jacques Villeneuve's 1995 title. Tracy's best previous finish in the championship has been third on three occasions (1993, '94, '99).

Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) is the lone contender without a race win, but has built his championship bid with an impressive nine top-five finishes. He is coming off a runner-up effort at Australia, which matched a season best established at Cleveland. He clinched the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award following Round 18 at Houston and is seeking to bring Team Rahal its second FedEx Championship Series title, following team owner and interim CART CEO Bobby Rahal, who drove to the crown in 1992 under the Rahal-Hogan Racing banner.

Rounding out the list of championship hopefuls is Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard), who stands fifth with 131 points. Moreno has made the most of his first-full time ride in the championship since 1996 by recording the highest point total of his seven-year career. His best previous championship finish was 14th last year when he competed in 13 of 20 events as a substitute after injuries sidelined Mark Blundell of the PacWest Racing Group and Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing. Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, enjoying a second-half surge, is tied with Moreno at 131 points, but is eliminated from the championship race by virtue of mathematical tiebreakers.

A maximum of 22 points is available this weekend, including 20 for a victory and one each for the pole position and leading the most laps. Points are scored through 12th place on a 20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

Not to be overlooked in the excitement surrounding the tense title battle is the possibility that defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) could become the first driver in CART history and second in all-time Champ Car annals to win three 500-mile events in the same season. With victories already in the Indianapolis 500 and Michigan 500, Montoya would Al Unser, who won three 500-milers in 1978, a year prior to CART's inaugural season, in the exclusive club.

This year, for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history, all cars ride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, the defending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota champion, has scored championship points in his last 12 starts and 16 of his past 17, beginning with a victory at Brazil. He added a victory in his most recent start at Australia two weeks ago. Fernandez, whose scoring run also includes podium finishes of second at Toronto and Road America, and third at Vancouver, has moved into second place in the FedEx Championship Series with 148 points, five behind leader Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske. He is the series leader in championship points scored during the second half of the 20-race season with 87. Fernandez is also a strong contender for the season-long Budweiser Hard Charger Award, which goes to the driver who improves the most from start to finish on both an individual event and season-long basis. With 115 points, one for each position gained over the course of the season, Fernandez trails current leader Luiz Garcia Jr. (Hollywood/Embratel/Tang/Banco Sofisa Mercedes Reynard) of the Arciero Project Group by only five.

Gil de Ferran has recorded top five finishes in five of his past eight FedEx Championship Series starts and holds the lead in the championship with 153 points. Included in the run are finishes of second at Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio, third at Chicago and Houston, and fifth at Vancouver. De Ferran also has posted 15 top-five qualifying efforts in 19 starts this season, including pole positions at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Houston. De Ferran, who owns victories at Nazareth and Portland, could win Team Penske's eighth CART championship and its first since Al Unser Jr. drove to the 1994 title.

Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal is coming off a runner-up finish at Australia, which matched the performance established at Cleveland as the best of his rookie season. He has scored championship points in seven of his past eight starts with five top-five finishes, including a podium result of third at Road America. Brack, who has already clinched the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award, is also one of five remaining contenders for the FedEx Championship Series championship. With 134 points, he trails leader Gil de Ferran (153) by 19.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has finished on the podium in each of the past two FedEx Championship Series events, with a victory at Houston and a third-place performance at Australia. He has finished eighth or better in seven of his past eight starts, dating to an eighth-place performance at Chicago, and has led laps at each of the past three events, including 27 at Gateway, 31 at Houston and eight at Australia.

Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske owns top-10 finishes in six of his past seven FedEx Championship Series starts, including victories at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. He finished sixth in his most recent start at Australia and has scored championship points in nine of his past 13 starts overall, after scoring in only one of the first six events of the season. He stands second to Adrian Fernandez in points scored during the second half of the season with 80.

Adrian Fernandez owns three top-five finishes in as many career starts at California Speedway, topped by last year's $1 million victory. He paved the way for that victory with finishes of third in 1997 and fourth in '98.

Jimmy Vasser has finished among the top-five drivers in each of his three career appearances at California Speedway, including a $1 million victory in 1998. He also finished second in 1997 and fifth last year. In addition, he has qualified fourth or better for all three appearances, with starts on the outside pole in 1997 and '98, and fourth last year.

Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes) of the PacWest Racing Group has collected top-six finishes in all three of his starts at California Speedway, topped by fourth in 1997. He also finished fifth in '98 and sixth last year. Gugelmin qualified on the pole in '97 at an average speed of 240.942 miles per hour (30.316 seconds), which remains the fastest lap in auto racing history. He has been on the lead in all three events, including 66 laps in '97, 40 in '98 and two last year.

Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing has finished ninth or better in all three of his appearances at California Speedway, topped by last year's podium result of third. He also finished seventh in 1998 and ninth in '97.

Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing has led a combined 142 laps in his three starts at California Speedway. He led 36 laps in 1997, 44 in '98 and 62 last year.

Ford holds a 16-point lead, 314-298, over two-time defending champion Honda in pursuit of the CART Manufacturer's Championship and could clinch the title if one of its drivers finishes sixth or better this weekend. Ford is seeking its first Manufacturer's Championship since 1995 while Honda has won three of the past four Manufacturer's titles (1996, '98, 99). Ford is also the defending champion at the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota as Adrian Fernandez drove to victory there last year.

Toyota -powered drivers have won the past four FedEx Championship Series events contested on ovals, including victories from Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing at Milwaukee, Michigan and Gateway, and Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports at Chicago. Montoya has also put Toyota power on the pole for five of the past six FedEx Championship Series oval events (Japan, Nazareth, Milwaukee, Chicago, Gateway).

If a Toyota-powered driver wins the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, each of the four engine manufacturers currently competing in the FedEx Championship Series would own a victory in the season-ending 500-mile event. Mark Blundell won the CART's first race at California Speedway for Mercedes in 1997. His victory was followed by Jimmy Vasser's triumph for Honda in '98 and Adrian Fernandez for Ford last year.

When the green flag falls Sunday, Juan Montoya will be looking to become the first driver in CART history to win three 500-mile races in one season and just the second in all of open-wheel history. Montoya has already collected victories in the Indianapolis 500 and the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota this season. He seeks to join Al Unser, who won 500-mile events at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario (Calif.) in 1978.

The most illustrious group of Champ Car legends and CART champions has been assembled to celebrate the sport's rich heritage during the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota weekend at California Speedway and Monday's FedEx Championship Series Awards Banquet in Los Angeles. The stellar group consists of 16 of the sport's greatest stars who have combined for 19 CART series championships, 24 Indianapolis 500 titles, 8 USAC championships and 381 career Champ Car triumphs. Those scheduled to attend the festivities include Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Wally Dallenbach, Emerson Fittipaldi, Dan Gurney, Rick Mears, Juan Montoya, Bobby Rahal, Johnny Rutherford, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Bobby Unser, Jimmy Vasser, Rodger Ward and Alex Zanardi. The Champ Car legends will be honored throughout the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota race weekend as well as the FedEx Championship Series Awards Banquet on Monday at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

The legends will be featured on a free commemorative poster and participate in a special free Legends Autograph Session on Saturday at California Speedway. The session will be held from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. at the Toyota tent opposite Gate 16 on the grandstand side of the speedway. The Legends also will participate in Sunday's pre-race ceremonies as well as the pre-race Heritage car parade.

All of the legends will be acknowledged as special guests at the FedEx Championship Series Awards Banquet the evening following the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. All former CART champions also will participate in a special on-stage segment of the crowning of the new champion known as the "Legacy of Champions". Each former champion will be introduced, honored with a video clip and share in the coronation of the new 2000 champion. In addition to the Legends, the heritage of the Champ Cars themselves will be featured throughout the weekend with the fourth annual Victory Lane Historic Champ Car Showcase.

More than two dozen historic Champ Cars from every decade dating to 1926 will be on display, as well as on track for parade runs throughout the weekend. Several that will be showcased are the former Champ Cars of the legends in attendance. Among some of the Champ Cars participating are a 1926 Ford Rajo, 1938 Lencki Miller Offy, 1948 Kurtis Offy, 1958 Epperly Roadster, 1966 Eisert Harrison Special, 1972 Gurney Eagle, 1981 Penske Cosworth, 1993 Lola T9300.

The field of five has been set to compete for the $50,000 top prize in the finals of the second annual Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge. Pit crews for the Patrick Racing entries driven by Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard); the Player's Forsythe Racing Team entry driven by Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard); the PPI Motorsports entry driven by Cristiano da Matta; and the Team KOOL Green entry driven by Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) have qualified for a chance at the winner's purse. The finals will take place Friday afternoon from 5:05-5:35 p.m. PT in the pit lane at California Speedway. The competition will consist of a five-minute warm-up, followed by a 15-minute period during which all five cars will take to the track. Each entry must make a minimum of three pit stops, during which four tires, provided by Firestone, must be changed safely and correctly during the 15-minute period. The winner will be determined by averaging the two best pit stop times. In the event of a tie, the fastest time earned by the entrants involved will be used to resolve the deadlock. The five pit crew finalists qualified on the basis of standings kept through the first 19 events of the FedEx Championship Series season, at which they collected points based on the least amount of time spent in the pits. Points were awarded according to the same scale used to score FedEx Championship Series drivers (20-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1). Fernandez' crew led the season-long standings with 162 points, followed by Carpentier's at 135; Moreno's at 131; da Matta's at 127 and Tracy's at 118. Tracy's crew won the inaugural Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge last year. Craftsman is the official tool of CART.

The season-ending Budweiser Hard Charger Award is also up for grabs at the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. Luiz Garcia Jr. (Hollywood/Embratel/Tang/Banco Sofisa Mercedes Reynard) of the Arciero Project Racing Group and Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing are the two drivers who remain in contention for the $10,000 award, which recognizes the driver who makes the greatest improvement in track position over the course of the 20-race season. Drivers receive one point for each position gained at each event. Standings were kept on a per-event and season-long basis, and the driver who gained the most positions at each event earned a $1,000 award from Budweiser. Through 19 events, Garcia has totaled 120 points, while Fernandez has totaled 115. Garcia has improved from start to finish in 16 of 19 starts this season, while Fernandez has improved in 14 of 19.

A number of questions regarding the 2001 FedEx Championship Series driver lineup will be answered this weekend as four teams have scheduled announcements in the California Speedway interview room. The first of those is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Friday when four-time FedEx Championship Series champion Target Chip Ganassi Racing is expected to announce its driver lineup for the 2001 campaign. The new ZakSpeed team is expected to make formal announcement of its entry into the 2001 FedEx Championship Series at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Adrian Fernandez and Mo Nunn Racing have scheduled time to announce their 2001 plans Saturday at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively.

Qualifying for the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 2 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's live race broadcast. The race will also air live on the CART Radio Network, the Armed Forces Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com . It will be broadcast locally on KIEV (870 AM).

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Kenny Brack , Mark Blundell , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Danny Sullivan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Chip Ganassi , Rodger Ward , Cristiano da Matta , Luiz Garcia Jr. , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing