CHAMPCAR/CART: Ford Racing Fontana preview

Ford-Cosworth heads to the California Speedway for the season finale of the 2000 CART FedEx Championship season with hopes of capturing its seventh victory of the season and clinching the CART manufacturers' championship for the first time ...

Ford-Cosworth heads to the California Speedway for the season finale of the 2000 CART FedEx Championship season with hopes of capturing its seventh victory of the season and clinching the CART manufacturers' championship for the first time since 1995. The grueling 500-mile race, which takes its toll on both men and machine, will draw a close to one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory, with no less than five drivers still vying for the points championship. Ford-Cosworth (314 points), which leads the chase for the coveted manufacturers' championship by 16 points over Honda (298 points) and 42 points over Toyota (272 points), can clinch the title with a driver finish of sixth or better. Last season's race at the California Speedway saw Ford-powered cars sweep the podium with Adrian Fernandez taking the checkered flag followed by Max Papis and Christian Fittipaldi. In the most recent 500-mile race at Michigan International Speedway earlier this season, cars powered by Ford-Cosworth claimed four of the top 10 positions, led by Michael Andretti (2nd) and Patrick Carpentier (4th).

The FedEx Championship Series moves to Fontana, CA, where Ford drivers Adrian Fernandez, Kenny Brack and Roberto Moreno are all within striking distance of their first CART drivers' championship. Points leader Gil de Ferran (153) leads Fernandez (148) by five points. Both Kenny Brack (134) and Paul Tracy trail by 19 points, and Moreno (131) trails by 22 points heading into the final race of the season at the California Speedway. De Ferran can clinch the championship with a victory, while Fernandez will win the championship if he wins the pole, the race and leads the most laps, no matter where de Ferran finishes. To clinch the title, Brack and Tracy must win the pole, the race and lead the most laps, and also hope that de Ferran fails to score points and that Fernandez finishes seventh or worse. Moreno must win the pole on Saturday to remain alive in the hunt for the championship, and then must win the race and lead the most laps while hoping misfortune strikes the four other championship contenders.

Ford-Cosworth heads to the California Speedway with hopes of clinching its first CART manufacturers' championship since 1995 when Jacques Villenueve won four races and became the second-youngest driver's champion at age 24. Ford-Cosworth (314 points) holds a 16-point lead over Honda (298), a 42-point edge over Toyota and a 242-point advantage over Mercedes-Benz heading to the final race of the 2000 season. Regardless of Honda's result, Ford-Cosworth must finish the race no worse than sixth to claim the title, while Honda must finish at least second and hope that Ford does not score points (13th or worse) and fails to win either the pole position or lead the most laps.

Although there are several drivers capable of winning a race in the FedEx Championship Series, Adrian Fernandez, Kenny Brack, Michael Andretti and Max Papis all have a strong chance of tasting champagne this weekend. Here's a quick look at each of these drivers and why they should be considered favorites:

Adrian Fernandez - In addition to being the defending race champion, Fernandez has posted three consecutive top-four finishes at the California Speedway and has finished sixth or better in each of the last four 500-mile races. Fernandez, who has scored points in 12 straight races and in 16 of 19 events this season, also will be motivated by the fact that he can put himself in position to clinch the drivers' championship with a strong finish.

Kenny Brack - Still in contention for the drivers' championship, Brack brings considerable oval racing experience from his days in the Indy Racing League (IRL). The 1999 Indy 500 champion and 1998 IRL drivers' champion, Brack has scored four podium finishes (ironically, three on road/street courses) and nine top-five results in his first CART season en route to earning the Jim Trueman "Rookie of the Year" award. In his first 500-mile race this season at Michigan, Brack qualified 10th and consistently ran at the front before retiring following contact with Christian Fittipaldi on lap 98.

Michael Andretti - While his hopes for a second drivers' championship were dashed after finishing 20th in Australia, Andretti will be gunning for his third victory of the season. With 14 career oval track victories to his credit, including two 500-mile wins at Michigan ('87 & '89), Andretti finished second in the 500-mile race at Michigan earlier this season after losing a thrilling last-lap duel with Juan Montoya at the finish line.

Max Papis - Although the 2000 season has been a disappointing one for the personable Italian, Papis should be considered a favorite for the Marlboro 500. In addition to capturing his first career CART victory on the oval in Homestead in the first race of the season, Papis has a history of running strong in 500-mile races. Consider that Papis has posted three top-10 finishes in his last three 500-mile races, including a second place result in last year's Marlboro 500. Papis was also leading at Michigan in 1999 before running out of fuel on the last lap (finished seventh) and was running third at Michigan this season before dropping to ninth after running out of oil.

The new engine designed and built by Cosworth Racing, Inc. has had a very successful debut season. With six victories to its credit - the most for Ford-Cosworth since winning 10 in 1995 - the XF has also demonstrated excellent reliability as the only engine with drivers completing more than 90 percent of the laps this season. Of a possible 2,580 laps, Adrian Fernandez has completed 2,351 (91.12%), Michael Andretti has completed 2,350 (91.09%) and Roberto Moreno has completed 2,326 (91.16%). Altogether, six of the top 10 drivers with the most laps completed are powered by the new Ford-Cosworth XF engine, including rookies Kenny Brack (7th - 2,229 laps) and Alex Tagliani (9th - 2,118 laps), along with Christian Fittipaldi (10th - 2,114 laps).

With current drivers Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno five and 22 points, respectively, behind points leader Gil de Ferran heading into the CART season finale at the California Speedway, Pat Patrick looks to capture his third CART championship in 28 years as a team owner. Gordon Johncock won two Indy 500s ('73 and '82) and gave Patrick Racing its first championship in 1976, while Emerson Fittipaldi won the Indianapolis 500 en route to winning Patrick's second championship in 1989. Patrick Racing has been one of the most successful teams in CART history with drivers such as Mario Andretti, Wally Dallenbach, Fittipaldi, Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, Danny Sullivan, Adrian Fernandez and Roberto Moreno combining for 44 victories, including three at the Indianapolis 500, and two national championships. Fernandez has captured two races this season (Brazil and Australia), while teammate Moreno won his first CART race from the pole in Cleveland.

Indy Lights driver Casey Mears will make his FedEx Championship Series debut behind the wheel of a third Team Rahal car in the Marlboro 500 at the California Speedway this weekend. Mears will pilot a Ford-powered Reynard with financial backing from MCI WorldCom, which has been a supporter of Mears' Indy Lights career. The 22-year old son of former Champ Car driver Roger Mears and his wife Carol, Casey currently drives for Dorricott Racing in the Indy Lights Series and is third in the point standings just five points from the lead heading into the final race in Fontana. Mears, who earned his first career Indy Lights victory in Houston, looks to become the first driver to compete in two CART events in the same weekend. Mears' pit crew will be comprised entirely of Team Rahal's test team, with veteran race engineer, Ray Leto, Team Rahal's technical director, guiding Mears through his first Champ Car experience.

Team Rahal driver Kenny Brack clinched the Jim Trueman "Rookie of the Year" award following his 15th place finish in the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston on October 1st. Brack currently has 134 points and leads Oriol Servia by 70 points heading into the final race of the season. The first defending Indianapolis 500 winner to come into the FedEx series as a rookie, Brack, whose best CART result has been a pair of second-place finishes in Cleveland and Australia, has posted nine top-five finishes and has qualified in the top 10 in 13 races this season.

Roberto Moreno joins Helio Castroneves, Casey Mears and Townsend Bell as the four finalists nominated for the inaugural Greg Moore Legacy Award. The award, which honors the Canadian star and fan favorite who lost his life in the 1999 season finale, reflects the driver who best typifies Moore's legacy of outstanding talent on the track as well as displaying a dynamic personality with fans, media and within the CART community. The winner will be announced at the CART FedEx Championship Series Awards Banquet on Monday, Oct. 30 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

Ford-powered drivers have stood on the podium in 16 of the 19 races this season ... with seven career victories to his credit, Adrian Fernandez will be gunning for back-to-back wins for the first time in his career this weekend ... Players'/Forsythe driver Patrick Carpentier has three top-10 finishes in the last four races (9th in Monterey; 2nd in St. Louis; 5th in Australia) ... Ford-Cosworth has powered the most first-time winners this season (2 - Max Papis and Roberto Moreno) more than any other manufacturer (Toyota - Cristiano da Matta) ... Players'/Forsythe driver Alex Tagliani is the only rookie to start a race from pole this season (Brazil).

<pre> Marlboro 500 - California Speedway - Fontana, CA WHEN: October 29, 2000 TRACK LAYOUT: 2.029-mile oval RACE LENGTH: 250 laps; 507.25 miles TELEVISION (ET): ESPN; 2:30 PM (live) DEFENDING CHAMPION: Adrian Fernandez DEFENDING POLESITTER: Scott Pruett (31.031 seconds; 235.398 mph) DRIVER POINTS: Gil de Ferran (153); Adrian Fernandez (148); Paul Tracy (134); Kenny Brack (134); Roberto Moreno (131); Jimmy Vasser (131) MANUFACTURER POINTS: Ford-Cosworth (314); Honda (298); Toyota (272); Mercedes-Benz (72)

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Casey Mears , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Scott Pruett , Townsend Bell , Mario Andretti , Danny Sullivan , Emerson Fittipaldi , Gordon Johncock , Roger Mears , Greg Moore