Defending Cart Champion de Ferran 'Up Top' as Fedex Championship Series Heads 'Down Under' for Honda Indy 300 DETROIT (October 22, 2001) - Although it is one of the most anticipated stops on the FedEx Championship Series calendar, Australia's...
Defending Cart Champion de Ferran 'Up Top' as Fedex Championship Series Heads 'Down Under' for Honda Indy 300
DETROIT (October 22, 2001) - Although it is one of the most anticipated stops on the FedEx Championship Series calendar, Australia's Gold Coast hasn't been particularly kind to Gil de Ferran.
As he prepares for this weekend's Honda Indy 300 (1 p.m. ET Sunday, tape delay, ESPN), the penultimate round of this year's FedEx Championship Series championship, de Ferran will be looking for a reversal of recent fortune. The defending series champion, de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) is in a position to clinch a second consecutive title this weekend, and would join only Rick Mears (1981-82), Bobby Rahal (1986-87) and Alex Zanardi (1997-98) by doing so.
The Honda Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise has become one of the showcase events of the FedEx Championship Series season - a true spectacle, with a weeklong assortment of activities scheduled in conjunction with the event, and race-day crowds in excess of 100,000.
Of late, however, de Ferran's Australian race-day memories have been brief ones. He has been involved in opening-lap contact in each of his past two visits to the 2.795-mile temporary street circuit, in 1999 and last year, forcing him into an early exit on each occasion.
In seven career appearances at Australia, de Ferran's best finish is fifth in 1977, and he has scored championship points in only two of his starts. A third points-paying effort at Surfers Paradise would go a long way toward helping de Ferran wrap up the 2001 FedEx Championship Series crown.
With 179 championship points, de Ferran arrives in Australia with a 26-point lead over Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal, who stands second with 153 points. De Ferran has fashioned his advantage by becoming the series' most consistent driver over the second half of the season. He has scored championship points in eight consecutive events, with six podium finishes, including victories at England and Houston.
De Ferran will clinch the 2001FedEx Championship Series crown if he exits Australia with a lead of 23 of more points. Brack, meanwhile, will be looking to add to his series-high victory total of four to help keep his championship hopes alive. He made an impressive debut at Australia during his rookie season last year, finishing second to Adrian Fernandez.
De Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), is the only other driver with a mathematical chance to win this year's championship. He stands third with 141 points and has scored championship points in eight of his past nine starts, including a victory at Mid-Ohio.
The past 10 FedEx Championship Series events in Australia have produced 10 different winners, five of whom are on this weekend's entry list. In addition to defending champion Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard), the others are Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard), who won in 1994; Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), who won in 1995; Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard), who won in 1996 and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), who won in 1999.
All FedEx Championship Series entries ride on Firestone Tires, the Official Tire of CART. Firestone comes to Australia off a victory at Laguna Seca, its 100th CART victory since returning to open-wheel racing at the start of the 1995 season.
The Honda Indy 300 is Round 20 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes following the Honda Indy 300 with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the richest paydays in all of motorsports. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending event champion. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.
* Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has taken a commanding lead in his bid to become only the fourth driver in CART history to win back-to-back titles. De Ferran's third-place finish in the most recent FedEx Championship Series event on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca was his seventh top-five result in his past eight starts, including consecutive victories at England and Houston. De Ferran has taken a 26-point (179-153) lead over Kenny Brack of Team Rahal in the championship chase, with only two events, worth a maximum of 44 points, remaining in the 2001 season. His current run also includes podium finishes of third at Chicago and second at Mid-Ohio and Vancouver. De Ferran's 179 championship points are a career-high for the seven-year veteran. He also owns five pole positions and has started fourth or better in his past seven events, with poles at Mid-Ohio, Germany, Houston and Laguna Seca.
* Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) has finished eighth or better in four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, including a victory at Germany and a runner-up effort at England. 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 series with six pole positions and 621 laps led, and has scored championship points in 12 of 18 starts. He stands second in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 153 points.
* Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has scored championship points in eight of his past nine FedEx Championship Series starts dating to an eighth-place finish at Michigan and including a victory at Mid-Ohio. Castroneves currently stands third in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 141 points and is one of three drivers who remain in mathematical contention for the 2000 title, along with Marlboro Team Penske teammate Gil de Ferran and Kenny Brack of Team Rahal.
* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) of Team Rahal owns points-paying results in four consecutive FedEx Championship Series events, with at victory at Laguna Seca and a podium finish of second at Germany. The run also includes finishes of ninth at Houston and 11th at England. Papis is one of four multiple race winners during the current FedEx Championship Series season, joining Team Rahal teammate Kenny Brack (4), Helio Castroneves (3) and Gil de Ferran (2). Thanks to his recent run, Papis has moved from 16th to eighth in the FedEx Championship Series, with 86 points.
* Memo Gidley (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has put together back-to-back podium finishes of third at Houston and second at Laguna Seca, the latter performance equaling a career-best result established at Cleveland earlier this season. Gidley came from deep on the grid to claim both of his recent podium results, having started 23rd in each event. His back-to-back podium results have moved Gidley from 19th to 15th in the FedEx Championship Series with 62 points.
* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing has scored championship points in eight consecutive starts, tying championship leader Gil de Ferran for the longest active streak in the FedEx Championship Series. The streak dates to an eighth-place finish at Chicago. Kanaan stands 10th in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 83 points.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) owns three top-five finishes in his past seven starts at Surfers Paradise, topped by a victory in 1994. He also finished third in 1997 and fifth in '99. Andretti is CART's career laps-led leader in Australia with 173, including all 55 en route to his 1994 triumph. He also owns two pole positions (1991, '95) and two outside poles (1992, '94) in nine career appearances at the venue.
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) has finished on the podium in two of his three career starts at Australia, including a victory in 1999. He also finished second in 1998 and earned championship points with a ninth-place finish in 1997. Franchitti earned back-to-back pole positions in 1998 and '99 and owns the track qualifying record of 109.724 miles per hour (1 minute, 31.703 seconds), established in 1999.
* Defending Honda Indy 300 champion Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) of Fernandez Racing has finished sixth or better in each of his past three starts on the Gold Coast, topped by last year's victory. He also owns a podium finish of third in 1999 and a sixth-place performance in 1998.
* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group has scored championship points in five of seven career starts in Australia, topped by finishes of fourth in 1995 and '96. He also finished sixth in 1994, 12th in '98 and 10th last year.
* Tony Kanaan has finished eighth or better in all three of his career starts at Australia, topped by a sixth-place result in 1999. He also finished seventh in 1998 and eighth last year.
* Honda, which claimed the 2001 Manufacturer's Championship at Laguna Seca, has won two of the past three FedEx Championship Series events contested in Australia, with victories from Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Dario Franchitti in 1999. Honda has also won four of the past five Australian poles, with Jimmy Vasser (1996), Zanardi (1997) and Franchitti (1998, '99) doing the honors. Honda's 2001 Manufacturer's Championship is its fourth in the past six seasons, the others having come in 1996, '98 and '99. * * Honda has won five of the six FedEx Championship Series races contested on temporary street circuits this season. The victories have come from Helio Castroneves at Long Beach and Detroit, Dario Franchitti at Cleveland, Michael Andretti at Toronto and Gil de Ferran at Houston.
* Max Papis' victory at Laguna Seca was the eighth of the season for Lola, which has won four of the five FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses this season. Those victories came from Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) at Mexico, Papis at Portland and Laguna Seca, and rookie Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) at Road America.
* Patrick Racing driver Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) and Herdez Bettenhausen driver Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez Ford Lola) are both scheduled to make their 100th CART starts in this weekend's Honda Indy 300, although they have taken vastly dissimilar routes to reach that milestone. Moreno began his CART career in 1985 at the Meadowlands, and competed in the full 1986 season before an extended absence which lasted until the start of the 1996 campaign. He competed on a partial schedule, mostly as a fill-in for injured drivers, during the 1997, '98 and '99 seasons before being hired full-time by Patrick Racing at the start of the 2000 campaign. Moreno finished a career-best third in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series championship, earning his first career victory at Cleveland, and has added another victory this season at Vancouver. Jourdain Jr. became the youngest driver ever to start a FedEx Championship Series event at Long Beach in 1996, when he took the green flag at age 19 years, 6 months and 12 days. He has competed in every FedEx Championship Series event since the start of the 1997 season and established a career-best result at Michigan Speedway in July, finishing third in the first podium performance of his career.
* Arciero-Blair Racing announced last week that Champ Car veteran Alex Barron will pilot the team's Driving 101/Arciero-Blair Ford Lola for the final two events of the FedEx Championship Series season, the Honda Indy 300 and the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Nov. 2-4 at California Speedway. Barron replaces Max Wilson, who made 14 starts for the team during his rookie season. The 31-year-old Barron, a resident of Menifee, Calif. will be making his first Champ Car start since the 2000 season finale at California Speedway, where he established a career-best finish with an eighth-place performance. He is a veteran of 32 Champ Car starts in three seasons, with All American Racers, Marlboro Team Penske and Dale Coyne Racing, and won the 1997 Toyota Atlantic championship prior to stepping into the Champ Car ranks. "Alex has proven himself at both of our remaining venues and that is attractive to me," said team owner Larry Blair. "For a first-year team, this has been a season of change with ownership, engines, engineers and driver change. While Max has had wonderful runs on permanent road courses, the experience and valuable input that Alex will bring is needed for the team at this time." Said Barron: "I am looking forward to the opportunities that Arciero-Blair is giving me at Australia and Fontana. Last year I was in contention to win both events, then we had a mechanical problem. It  has been a long year not racing a Champ Car. But I have kept myself in shape by working out, testing the 2002 Atlantic chassis and testing for Firestone at the new tracks in Germany and England. It will be good to be back in CART competition and to race for this new team."
ON THE AIR
* The Honda Indy 300 will air via tape delay at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN. The race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .