CHAMPCAR/CART: Gold Coast Preview

7 Races, 7 Winners Gold Coast, AUS (September 13, 1998) -- It is fairly well known that Australia's Gold Coast hosted the first FedEx Championship Series event ever contested off the North American continent, in 1991. But the venue also holds...

7 Races, 7 Winners

Gold Coast, AUS (September 13, 1998) -- It is fairly well known that Australia's Gold Coast hosted the first FedEx Championship Series event ever contested off the North American continent, in 1991.

But the venue also holds a lesser-known distinction which may come into play during Sunday's Honda Indy at Surfers Paradise (8:30 p.m. ET, tape delay, ESPN). Among the 13 active FedEx Championship Series venues which have hosted five or more events, Australia is the only one which has never had a two-time winner.

Seven races, seven different winners. Four of them are on the entry list for Sunday's 18th round of the FedEx Championship Series, scheduled for 65 laps of the 2.795-mile temporary street circuit at Surfers Paradise.

Defending champion Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) earned his second career FedEx Championship Series victory on the Gold Coast last season and is in the process of wrapping up one of the most successful of his nine years in the FedEx Championship Series. Pruett, currently seventh in the PPG Cup points race with 108, needs five in the final two races to establish a career best. Pruett scored 112 points while finishing seventh in the championship in 1995.

Australia has been an extremely agreeable venue for Pruett in the past. He has finished fifth or better in four of his five career appearances at Surfers Paradise, and owns a string of three consecutive podium performances.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) won at Australia in 1996 en route to the PPG Cup. A second victory at the venue would help him solidify his second-place standing in this year's championship. Vasser holds a 148-143 lead over third-place Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), but Franchitti is currently the hottest driver in the series, having won three of the past four events.

That makes Franchitti the only driver other than FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) to win more than two events this season. Eighth with 67 points through 13 rounds of the championship, Franchitti has more than doubled that total in the past four events, collecting 76 points to move within reach of Vasser in the quest for the $500,000 award from PPG which goes to the series runner-up.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) are the remaining drivers on this weekend's entry list who own previous victories at Surfers Paradise. Andretti won the 1994 event in a dramatic return to the FedEx Championship Series from a year in Formula One. It was also the CART debut for the Reynard chassis, which has gone on to win the past four CART Constructor's Championships.

Tracy's Gold Coast victory came in 1995 and stands as his most recent FedEx Championship Series victory on a road or street course.

Zanardi's harvest this season has included a second consecutive driving championship, the FedEx Championship Series record for points in a season (currently at 250), and a series-record 13 podium finishes. With a series-high six victories already this year, Zanardi comes to Australia in pursuit of a share of the CART record for wins in a season (8), held jointly by Andretti (1991) and Al Unser Jr. (1994). He needs victories in Australia and in the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Nov. 1 at California Speedway, to reach that mark.

Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), fourth in PPG Cup points with 134, is well within reach of the half-million dollar second-place prize. He owns five top-10 finishes in his past seven starts, but has never finished better than 11th in four career starts in Australia. Conversely, Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), fifth in the championship with 118 points, has enjoyed tremendous success in his two Australian starts, finishing third in 1996 and second last year.

Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) makes the penultimate start of his FedEx Championship Series driving career, at a venue where he has finished second twice (1991 and '95) and scored PPG Cup points in five of seven starts overall. Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) is the only driver other than Rahal to have started all seven previous events in Australia. He has scored four top-seven finishes in his past five starts as the Penske chassis becomes more acclimated to road-course competition.

Rookie Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) is only slightly less torrid than Zanardi or Franchitti. On the strength of back-to-back third place finishes at Laguna Seca and Houston, he clinched the $50,000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award, while becoming the first FedEx Championship Series rookie since Zanardi in 1996 to record back-to-back podium finishes. Kanaan holds an insurmountable 86-33 lead over Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) in the rookie points race with two events left.

Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota) enjoyed a spectacular weekend at Houston, following a career-best 14th-place qualifying effort with a fifth-place finish, the first top-five result of his career. It also marked the best finish for a Toyota-powered driver in the engine manufacturer's three years in the series. Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford), who will team with Papis at Team Rahal next year, followed his first FedEx Championship Series career victory at Laguna Seca with an eighth-place finish at Houston.

Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) has finished among the top six drivers in three of four career starts in Australia. Teammate Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) missed the 1996 event due to a broken foot, but finished eighth in his inaugural appearance last year.

Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) owns back-to-back top-10 finishes at Surfers Paradise, eighth in 1996 and sixth last year. Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Ford) finished fifth last year, one place ahead of Ribeiro and a career-best in three Australian appearances.

The return to Australia holds bittersweet memories for Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford). He finished fifth there in 1996, but sustained a broken leg during a crash on the second lap of last year's race and missed seven events during his recovery.

Robby Gordon (MCI/Panasonic Duskin Reynard Toyota) scored one of his nine career FedEx Championship Series podium positions at Australia in 1993. Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Swift Ford) has scored PPG Cup points in two of the past three events on temporary street circuits, finishing seventh at Toronto and ninth last week at Houston.

Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) is hopeful that a change of continent will bring a change of luck. He has exited the past four events due to contact. Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford) had a memorable FedEx Championship Series debut in Australia last year, leading two laps en route to a 16th place finish. They remain the only two laps he has led in 27 career starts.

Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) and Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) make their second career starts at Australia while rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes), Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) and Vincenzo Sospiri (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) make their first.

Following the Honda Indy, the 1998 FedEx Championship Series concludes with the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Nov. 1 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The season finale features a purse of $1 million to the winner.

Source: CART Online

-------------------------- Internet Access Australia-------------------------- --- IAA is MNI's ISP of choice at the '98 Gold Coast Indy --- ---- Melbourne -- Tel. 03 9686 6677 -- Fax 03 9686 6644 ----- ------------------ http://www.iaccess.com.au ---------------------

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Andre Ribeiro , Greg Moore , Michel Jourdain , JJ Lehto