SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 15, 2000) - On a day when five of the top six contenders for the FedEx Championship Series title went scoreless, Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing collected 21 precious points to move within reach of the first...
SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 15, 2000) - On a day when five of the top six contenders for the FedEx Championship Series title went scoreless, Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing collected 21 precious points to move within reach of the first championship of his eight-year career Sunday by winning the Honda Indy 300 before 107,785 enthusiastic fans on Australia's Gold Coast.
Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), who started 17th, scored his second victory of the season and the seventh of his career and vaulted from fifth to second place in the championship standings in the process. With 148 points, he trails championship leader Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske by five, heading into the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Oct. 29 at California Speedway.
De Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) maintained his championship lead with 153 points, despite exiting as a result of a multicar accident that eliminated the top three qualifiers on the first turn of the first lap.
Fernandez and de Ferran are only two of five drivers who remain in contention for the title, which carries a $1 million bonus, after 19 of 20 events in the most closely contested championship battle in FedEx Championship Series history. The other championship hopefuls include Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green and Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal with 134 points and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing with 131.
A maximum of 22 points are available at Fontana, including 20 for the victory - which will pay $1million - and one each for winning the pole position and leading the most race laps.
Brack, the 2000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year, enhanced his championship hopes with by finishing second Sunday, matching the best result of his rookie season, established at Cleveland. Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing finished third, his second consecutive podium performance following a victory at Houston two weeks ago.
Fernandez has positioned himself for a run at his first championship with a consistent performance that has seen him score championship points in 16 of his past 17 starts, dating to a victory at Rio de Janeiro. He led a race-high 17 laps, taking the lead for good when then-leader Vasser made his final pit stop on Lap 43.
Fernandez went on to a 0.324-second win over Brack while averaging 81.607 miles per hour. The race was completed as a two-hour, timed event per CART rules, as a result of multiple caution periods, which shortened the event to 59 laps from its originally scheduled 65-lap distance.
The first of those caution periods occurred moments after the green flag, when contact heading into the first turn quickly eliminated de Ferran, polesitter Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) and third-place qualifier and defending race champion Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green.
That handed the lead to Tracy, who held it through Lap 11, then relinquished it during an extended stay in the Turn 3 runoff area on Lap 12. Relegated to 21st place when he finally resumed, Tracy charged through the field and actually took the lead while on pit road on Lap 37. He continued to run among the top five drivers until side-by-side contact with rookie Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports ended Tracy's day after completing 47 laps.
After Tracy's excursion into the Turn 3 runoff, Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing took the lead from Laps 12-23. He, too, remained among the frontrunners until his day ended due to a mechanical failure on Lap 39. His early exit not only took Andretti out of contention for the race victory, but for the championship as well, leaving him in seventh place with 127 points and 26 behind de Ferran.
Vasser led Laps 24 and 25, then Brack assumed the point for 10 laps (26-35), his first stay in front since Round 12 at Chicago. Rookie Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing led one lap, then was victimized by a mechanical failure, handing the lead to Vasser from Laps 37-42. When Vasser made his final pit stop, Fernandez took over and completed his run from 17th-place to victory 17 laps later.
Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports finished fourth, his eighth top-four result of the season. Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing finished fifth, his second top-five performance in three starts, including a runner-up performance at Gateway, which matched a career best.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ , Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard: "I tell you, you have to finish to be able to win [the championship]. Patrick Racing has struggled the second half of the season, both [teammate] Roberto [Moreno] and myself, to be able to qualify up front. We know we can win races if we can qualify at the front, but we continue to fight even when we don't, and we get great fuel consumption. I didn't get a good start, but it helped me with the mess in Turn 1. I was able to gain four positions there. The biggest moment I had was trying to pass Max [Papis]. We almost crashed, but we managed to stay up there and stay focused. Under the last situation with the yellow, almost everybody pitted but myself, Alex [Barron] and Roberto didn't pit. At the end, those yellows really helped us, as well as the two-hour limit. It's just fantastic that this series offers the opportunity to win from [starting] that far back [17th]. So many things can go wrong, but we've been consistent, and that's why we've been able to stay in the championship. I'm very, very excited to win here in Australia. This is one of the best races we come to. It's not a race, it's a party. The people here treat us really well all week. It's just a great place to win, and I'm looking forward to coming back for many, many years to come."
KENNY BRACK , Shell Ford Reynard: "Every time I look up and I see the wing on that damned Quaker State car, I don't know what to do. We had trouble in qualifying, but we made some good changes before the race. It was a tough race. The start was kind of a mess, but I had a trouble-free race. I tried everything I could, but if you're running within half a second or a second of the car in front of you, you're not going to get past. Unfortunately, Adrian didn't make any mistakes. Unfortunately for me, fortunately for him."
JIMMY VASSER , Target Toyota Lola: "There was a lot of crazy driving out there. I don't know what happened at the start, but it was a huge mess. I've got to apologize to Dario, I hit him in the back. From my standpoint, it was a controlled race to the halfway point. I had a little too much understeer, but we fixed it on the first stop and the car was really good. When the pits were closed, it ruined my race. I had to take on 30 gallons of fuel, and everybody else took ten. That dropped me down to tenth [place]. From that point on, it was absolute chaos. Every once in a while, we have races like this. I lost my right front wing in an incident with Christian [Fittipaldi] and the car was understeering badly. I was catching Kenny and Adrian toward the end, but with two laps to go, the right front tire gave up, so I had to back off. I didn't want to make any mistakes. Congratulations to Adrian and Patrick Racing for calling a great race. Their race strategy and race craft was perfect, so congratulations."
The five drivers remaining in the title hunt all are chasing their first FedEx Championship Series crown of their careers. Six-year veteran driver Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, the championship leader, finished a career-best second in 1997 to champion Alex Zanardi for Walker Racing. Eight-year vet Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, second in the title race, finished a career-best fourth in 1998 for Patrick. Ten-year veteran Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, third in the championship, finished a career-best third for Marlboro Team Penske in 1993 and '94, and last season for Team KOOL Green. Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard), fourth in the championship, is in the midst of an outstanding rookie season for Team Rahal. Seven-year veteran Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, fifth in the championship, will establish a career-best performance in the championship with his current best being 14th set last year as a substitute driver for PacWest Racing and Newman/Haas Racing.
Fernandez has become more than a world traveler in the FedEx Championship Series - he has become worldwide winner on the circuit. Fernandez, with his victory Sunday in Australia, has now won in every country that the FedEx Championship currently competes in. He has won in the United States ('98 Mid-Ohio, '99 Fontana), Canada ('96 Toronto), Brazil (Rio 2000) and Japan (Motegi, '98, '99).
Fernandez's charge from 17th to the win matched the second furthest starting position en route to a victory on a road/street course in CART history. He tied Paul Tracy, who started 17th and won Long Beach earlier this season. The CART record is held by Al Unser Jr., who rode to victory from the 19th starting position at Miami in 1986. The performance also earned Fernandez the Budweiser Hard Charger Award, which is awarded to the driver who makes up the most positions from his starting slot to finishing position.
Alex Barron's 14th-place finish in the SPORTS TODAY Ford Lola gave little indication of the outstanding run he enjoyed in the Honda Indy 300. With 54 of the 59 laps completed, Barron had been running solidly in second place before falling out due to mechanical problems. Had he held onto the runner-up finish, it would have been a career-best finish in the history of Dale Coyne Racing and Payton Coyne Racing, which began in 1984. The current best for Coyne is a third-place showing by Roberto Moreno in The Inaugural U.S. 500 in 1996.
Australian native Jason Bright (DIRECTV/Queensland Toyota Reynard) made his FedEx Championship Series debut in front of the home crowd and gave them some special moments before settling for an 18th-place finish. Bright was running as high as sixth before retiring due to contact after completing 44 of the 59 laps.
Sunday's race-day attendance of 107,785 pushed the four-day total for the Hondy Indy 300 to 269,890. The number was up nearly 20,000 from last year despite inclement weather throughout the weekend. Honda Indy 300 Race
Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez Mercedes Lola) established a season best and matched a career-best finish with his seventh-place performance in the Honda Indy 300. His previous-best for the season was eighth at Detroit. His career best of seventh was established at Road America last season.
With the win by Fernandez, Ford took a commanding lead with one race remaining for the Manufacturer's Championship. Ford leads defending champion Honda, 314-298, with 22 points remaining in the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota set for Oct. 29 at California Speedway. Toyota is third with 272 points.
The 2000 FedEx Championship Series prepares to climax its season with the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Oct. 29 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.