CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca preview

DETROIT (October 9, 2001) - He's Brazilian by heritage and resides in Fort Lauderdale, but Gil de Ferran will likely always have a soft spot in his heart for Chicago. It was in Chicago last year that de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) ramped up...

DETROIT (October 9, 2001) - He's Brazilian by heritage and resides in Fort Lauderdale, but Gil de Ferran will likely always have a soft spot in his heart for Chicago.

It was in Chicago last year that de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) ramped up his march to the FedEx Championship Series championship. He finished third in that event and went on to record top-five finishes in five of the remaining eight races to bring Marlboro Team Penske its record-eighth CART title.

Now, as the FedEx Championship Series heads into this weekend's Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca (4 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ESPN), de Ferran can once again look to Chicago as the turning point of a season in which he is attempting to become only the fourth driver ever to win back-to-back CART crowns.

During the current seven-race run that began with the Target Grand Prix of Chicago in late July, de Ferran has posted two victories (England, Houston), two runner-up results (Mid-Ohio, Vancouver), and his second consecutive third-place finish at Chicago. After becoming only the second driver of the season to earn back-to-back victories last Sunday at Houston, he has taken the FedEx Championship Series lead heading into the season's final three events.

With 163 points, de Ferran holds a 10-point advantage over second-place Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal, who stands second with 153. Brack, who leads the series with four victories (Japan, Milwaukee, Chicago, Germany), is on a strong run with top-eight results in his past four starts, including a win at Germany and a runner-up effort to de Ferran at England.

The championship chase currently involves four primary candidates, including defending Shell 300 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, who stands third with 133 points. Castroneves, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, is on a run that has seen him score championship points in six of his past seven starts, including a victory at Mid-Ohio.

Rounding out the list of primary championship contenders is Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola, who stands fourth with 125 points. Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader (41) has finished fifth or better in four of his past five starts, with podium results of second at Road America and third at Vancouver.

Of the four championship contenders, three are previous winners at Laguna Seca. In addition to defending event champion Castroneves, Andretti owns two victories at Laguna Seca (1991, '92), while de Ferran claimed his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at the venue as a rookie in 1995.

Other former Laguna Seca winners in this weekend's field include Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, Bryan Herta (Forsythe-Indeck Ford Reynard) of Forsythe Championship Racing and Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing. Tracy and Herta are both two-time winners, in 1993-94 and 1998-99, respectively, while Vasser drove to victory at Laguna in 1997.

All FedEx Championship Series entries ride on Firestone Tires, the Official Tire of CART.

The Shell 300 is Round 19 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes with the season-ending The 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.

Following the Shell 300, the FedEx Championship Series makes its final international trip of the season, heading to Australia's Gold Coast for the Honda Indy 300, Oct. 26-28 at Surfers Paradise.

* Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has kicked the defense of his title into high gear, with back-to-back victories at England and Houston which have moved him into the FedEx Championship Series lead with 163 points, 10 ahead of second place Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal (153). De Ferran and Brack are the only two drivers to have won consecutive FedEx Championship Series events this season, Brack having accomplished his double at Japan and Milwaukee. De Ferran has finished eighth or better in each of his past seven starts, with six top-five results. Included are podium finishes of third at Chicago and second at Mid-Ohio and Vancouver, in addition to his two victories. He also owns four pole positions and has started fourth or better in his past six events, with poles at Mid-Ohio, Germany and Houston.

* Kenny Brack has finished eighth or better in four consecutive 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. He has scored championship points in 12 of 17 starts and leads the series with 621 laps led, ninth on the CART single-season list. Brack also leads the FedEx Championship Series with six pole positions. He stands second in the championship with 153 points, 10 behind leader Gil de Ferran (163).

* Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has scored championship points in seven of his past eight FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to an eighth-place finish at Michigan and including a victory at Mid-Ohio. Castroneves, defending champion of the Shell 300 on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, finished fifth in his most recent start at Houston, which moved him past Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola and into third place in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 133 points.

* Michael Andretti has finished fifth or better in four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a runner-up effort at Road America and including finishes of third at Vancouver, fourth at Germany and fifth at England. He owns nine top-six finishes in 17 starts this season and stands fourth in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 125 points.

* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing owns points-paying finishes in seven consecutive events, 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 and includes five top-eight results, topped by fourth at Vancouver. Kanaan stands ninth in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 78 points.

* Rookie Tora Takagi (Pioneer/DENSO Special Toyota Reynard) of Walker Racing has finished seventh or better in three of his past four FedEx Championship Series starts, topped by a career-best result of fourth at Houston last weekend, the best finish ever for a Japanese driver in CART competition. Takagi's run also includes finishes of seventh at Vancouver and sixth at Germany. He has moved from 26th to 20th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 29 points.

* Oriol Servia (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola) of Sigma Autosport has earned championship points in five of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts. Included are back-to-back, season-best finishes of fifth at Vancouver and Germany, as well as finishes of ninth at Mid-Ohio and 10th at Road America and England. Servia stands 19th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 40 points.

* Bryan Herta (Forsythe-Indeck Ford Reynard) of Forsythe Championship Racing is a two-time winner from the pole on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, in 1998 and '99. He has finished among the top-six drivers in his last five appearances at the venue, including a runner-up effort in 1996, sixth in '97 and fourth last year. Herta is also a three-time pole winner at the venue (1997, '98 and '99) and has qualified on the front row in five of six career appearances at the venue, including outside poles in 1995 and '96. Of his 398 career laps led in the FedEx Championship Series, 226 have come at Laguna Seca.

* Gil de Ferran owns four top-six finishes in six career starts at Laguna Seca, including his first career FedEx Championship Series triumph in 1995. He also finished second to Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves last year, third in 1997 and sixth in 1999.

* Michael Andretti has collected six podium finishes in 17 career starts on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, topped by back-to-back victories in 1991 and '92, in which he led all 84 laps from the pole.. He also finished second in 1988 and third in 1984, '86 and '90.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green won back-to-back events at Laguna Seca (1993, '94) and owns top five finishes of second in 1995 and fourth in 1999. He also owns a pole position in 1994, when he led all 84 laps en route to one of his two victories.

* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing owns six points-paying finishes in nine career appearances at Laguna Seca, including a victory in 1997. He finished among the top five drivers from 1995-98, including finishes of second in 1995, fourth in '96 and fifth in '98. Vasser also earned championship points by finishing eighth last year.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) has scored championship points in seven of eight career starts at Laguna Seca, topped by a fifth-place finish in 1999. He also finished seventh in 1994 and '98, 10th in '95, 11th in '96 and 12th in '93 and last year.

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group has finished in the points in five of his last six starts at Laguna Seca, including finishes of third in 1995, fifth in '96, seventh last year, ninth in '97 and 11th in '99.

* Toyota leads the 2001 FedEx Championship Series with two victories on permanent road courses, getting the first from Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) in the season opener at Monterrey, Mexico and the second from rookie Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) at Road America. Each of the other two engine manufacturers in the FedEx Championship Series owns a victory on a permanent road course as well. Ford's came from Team Rahal's Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) at Portland and Honda's from Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Mid-Ohio. Honda owns a 300-250 lead over Toyota in this year's CART Manufacturer's Championship, while Ford stands third with 246.

* Lola has won three of the four FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses this season, getting victories from Cristiano da Matta at Monterrey, Mexico, Max Papis at Portland and Bruno Junqueira at Road America.

* For the second consecutive year, the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway will pay tribute to The Legends, a group of drivers, active and retired, who have played a major role in shaping the heritage of Champ Car racing. Among the Legends expected to participate in a variety of fan-focused activities throughout the weekend are Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Jim McElreath, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti, Wally Dallenbach and Tom Sneva. Included will be an autograph session, a Fan Forum and pace laps in vintage cars around the two-mile superspeedway. Further information on The Legends program is available from Jordan Miller, at (818) 344-6195, extension 110.

* The FedEx Championship Series' cargo movement to the 2000 Honda Indy at Surfers Paradise, Australia will be prominently featured in The Secret World of Air Freight, a documentary airing on Friday, Oct. 19, at 9 p.m. ET on The Discovery Channel. The program, produced by Resolution Productions for The Discovery Channel, will also feature a behind-the-scenes look at the FedEx Superhub in Memphis, Tn.

* The broadcast time for the Honda Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia, Round 20 of the FedEx Championship Series, has been changed. Originally slated to air live on ESPN at midnight ET on Sunday, Oct. 28, the race will now be broadcast via 13-hour tape delay on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. ET. The broadcast will continue to air on ESPN.

* Qualifying for the Shell 300 will air 2 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2, while ESPN's live race broadcast begins 4 p.m. ET. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, which will also carry Saturday's qualifying, at www.cart.com .

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Parnelli Jones , Danny Sullivan , Jim McElreath , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske