Herta Claims First FedEx Championship Series Win Laguna Seca (September 13, 1998) - Bryan Herta made good on an opportunity to rewrite history Sunday when he held off hard-charging Alex Zanardi to collect his first career FedEx Championship...
Herta Claims First FedEx Championship Series Win
Laguna Seca (September 13, 1998) - Bryan Herta made good on an opportunity to rewrite history Sunday when he held off hard-charging Alex Zanardi to collect his first career FedEx Championship Series victory in the Texaco/Havoline 300, feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway.
Herta (Shell Reynard Ford), who led 81 of 83 laps, finished 0.343 seconds ahead of Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) in a two-lap sprint to the checkered flag to earn his first career victory in his 71st career start. Rookie Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda), in his 16th series start, finished a career-best third.
Prior to Sunday's victory, Herta's best career finish was second, at Cleveland in '95, the Marlboro 500 in '96 and Laguna Seca in '96, and his 71-race victory drought was the longest among active FedEx Championship Series drivers. It was also the first victory in 98 events for Team Rahal, the previous triumph being team owner Bobby Rahal's 1992 win at Nazareth.
Herta's triumph erased the memory of his runner-up effort at Laguna Seca in '96 when Zanardi pulled off a spectacular pass of him in the corkscrew section of the 2.238-mile, permanent road course to steal an otherwise certain inaugural victory. Sunday, Herta's sprint to victory began following a caution period for contact involving Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda), Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) and Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) in Turn 2.
The five-lap caution period ended at the start of Lap 82, and though Zanardi made several attempts at a decisive pass during the final two trips around the circuit, Herta kept the door closed to earn his first visit to the Champ Car winner's circle.
Herta collected $125,000 for his victory while becoming the 10th driver in 16 CART events to win from the pole. He earned the $100,000 winner's share of the race purse and an additional $25,000 from the Marlboro Pole Award fund for his victory from the pole. Herta also became the second first-time winner in the past three events, joining Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) who won Aug. 16 at Road America.
Zanardi's runner-up performance was a FedEx Championship Series-record 12th podium effort in 16 starts this season, and his 18th in his last 23 starts overall. He eclipsed the mark of 11 held by Michael Andretti (1991), Bobby Rahal ('91) and Al Unser Jr. ('94).
Zanardi also tied the single-season series points record of 234 established by Andretti in 1991. He has three events remaining to gain sole possession of the modern-day mark, which was set in the scoring system which was instituted in 1981. Zanardi, who clinched his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series title last Sunday at Vancouver, became the first driver of the season to top the $1 million mark in earnings, pushing his yearly total to $1,009,250.
Kanaan's third-place showing topped a previous best of fourth set at Portland and Road America and was the first podium effort for a rookie since Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) finished second at Milwaukee.
Franchitti, who entered Sunday with a two-race winning streak, finished fourth for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his third in a row. Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) finished fifth for his third consecutive top-five showing at Laguna Seca, following last year's win and a fourth-place effort in 1996.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
BRYAN HERTA, Shell Reynard Ford: "Coming down toward the end, when first Jimmy [Vasser] was chasing me and then Alex [Zanardi], I had mixed emotions. I knew he [Zanardi] would be coming hard, and I told myself 'O.K. Herta, this is what you wanted.' But on the other hand, it was like, 'Be careful what you wish for.' I was fighting, scrapping to stay ahead and I don't know how many more laps I would have been able to hold him off. But fate shined on us today. The great thing is that at the end, it wasn't a fuel race. It means a lot to me to have raced Alex the way we did today. I regard him as the best driver in the series and to have won today makes me feel like it was a great accomplishment." [Regarding his duel with perennial nemesis Zanardi] "I'm sure that's the way it will be written, and it's a great story. But I've said many times over the last three years that I'm not that picky. If I could have won it [his first career victory] before this, I would have, believe me."
ALEX ZANARDI, Target Reynard Honda: "I was looking for something that didn't come [at the end]. I knew I had a great race car after this morning's warm-up. Unfortunately, to gain position on this race track is very difficult. Because of that, I tried a very conservative strategy. I followed Bryan [Herta] in as much of a shadow as I could. Then, we had those yellows [caution flags], which changed everybody's strategy. Nobody had to conserve fuel any more, and unfortunately, we had only two laps of green to try to catch him [Herta]. Bryan drove a hell of a race, and I have to be happy with second, which was a good as I could do today."
TONY KANAAN, LCI Reynard Honda: "It was a tough race. My car, I knew, wasn't the fastest in the race, but my car did a pretty good job. Steve Horne, my team owner, was working very closely with the Honda guys and when all those other guys stopped for the second time, I had two more laps on them. So I pushed really hard before I came in, and in those two laps, I moved from 10th to fifth. The only thing I did today was drive the car. The rest of the credit goes to my team and the Honda guys."
With Sunday's victory, Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) became the seventh different winner of a FedEx Championship Series event this season. He joins Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford), Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford), Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda). He also becomes the seventh first-time event winner in the past three seasons. The others: Vasser at Homestead in '96, Zanardi at Portland in '96, Fernandez at Toronto in '96, Moore at Milwaukee last year, Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) at Portland last year and Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) at Vancouver last year.
Herta became the 10th driver to win from the pole in 16 events at Laguna Seca, joining Teo Fabi (1983), Bobby Rahal (1985), Danny Sullivan (1988, '90), Rick Mears (1989), Michael Andretti (1991, '92), Paul Tracy (1994) and Zanardi (1996).
Herta's victory, coupled with Franchitti's win last week at Vancouver, marked the first time the FedEx Championship Series has had back-to-back events won from the pole since 1994 when Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) won at Portland and Cleveland, respectively.
Zanardi's record-setting run of 12 podium finishes this season includes a series-high six victories (Long Beach, St. Louis, Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Toronto); four runner-up showings (Nazareth, Rio de Janeiro, Road America, Laguna Seca); and two third-place finishes (Homestead, Michigan). Michael Andretti (1991), Rahal (1991) and Unser Jr. (1994) shared the previous record of 11 podium finishes in a season.
With the 16 points Zanardi earned for Sunday's runner-up finish, he boosted his PPG Cup points total to 234 and tied the single-season points mark set by Michael Andretti in his championship-winning season of 1991. Andretti amassed his point total in 17 events while Zanardi, who clinched the FedEx Championship Series crown at Vancouver, totaled his in 16. In the process, Zanardi also eclipsed the 16-event point total of 225, set by Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) in 1994. Zanardi needs just one point in the final three events to establish a new mark for the scoring system that was introduced in 1981.
Herta's victory was the 15th consecutive triumph for Firestone and its 26th in the last 27 FedEx Championship Series events.
Tony Kanaan's (LCI Reynard Honda) career-best third-place finish, coupled with a non-scoring, 22nd-place effort by Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) enabled Kanaan to open up a commanding 72-33 lead over Castro-Neves in the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award standings with three races remaining.
Michael Andretti finished 10th Sunday, in an impressive drive back from opening-lap contact with rookie J.J. Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) in Turn 2, which relegated Andretti to 27th place following the opening lap.
Three nations were represented on the podium - United States (Herta), Italy (Zanardi) and Brazil (Kanaan) - marking the 10th time in 16 events that it has occurred.
Zanardi has been on the podium in each of his three career starts at Laguna Seca. He was first in 1996, third last season and runner-up Sunday.
WHAT'S ON TAP:
The Texaco/Havoline 300, feature event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey, will receive an encore performance 1 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN and will re-air 4 a.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2.
Following two weekends off, the FedEx Championship Series returns with the inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston on Sunday, Oct. 4 from the streets of downtown Houston.
Source: CART Online