MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2000) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske became the first Brazilian since 1993 to win as many as three FedEx Championship Series events in a season while teammate Gil de Ferran moved into the points lead...
MONTEREY, Calif. (September 10, 2000) - Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske became the first Brazilian since 1993 to win as many as three FedEx Championship Series events in a season while teammate Gil de Ferran moved into the points lead for the first time in his six-year career following a runner-up finish at Sunday's Shell 300, featured event of the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway.
Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), the polesitter, picked up his third victory of the campaign to lead a Marlboro Team Penske sweep of the top two positions as de Ferran finished 0.954 seconds behind him. Castroneves averaged 104.534 miles per hour for the 83-lap, 185.754-mile event and became the first Brazilian since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993 to win three events in a season. His other victories came at Detroit and Mid-Ohio.
While several of the championship contenders were struggling, de Ferran used his strong finish to vault into the FedEx Championship Series points lead as the tightest battle in series history continues into next weekend's Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.
On the strength of his fourth top-five finish in the past five events, de Ferran took a 132-126 lead over Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing into next week's 17th of 20 rounds in the championship. Andretti, who entered the weekend with a six-point lead over Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) in the title race, finished 14th and went scoreless for the second time in the past three events to see the last of his 22-point advantage following Round 12 evaporate.
The top six drivers, separated by 20 points heading into the weekend, are now separated by 17. Behind de Ferran and Andretti are Tracy of Team KOOL Green, third with 122 points; Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, fourth with 118; rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, fifth with 116, and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, sixth with 115.
Castroneves led 81 of 83 laps, losing the advantage only during his initial pit stop on Laps 28 and 29, which were led by Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. His performance keyed Marlboro Team Penske's second one-two finish in four events, which Castroneves also spearheaded with his victory at Mid-Ohio.
De Ferran's runner-up effort marked his fifth podium of the season and allowed him to become the first Marlboro Team Penske driver to lead the championship since Paul Tracy following Round 11 at Toronto in 1997. Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) finished third for his second successive podium performance, following a runner-up result to teammate Tracy at Vancouver last weekend. He moved into eighth place in the championship, his first appearance in the top-10 since Round 8 at Portland.
Rounding out the top five were Bryan Herta (Forsythe Championship Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Forsythe Championship Racing, who finished a season-best fourth. The outstanding run by the defending two-time race winner was his sixth start of the season, but first for Forsythe Championship Racing. Brack finished fifth for his fourth top-five performance in five starts.
HELIO CASTRONEVES , Marlboro Honda Reynard: "Right at the beginning of the race, I knew at this track that there are not many yellow flags, so I was conserving fuel from the start. I didn't want the same thing that happened at Portland to happen again, so I learned from that. I got a great first stop, but I had trouble with backmarkers, and I knew Juan [Montoya] was coming, but I think he did a short fuel like usual. Then, the crash happened, that gave me a clean track, so I was happy about that. After my second stop, they [the team] came on and said, 'We're going to try to make it to the end,' I thought, 'No way. This is absurd.' It was tough, but I knew the other guys were in the same boat, so I just had to be patient. It was hard because I wasn't going very fast, and I could see everything, the other cars, the TV, the people, everything. I was just going according to what the team was telling me. It was a particularly cool race, because you don't get as tired when you're not driving as hard. And once again, I was in the zone."
GIL de FERRAN , Marlboro Honda Reynard: "Obviously, it was a great day for us. I didn't quite have enough for Helio today. Most of the events for me happened in the pits today. On the first stop, [Michel] Jourdain came out right in front of me, so I had to stop, and then one of his crew guys came out so I had to wait. I think that's how Juan [Montoya] got by us. Then, I had the incident in the pits with Dario on the second stop. Apart from that, that was pretty much it. To finish 1-2, it speaks volumes for Marlboro Team Penske. The way I look at it, Laguna is done, we're in the points lead, and there are four races to go. We're going to try to win a race or two before the year is out. We've just got to put our heads down and see what happens. Things are going very well. I can't complain too much. I'm very, very pleased with the team. The whole team has a real can-do attitude. They work ungodly hours to make sure it happens for us. But there are still four races to go. We can't be patting ourselves on the back now, we've got to keep working."
DARIO FRANCHITTI , KOOL Honda Reynard: "The start was fairly uneventful for me. I thought I had a chance to get Gil [de Ferran], but I didn't want to take the risk. I crashed here last year with Greg [Moore] on the first lap, and I didn't want to do that again. I just wanted to stay in sight of the leaders and save fuel. It's so difficult to pass here. The first stop was good, but somehow Juan got out ahead of us. Then, on the second stop, my friend here [de Ferran] came out of the pits right in front of me. That was my one chance to pass, and I was pretty upset, but we've talked about it and we're okay now. That was it. We were just trying to save fuel. The guys at Honda just did a great job, the fuel mileage was great. It was just tough to pass. But it's a podium, and we'll go on to St. Louis and see what happens there."
With Sunday's victory, Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) joined Emerson Fittipaldi as the only Brazilian drivers ever to win as many as three races in a FedEx Championship Series season. Fittipaldi accomplished the feat three times, winning three races in 1993, four in '92 and five during his FedEx Championship Series championship-winning campaign of 1989.
Castroneves' victory was the 104th in the history of Penske Racing, the all-time Champ Car victory leader. Prior to Sunday, Castroneves and teammate Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) had accounted for two wins each this season, with Castroneves winning at Detroit and Mid-Ohio, and de Ferran at Nazareth and Portland.
Marlboro Team Penske closes the permanent-road-course portion of the FedEx Championship Series season with three pole positions and three race victories in four events. Castroneves won poles at Portland and Laguna Seca and races at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. De Ferran won the pole at Mid-Ohio and the race at Portland.
Castroneves became the third FedEx Championship Series driver to win from the pole this season, joining Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) at Milwaukee and Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) at Cleveland.
Castroneves' victory was Honda's fourth consecutive win, its series-leading eighth of the season and enabled it assume a one-point lead, 269-268, over Ford in the race for the CART Manufacturer's Championship. Honda has won three of the past four CART Manufacturer's titles, in 1996, '97 and '99.
De Ferran's runner-up performance was his fifth podium result of the season, following victories at Nazareth and Portland. He also finished second at Mid-Ohio and third at Chicago.
De Ferran now leads the FedEx Championship Series championship with 132 points, the latest in the season that a Marlboro Team Penske driver has led since Al Unser Jr. won the title in 1994.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) recorded his fourth podium finish of the season with his third-place effort, He finished second at Japan and Vancouver, and third at Michigan.
Bryan Herta (Forsythe Championship Racing Team Ford Reynard), making his sixth start of the season but first for the Forsythe Championship Racing Team, added to an outstanding resume at Laguna Seca by finishing fourth. He now owns top-six finishes in his past five appearances at the venue, including wins in 1998 and '99, a runner-up effort in '96 and sixth in '97. He is also a three-time polesitter (1997-99) and has qualified on the front row for each of his career appearances there.
Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) remained a factor in the FedEx Championship Series points race with a fifth-place finish, his eighth top-five result of the campaign. The run is comprised of finishes of second at Cleveland, third at Nazareth and Road America, fourth at Milwaukee and Chicago and fifth at Japan, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. Brack extended his lead in the race for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award to 116-46 over Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) finished 12th to extend a streak which has seen him score championship points in his past nine FedEx Championship Series starts, and 13 of his past 14, dating to a victory at Brazil. He has also scored in seven of his eight career appearances at Laguna Seca, topped by a fifth-place finish last year.
Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) won the Budweiser Hard Charger Award, given to the driver who shows the most improvement from start (18th) to finish (ninth) at each FedEx Championship Series event.
Sunday's victory by Helio Castroneves was a record-matching fifth straight win for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series. The current streak was started by Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) at Chicago and includes, in succession, Castroneves at Mid-Ohio, Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) at Road America and Vancouver and today's win. The streak matches the five victories that Tracy and Greg Moore combined to record in 1997 between the Nazareth and Detroit events. Indy Lights grads have now won 39 Champ Car races, dating to Tracy's first win for an alum at Long Beach in 1993. Tracy's 18 career wins leads all alumni in Champ Car competition. Indy Lights grads have now won eight of the year's first 16 FedEx Championship Series races. Tracy also scored earlier this year at Long Beach, Adrian Fernandez, won in Rio while Castroneves picked up the first of his three victories at Detroit in June.
The FedEx Championship Series continues with its third event in as many weeks, Round 17, the Motorola 300, next Sunday, Sept. 17, at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.