LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 16, 2000) - Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green took the FedEx Championship Series points lead, moved into sole possession of eighth place on the CART career victory list and claimed a piece of FedEx Championship Series history...
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 16, 2000) - Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green took the FedEx Championship Series points lead, moved into sole possession of eighth place on the CART career victory list and claimed a piece of FedEx Championship Series history when he drove to victory in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Tracy's victory was the 16th of his 10-year career, breaking a tie for ninth in CART annals with two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Alex Zanardi. His triumph from the 17th starting position was the second-furthest back a driver has claimed victory on a road or street circuit in CART history, exceeded only by Al Unser Jr.'s drive from 19th to victory at Miami in 1986.
Tracy, who finished third in the season opener at Homestead, owns an eight-point lead (34-26) over Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) into the next round of the championship, the April 30 Rio 200 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vasser finished third, the best finish in FedEx Championship Series history for a Toyota-powered driver, exceeding fourth-place efforts by himself in the season opener at Homestead and Cristiano da Matta at Nazareth last year.
The performances were sandwiched around a runner-up performance by Helio Castro-Neves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske, which matched a FedEx Championship Series career best established at Milwaukee in 1998 and matched at Gateway last year. Castro-Neves turned in an outstanding drive to overcome a pit-lane speeding violation penalty assessed on the 44th of 82 laps.
Tracy led the final 21 laps en route to a 3.191-second margin of victory ahead of Castro-Neves. He averaged 82.626 miles per hour en route to his first win since last year at Houston and only his second on a road or street circuit since the second round of the 1995 season at Australia.
From the green flag, Tracy moved steadily forward and took advantage of an early pit stop during a caution period caused by single-car contact on Lap 10 involving Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard). Tracy stood 12th on Lap 31, then, when the leaders came in for their first round of as-scheduled pit stops, picked up 10 places in the next two laps to stand sixth by Lap 33.
Tracy was fifth on Lap 34, then moved as high as second on Laps 35-39 before pitting for the second time on Lap 40 and dropping to fifth. He was eighth under caution a lap later, then began a drive to the front when the green flag fell, taking seventh on Lap 43, sixth on Lap 46, fourth on Lap 48 and third under caution on Lap 54.
A lap later, rookie Takuya Kurosawa (MTCI Ford Reynard) of Dale Coyne Racing assumed the first lead of his FedEx Championship Series career under caution. He held onto the lead through Lap 61, but on the ensuing trip around the track, Tracy got around Kurosawa heading into the first turn. Castro-Neves got around Kurosawa on the same lap and Tracy and Castro-Neves ran one-two for the balance of the event.
Rookie Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) finished fourth, 3.784 seconds behind Tracy, to collect his second points-paying result in as many career starts. Bryan Herta (Avex Honda Reynard) finished fifth in his FedEx Championship Series season debut. He is substituting at Walker Racing for injured rookie Shinji Nakano, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a March 31 testing accident at Milwaukee.
Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, whose victory in the season opener gave him the points lead heading into the event, finished 20th due to contact and slipped to third in the championship.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
PAUL TRACY, KOOL Honda Reynard: "Really, with this new car we haven't been able to get a good handle on the setup. Both (teammate) Dario (Franchitti) and I really struggled all weekend but we never gave up. We've really got to give credit to (engineer) Steve Challis. He worked with Greg (Moore) last year. We tried all different setups and we couldn't get one right so we went into Greg's notebook and put one of his setups on the car and it worked. I've got to give a lot of credit to Steve. I'm happy to be leading the championship - that's our goal this year. Some guys might give up if things are tough but this team doesn't do that. Early on, I had a big train of cars in front of me and there's not much you're going to do. That's when I rely on my guys. I know I've got a great crew and I'm not going to lose positions. It's certainly the furthest back I've ever come from to win a race. I'm just so proud of my crew. When you get the job done and win the race, it's a whole team thing, not just one individual."
HELIO CASTRO-NEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "I tell you, I couldn't control my emotions [Castro-Neves shed tears in the cockpit after finishing second]. We need to remember someone very special, Greg Moore. I wish we could share this with him today. We had a problem with the pit lane speed limiter and we had to come all the way back. It was a great result with Marlboro Team Penske. Of course, I have to thank Honda, it was my first great result with them and also Firestone. It was a great result and I'm really happy."
JIMMY VASSER, Target Toyota Lola: "The Toyota engine was making phenomenal mileage. I was running behind Gil (de Ferran) and we thought he was running rich which he did at Homestead. But (Roberto) Moreno did a great job. He was the real deal. We were content and I was second or third and then got shifted back a bit with pit strategy. I'm happy with the performance of my car, the Lola, the Toyota, and the team. I think you're going to see a lot more Jimmy Vasser this year."
* The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach drew the usual list of celebrity luminaries, headlined by Grand Marshal John Elway, the two-time, Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Others in attendance included producer/director George Lucas; actors Sylvester Stallone, Nicolas Cage, Tim Allen, Josh Brolin and David Arquette; actresses Ashley Judd, Minnie Driver, Melissa Joan Hart and Courtney Cox Arquette; singer Naomi Judd; former NBA player Dennis Rodman and baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Stallone is working on a feature film titled "Champs," which uses the FedEx Championship Series as its centerpiece. .
* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green became the FedEx Championship Series' new points leader, marking the first time he has led since 1997. Tracy, with 34 points, holds an eight-point advantage over Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) to give him his first lead since Round 11 at Toronto in '97. The points leader entering the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who was held scoreless Sunday and dropped to third with 20 points.
* Alex Tagliani of Player's Forsythe Racing became the first rookie since 1988 to score points in the first two races of the season. Tagliani finished ninth at Homestead and fourth Sunday to become the first rookie since Scott Atchison to score in the first two events. Atchison finished 12th in the '88 season opener at Phoenix and ninth at Long Beach. Nigel Mansell scored in his first four starts in his rookie season of 1993, but the streak was interrupted when he missed the second race of the season (Phoenix) due to injury.
* Rookie Takuya Kurosawa (MTCI Ford Lola) of Dale Coyne Racing led seven laps Sunday to become the first Japanese driver to lead a lap in the 22-year history of CART. Kurosawa, who finished 13th, led laps 55 through 61 of the 82-lap event before being overtaken by eventual winner Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard). Kurosawa, a 37-year-old from Gotenba Shizuoka, arrived in the FedEx Championship Series from the All-Japan GT Championship, where he finished runner-up in the title race last year.
* The top-six finishers in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach are all products of the CART ladder system, which consists of the Toyota Atlantic Championship and Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green, Helio Castro-Neves of Marlboro Team Penske, Bryan Herta of Walker Racing, and rookie Oriol Servia of PPI Motorsports competed in Dayton Indy Lights and Jimmy Vasser of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and Alex Tagliani of Player's Forsythe Racing raced in Toyota Atlantics. Of that group, three were series champions in Indy Lights. Tracy won the title in 1990, Herta in '93 and Servia in '99.
* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) won the Budweiser Hard Charger Award for the second consecutive event after storming from the 17th starting position to a victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He receives $1,000 from Budweiser, The Official Beer of CART. The Budweiser Hard Charger Award is presented to the driver who makes the greatest improvement in track position from start to finish.
* Honda notched its 15th consecutive victory on temporary street courses and fifth in a row at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The temporary street course run began in 1998 when Alex Zanardi won at Long Beach. * Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske has led the most laps in each of the first two events of the FedEx Championship Series season. De Ferran led 41 laps at Homestead and 30 Sunday, giving him 71 laps led of the 232 laps contested.
* Memo Gidley (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), substituting for the injured Patrick Carpentier in the No. 32 entry for Player's Forsythe Racing, led the first lap of his CART career when he led Lap 34 of the 82-lap event. Misfortune, however, struck soon after as Gidley retired after completing 37 laps for mechanical problems and finishing 21st.
* Former Denver Broncos' quarterback John Elway, grand marshal of the 26th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, brought his legendary right arm out of retirement for a few moments Sunday when he launched autographed footballs into the grandstands just prior to the start of the FedEx Championship Series Champ Car race. Elway, who won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII with the Broncos, signed the five balls on the starting grid and then fired them into the huge crowd across from the pit lane on the streets-turned-race-course in this Southern California city. "I'm not sure how this is gonna go," said Elway as he stretched his right shoulder and arm with a bit of concern in his voice. Of course, as was usually the case with his NFL passes, they hit the mark when he let them go. And five lucky fans walked away with an unexpected souvenir.
"Man, I know I will feel this in the morning. All the blood on the right side of my body feels like it's in my hand," he said to wife, Janet, and his two sons. "But this has been a fantastic weekend and I am honored I could be a part of it. We've had a great time." Elway, who finished ninth in the Toyota Celebrity race Saturday, then stepped to the microphone and gave the command of "Gentlemen Start Your Engines," to the 25, 900-horsepower Champ Cars running in the second event in the 20-race CART series
The FedEx Championship Series continues with the Rio 200, first of five international events during the 2000 season, on Sunday, April 30, from the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.