CHAMPCAR/CART: Long Road Trip Begins With Motegi

FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES BEGINS EXTENDED ROAD TRIP IN JAPAN WITH FIRESTONE FIREHAWK 500 DETROIT (April 5, 1999) - Adrian Fernandez proved the value of a change of scenery in the FedEx Championship Series last year. In his sixth year as...

FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES BEGINS EXTENDED ROAD TRIP IN JAPAN WITH FIRESTONE FIREHAWK 500 DETROIT (April 5, 1999) - Adrian Fernandez proved the value of a change of scenery in the FedEx Championship Series last year.

In his sixth year as a driver, Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) moved from the Tasman Motorsports Group to Patrick Racing and the result was the best season of his FedEx Championship Series career. He finished a career-best fourth in the championship, recording 11 top-six finishes, including a pair of victories.

One of those victories came in the first FedEx Championship Series event ever contested in Japan, where Fernandez took advantage of a "change of scenery" to score a 1.086-second win over veteran Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) at Twin Ring Motegi. The victory served as a springboard to his career-best season.

The series returns to Twin Ring Motegi for Round 2, the Firestone Firehawk 500 (Friday/early Saturday, midnight ET, live, ESPN), with a number of drivers looking to follow Fernandez' lead. At the moment, they are all chasing Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard), who swept the maximum 22 points by winning from the pole and leading the most laps at the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota in Homestead, Fla. on March 21.

That victory gave Moore the FedEx Championship Series points lead for the first time since his victory at Rio de Janeiro last year. His 22-point sweep marked the first in a season opener since 1990, when Rick Mears turned the trick at Phoenix.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) comes to Japan off a runner-up effort at Homestead, his fourth podium finish in the past six season openers. He put together a stirring drive at Motegi last year, charging from the 14th starting position into the lead after 70 laps. But a fuel miscalculation cost Andretti the lead on Lap 88, and ultimately, a chance at victory.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) rounded out the podium with a third-place finish at Homestead, the best oval-track finish of his three-year FedEx Championship Series career. It also marked his fifth podium performance in the last seven starts.

Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) earned the pole at Motegi last year, when the starting grid was based on practice times due to a rainout of qualifying. He then led 44 laps, second to Fernandez (102), en route to a seventh-place finish. Vasser, the 1996 FedEx Championship Series champion, finished fourth at Homestead, his third top-four finish in a season opener in the past four years.

Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) matched a career-best finish by taking fifth at Homestead in his debut as the successor to three-time FedEx Championship Series champion Bobby Rahal at Team Rahal. Meanwhile, Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) drove from the 25th starting spot at Homestead to an outstanding sixth-place finish. It marked the greatest improvement from start to finish in any of his 70 career FedEx Championship Series starts. Firestone Firehawk 500

De Ferran also made a successful debut at Twin Ring Motegi last year. His third-place finish was one of two podium performances he recorded during the season.

The Firestone Firehawk 500 will also mark the 1999 FedEx Championship Series debut of Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), who was excluded from the season opener by CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach as a result of his role in an incident with Andretti at Australia in October. Tracy led four laps en route to a strong fifth-place finish at Motegi last year.

Marlboro Team Penske announced that rookie Tarso Marques will fill in as the team's driver at Twin Ring Motegi, replacing veteran Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) who is recovering from a fractured ankle sustained at the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. A native Brazilian, the 23-year-old Marques is a veteran of Formula One, European Formula 3000 and South American Formula 3 competition. Unser Jr. is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks while he recuperates from his injury.

The Firestone Firehawk 500 begins an extended road trip for the teams and drivers of the FedEx Championship Series. The series continues with Round 3, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 16-18 on the streets of downtown Long Beach, Calif. Who's Hot FedEx Championship Series points leader Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) comes to Japan after scoring his fifth career victory. Four of those have come on ovals, at Milwaukee in 1997, Rio de Janeiro and Michigan last year and Homestead this season. Moore owns podium finishes in seven of his last nine oval starts dating to last year's season opener at Homestead, where he finished second. Also included, in addition to his victories at Rio, Michigan and Homestead, are a runner-up effort at California Speedway and thirds at Nazareth and Gateway.

Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) claimed his best-ever oval-track finish by taking third at Homestead. Although that marked his first career podium finish on an oval, it was his fifth top-three performance in his last seven FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to last year. Included are victories at Road America, Vancouver and Houston and a runner-up effort at Australia.

Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who succeeded three-time FedEx Championship Series champion Bobby Rahal following Rahal's retirement at the end of last season, has made 40 career starts in the series, and has recorded his two best finishes in his past four starts. Papis finished fifth for Arciero-Wells Racing at Houston last year, his best result on a road or street course, then opened the season with a fifth for Team Rahal at Homestead, his best finish on an oval.

On The Right Track Though his first race at Twin Ring Motegi ended in a seventh-place finish, Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) has enjoyed some success on the 1.549-mile oval. Vasser recorded the fastest speed of CART's initial open test at Motegi in November, 1997, averaging 215.180 miles per hour. He also earned the pole for the last year's race by posting the top practice speed of 217.964 mph. The starting grid was based on practice times when qualifying was rained out..

Milestones Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) is one victory away from tying the FedEx Championship Series record for seasons with at least one win. Andretti, Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) and Emerson Fittipaldi own at least one victory in 11 different seasons on the FedEx Championship Series circuit. Rick Mears holds the series record, having won at least one event in 12 different seasons. Andretti is CART's all-time career victory leader, with 37.

Al Unser Jr.'s pursuit of Bobby Rahal's record for CART career starts has been temporarily halted while Unser Jr. recuperates from the fractured right ankle he sustained in the season opener at Homestead. Unser Jr. is holding at 257 CART career starts, seven behind Rahal (264), who retired at the conclusion of last season. Unser Jr.'s current streak of 64 consecutive starts, dating to 1995 at Milwaukee, will also come to an end at Motegi.

Manufacturing Success Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) victory at Homestead was the third for Mercedes in the past two FedEx Championship Series seasons. Moore has accounted for all three of those victories, including wins at Rio de Janeiro and Michigan last year.

Firestone has won 19 FedEx Championship Series events in a row, dating to Adrian Fernandez' (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) victory at Japan last year, and 30 of the past 31, dating to Greg Moore's (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) 1997 victory at Milwaukee. On The Air The Firestone Firehawk 500 will air live at midnight ET (early Saturday morning) on ESPN. Source: CART Online

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach , Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Tarso Marques , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Rick Mears , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske