CHAMPCAR/CART: Mercedes Fontana race report

Four Mercedes Drivers Get Three-Pointed Star to the Front Before Retiring Christian Fittipaldi won a war of attrition that lasted two days and 500 miles to take home a $1 million paycheck and the winner's trophy in the Marlboro 500. Gil de ...

Four Mercedes Drivers Get Three-Pointed Star to the Front Before Retiring

Christian Fittipaldi won a war of attrition that lasted two days and 500 miles to take home a $1 million paycheck and the winner's trophy in the Marlboro 500. Gil de Ferran, who gave Team Penske its 100th victory earlier this year, claimed the 2000 FedEx Championship Series drivers' title with a third-place finish. With his 0.194-second victory over Roberto Moreno, Fittipaldi became the 11th driver to win an event in CART's 20-race season, setting a new record for individual race winners in one season.

Only six of the 26 starters finished the race on the 2.029-mile superspeedway oval, which began Sunday with de Ferran on the pole. The race was postponed by rain after 33 laps of the 250-lap total distance were in the books. The contest continued on Monday morning under sunny skies with green flag racing beginning on Lap 40. Similar to the exciting Michigan 500 earlier this year, the competition featured 57 official lead changes over the course of the contest.

The race was the final Champ Car event for the five-car Mercedes-Benz contingent: Mercedes-Benz leaves the series to concentrate on the Formula One World Championship in 2001. Mercedes-Benz's IC108F V8 engine powered four drivers to the front of the field before mechanical problems retired each entry in turn.

Tony Kanaan started the race in 12th position, and charged up to seventh place before the rain delay Sunday. By Lap 47, the Brazilian had his Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes-Benz running confidently in third place. Kanaan made a spectacular passing maneuver inside the cars of Helio Castroneves and defending champion Juan Montoya to take the lead on Lap 88. Moments later, Kanaan's engine let go, and he was forced to retire. He finished 18th.

"I was trying to do what I promised, and send Mercedes off with a win," said Kanaan. "I was really excited because I had a very good car. Mercedes has been really good to me and the team all year long, and they really deserved a good send-off."

PacWest Nextel Mercedes driver Mauricio Gugelmin assumed the lead on Lap 91 when the race leaders pitted. Gugelmin led eight laps, keeping intact his record of leading laps in each of four career appearances at the speedway. On Lap 104, his machine developed an engine problem and Gugelmin pitted, but the crew could not repair the problem. Gugelmin was credited with 17th place.

Gugelmin teammate Mark Blundell mounted a charge that took him from 21st on the starting grid to fifth place by Lap 115. With a lightning-quick pit stop from his Motorola Mercedes pit crew under yellow flag conditions, the Englishman gained one position for the restart on Lap 124. Four laps later, Blundell made an outstanding pass by going three-wide in Turns One and Two to take the lead from Kenny Brack and Montoya. Blundell's car then suffered a mechanical problem, and he retired in 15th place.

The greatest drama was yet to come, as Michel Jourdain Jr., and the Herdez/Bettenhausen Mercedes team contested the final race of a season which began with the tragic death of team owner Tony Bettenhausen, his wife, Shirley, and two business partners in a plane crash.

Following his seventh scheduled pit stop on Lap 185, Jourdain Jr. had charged from his 23rd-place starting position into the top six. With 55 laps to go, Jourdain Jr., was running in third place and battling for the lead with Montoya and Castroneves. Just past the start/finish line on Lap 200, the Mexican driver put the nose of his Mercedes in front. Unfortunately, an engine problem caused Jourdain Jr.'s car to lose power, and his day ended early. He was credited with 11th place and earned his sixth points-paying finish of the year.

    "I was in front on my last lap of the season," said an emotional Jourdain 
Jr.  "This team has been through a lot this year, and they are the best."

Luiz Garcia Jr. dropped out before the green flag Sunday with an oil leak and finished 26th.

Mercedes-Benz departs CART with 19 victories and 19 poles in six years of competition. Mercedes also claimed the Manufacturers' Championship in 1997 by winning nine of 17 races.

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Series IndyCar
Teams Team Penske