CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Honda race report

Franchitti fifth in season finale. Both Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan were contenders today at the Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante before problems in pit lane ended their bids for victory before a nearly full house here in Mexico City at the final...

Franchitti fifth in season finale.

Both Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan were contenders today at the Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante before problems in pit lane ended their bids for victory before a nearly full house here in Mexico City at the final CART FedEx Championship Series race of 2002.

Making a bold move at the start, Kanaan moved his Mo Nunn Racing Honda from fourth all the way to first on the opening lap. The Brazilian went on to lead until the second round of pit stops on lap 40, when a fuel fire broke out in his pit area. Three crew members sustained minor injuries as a result of the blaze. The fire as soon extinguished, but a resulting penalty for the incident dropped Kanaan to an 8th place finish.

With Kanaan delayed, Franchitti took over the lead and appeared headed for victory. However the Scot locked his brakes and slid past his pit stall on his final stop. The Team KOOL Green crew quickly recovered, but with the lead pack closely bunched throughout the race, the mistake dropped Franchitti to a fifth place finish.

Substituting for the injured Adrian Fernandez, fellow Mexican driver Luis Diaz made his CART debut here in Mexico City, but was the day's first retirement with mechanical failure aboard his Team Fernandez Honda. Teammate Shinji Nakano had one of his best races of the year, battling with new series champion Cristiano da Matta for much of the race and setting the fastest race lap. But the team went to an alternative pit strategy at mid-race and the gamble failed, dropping the Japanese to 14th at the flag. Michael Andretti crashed out of the contest, without injury, on lap 50, while Paul Tracy was another to drop out with suspension failure on his Honda.

Honda Fast Facts

Today's race in Mexico City was the 164th CART race for Honda since the company joined the series in 1994. Honda will begin competing in the Indy Racing League starting in 2003.

Honda drivers won 65 races, and 65 poles. Honda won 4 CART Manufacturer's Championships (1996, '98, 2000-'01), and six consecutive driver's titles (1996-2001).

Dario Franchitti (#27 Team KOOL Green Honda) Started 3rd, finished 5th: "The car was very good today up until the last pit stop. Then I overshot my marks, not by much, but I guess it was enough that the fuel hose wouldn't reach until m guys moved the car back. We went in with a four second lead and left in fifth place and that was our race today. It's been a real pleasure racing with all these CART drivers and at circuits like this one, and I'll miss that next year. But I'm always looking forward to new challenges and that's what we'll have next year with Honda and Andretti Green Racing in the IRL."

Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Honda) Started 4th, finished 8th, despite a fire during his second pit stop: "Thank God all of my guys are okay. That was very scary. I honestly don't know what happened. We took care of our guys and cleaned up the mess and were still fighting for a race win when we got black-flagged. I don't know if the rule book makes that mandatory or not after a pit fire, but that basically took us right out of the race. What an ugly way to close this chapter of my life in CART. Good luck to everyone."

Shinji Nakano (#52 Twin Ring Motegi/Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 14th, finished 13th: "We struggled in qualifying, but made some changes today and the car was good, I had confidence for the race. We tried to gain ground with a different pit strategy, but the race did not go our way. It's a shame, we had one of the faster cars out there and tried to put on a good show to end the season. I want to thank my team, Honda and my sponsors for all their help this year."

Michael Andretti (#39 Team Motorola Honda) Started 10th, finished 17th (not running - contact): "All of my memories of racing are from CART and it has been a tremendous run. I'm just disappointed it ended in the wall. I feel bad for all of Team Motorola. I'm sad my CART career is over but also happy because I've done a lot of good things too." (On his contact in Turn 13): "I flat-spotted my right front tire early in the stint and I just pushed it too hard and the car understeered and went straight into the grass. When I got into the grass there was no slowing down until I hit the wall. I thought it was going to hurt more than it did. But I hit at a good angle so I was lucky."

Luis Diaz (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 19th, finished 19th (not running - mechanical): "Bad luck seems to follow this team. They worked very hard and I feel bad for the guys and sponsors. I hope next year these guys are fighting for the championship they deserve. I am grateful to Adrian (Fernandez) and the whole team for the experience, they have been great. I learned a lot this weekend - emotionally, physically and mentally as a driver - and I owe them a lot."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Shinji Nakano , Luis Diaz , Cristiano da Matta , Mo Nunn