With the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series already wrapped up by Brazil's Cristiano da Matta, the race will be on for the US$500,000 series runner-up prize at the final round this weekend in Mexico City in Mexico. The race at the ...
With the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series already wrapped up by Brazil's Cristiano da Matta, the race will be on for the US$500,000 series runner-up prize at the final round this weekend in Mexico City in Mexico.
The race at the newly-refurbished Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez set to attract 300,000 over the three days will also be full of emotion with da Matta, Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti, Christian Fittipaldi and Tony Kanaan making their last appearance in the CART Series.
After a 21-year break, the Champ Cars return to the track that saw Rick Mears win back-to-back races in 1980-81.
Da Matta (Newman/Haas Racing), who announced last week that he will race for Toyota's Formula One team next year, comes into the race with a chance to tie the series record of eight wins in a season. His Mexican record is ominous with victories in his past two Mexican events - both of which took place at Monterrey's Fundidora Park circuit.
The diminutive Brazilian currently sits atop the series ladder on 221 points, 73 points clear of nearest rival Bruno Junqueira also of Brazil.
Junqueira (Target Chip Ganassi Racing), Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Forsythe Racing) and Franchitti (Team KOOL Green) are the combatants in the fight for the second-place spot in the final season standings, with Junqueira holding the lead by just three points over Carpentier with Franchitti sitting a further seven points behind.
Junqueira has seen his lead in the fight for the runner-up spot shrink over the last two races following a 14th at the Honda Indy 300 on the Gold Coast and a ninth in Fontana.
"There's a lot on the line for us this weekend in Mexico," said Junqueira.
"It's really important to clinch second place in the championship for Team Target. We wanted to win the championship, but with the year Cristiano has had, it was going to be difficult."
Franchitti's chances were also dealt a blow at Fontana when his engine erupted in flames with five laps to run dropping him to 10th place. The Scotsman has strung together four top-10 finishes to end the year in a run that started with a win at Rockingham in England.
He said that everything is feeling right heading into the final round.
"Mexican fans are extremely enthusiastic, the atmosphere is going to be awesome and I'm hoping that we can get onto the track with a fast car right off the truck and stay at the top of the charts all weekend long," said Franchitti.
Carpentier has been the one climbing the leaderboard with podium finishes in his past two races. He is currently enjoying his best season in the CART series, guaranteeing himself his highest-ever finish in the points no matter what happens in Mexico City.
He said he was due for a win given his recent trend and was keen to put one on the board for the team.
"The half-million dollar bonus for finishing second would be fantastic, mainly because it would be such a tribute to the entire crew at Team Player's," said Carpentier.
"It's nice to have some momentum going into this last race of the season, with the two podiums in a row. We've had the second-place finish and the third, so what we need now is a win in Mexico City to complete the trifecta."
Last start Fontana winner Jimmy Vasser (Team Rahal) will look to keep his roll going after charging up the standings with a late-season run of eight consecutive points finishes - a streak that is his longest since 1998. Vasser was 12th in the point standings after round 11, but has vaulted into sixth spot after his Fontana win and is just 10 points behind Christian Fittipaldi (Newman/Haas Racing) for fifth spot.
The large Mexican crowd will be right behind hometown hero Adrian Fernandez (Fernandez Racing) who will be the focus of attention during Friday's first Champ Car practice as the veteran driver tries to overcome the injuries suffered in a first-lap crash in Surfers Paradise. Fernandez missed the Fontana race after fracturing two thoracic vertebrae in the crash, but will drive in the first practice session to see if he can run the entire weekend.
Fellow Mexican drivers Michel Jourdain Jr. (Team Rahal) and Honda Indy 300 winner Mario Dominguez (Herdez Competition) will also be the focus of a home-country crowd. Dominguez, who claimed the first win of his career in Australia has clinched the Jim Trueman Rookie-of-the-Year Award.