Fernandez Collects Third Career FedEx Championship Series Victory Lexington, OH (August 9, 1998) - Adrian Fernandez and Scott Pruett combined to give Patrick Racing its first one-two FedEx Championship Series finish since...
Fernandez Collects Third Career FedEx Championship Series Victory
Lexington, OH (August 9, 1998) - Adrian Fernandez and Scott Pruett combined to give Patrick Racing its first one-two FedEx Championship Series finish since 1982 while retiring veteran Bobby Rahal - whose Champ Car career began in 1982 - turned in a thrilling performance in his final driving appearance at his home course in Sunday's Miller Lite 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) finished 0.247 seconds ahead of teammate Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) to give Patrick Racing its first one-two since July 18, 1982, when Gordon Johncock and Mario Andretti finished first and second, respectively, at the Norton-Michigan 500 at Michigan Speedway.
Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford), retiring as a driver at the conclusion of this season, finished third to bring a sense of symmetry to the day's proceedings. He also finished third to Johncock and Andretti at Michigan Speedway in '82.
The victory was the third of Fernandez's FedEx Championship Series career and second of the season, following a victory at Japan in March. He posted his first victory on a permanent road course and topped his previous best permanent road course performance of fourth at Mid-Ohio in 1995. He also moved from fifth to fourth in the FedEx Championship Series points standings, with 110.
Fernandez's victory was also the 300th in Champ Car history for Ford Cosworth, dating to the 1960s.
Pruett's runner-up effort matched a season-best finish established at Portland and was his fifth consecutive top-six performance. It also marked a career best in nine starts at Mid-Ohio.
Rahal's finish was a season best and his best overall since taking third at Mid-Ohio last year. It was his 10th consecutive PPG Cup points-paying finish and his eighth podium finish in 16 career starts at Mid-Ohio.
Rounding out the top five were Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes), with a season-best effort of fourth, and Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda), who matched a season best of fifth established at Japan and matched at Nazareth.
Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda), the PPG Cup points leader, finished 12th, 27.994 seconds behind Fernandez. It was only his second finish outside the top-10 this season and his first off the podium since finishing eighth at Milwaukee on the last day of May.
Pole sitter Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda), outside pole starter Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) and third-place qualifier Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) were involved in contact on the opening lap, which caused Franchitti and Vasser to exit immediately and sidelined Herta due to a radiator leak after the completion of two laps.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford: "The car was very good all day. I was trying to make a good start and get some space between Greg [Moore] and the cars in front of me. That really helped when I came upon the [first-lap] accident and had some time to react. I managed to stay behind [Mauricio] Gugelmin until the first stop, when I got out ahead of him. Greg stayed out a lap longer and he was really strong on the second stint. Then he had a problem. I was able to get in front a few laps later and hold the lead until the end. It was a very, very difficult race. Scott was really determining the pace of the race. When he was pushing, I was pushing. It was a great team effort for Patrick racing and myself."
SCOTT PRUETT, Visteon Reynard Ford: "I got caught up on the high side [of the first-lap incident involving Dario Franchitti, Jimmy Vasser and Bryan Herta]. [Andre] Ribeiro got underneath me and [Alex] Zanardi got underneath me and I had to back off. After that, I felt like 'Gosh! It's going to be a long day.' But I just kept climbing back. The Ford engine did a great job. I kept beating that thing all day. I was trying the whole time. I had a little quicker car than he [Fernandez] did and I could catch up with him, but I couldn't do anything with him. Adrian never put a wheel wrong. I wanted to give him a run for his money, but this young man just did a great job on a very demanding race course."
BOBBY RAHAL, Miller Lite Reynard Ford: "As much as I've looked forward to this week, I've faced it with a little trepidation. I don't mean to say I'm not appreciative of everything, but if you let it, you can lose sight of the fact that you're here for a reason. I got in the car and said, 'Let's drive the best race we possibly can.' It's a way of saying thanks and a way of saying goodbye. As I've said all along, I'm going to very much miss driving this circuit. When you do well here, you know you're really accomplished something, and that's what I'm going to miss most. After that last restart, every lap was like qualifying. I think we had 20 laps to go, and I said 'Let's make them the best 20 we've ever had here' and I think we did that. I set my fastest lap with about three laps to go. I come away very satisfied with our drive today."
Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) made his 250th CART career start Sunday, ending the day with a sixth-place finish. Unser Jr. trails only Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) on the career starts list. Rahal made his 258th career start Sunday.
In addition to collecting its 300th career Champ Car victory, Ford Cosworth swept the podium for the first time since 1995 at Cleveland when Jacques Villeneuve, Bryan Herta and Jimmy Vasser finished first through third, respectively.
Adrian Fernandez's victory was the 12th in a row for Firestone tires, dating to his previous triumph at Japan. It was also Firestone's 23rd in the past 24th FedEx Championship Series events.
When Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) exited due to contact with Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) on the opening lap, it marked only the third time in his past 47 starts he had not been running at the finish of a race. The streak dates to the 1995 season finale at Laguna Seca. Vasser tied Al Unser Jr.'s FedEx Championship Series record of 25 consecutive races finished at Detroit last year. Entering Sunday, he had finished every race this season and was the series leader in laps (1,862 of a possible 1,865) and miles (2,900.021 of a possible 2,904.574) completed, a distinction now held by Bobby Rahal, who has completed 1,924 of a possible 1,948 laps and 3,054.164 of a possible 3,091.020 miles.
When Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) led the opening 29 laps, it marked the first time he has been on the lead this season. Gugelmin last led at 66 laps in the 1997 season finale at California Speedway.
Sunday's Miller Lite 200 was the 250th CART race in the history of Newman/Haas Racing. The team was formed in 1983 by actor Paul Newman and racing entrepreneur Carl A. Haas. Since then, Newman/Haas has accumulated 53 wins and 60 pole positions in FedEx Championship Series competition, making it the second-most successful team in CART history, behind only Penske Racing. Newman/Haas captured PPG Cups in 1984 with driver Mario Andretti, '91 with Michael Andretti and '93 with Nigel Mansell. Other drivers who have competed for the team include Paul Tracy, Roberto Moreno, Teo Fabi and Alan Jones. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) and Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) finished 21st and 13th, respectively, Sunday.
Bobby Rahal's children - sons Graham and Jarred, and daughters Michaela and Samantha - gave the command to start engines prior to Sunday's Miller Lite 200.
Esther "Mimi" Woodward, Bobby Rahal's 93-year-old grandmother, attended her first CART race ever Sunday in conjunction with the "Rahal's Last Ride" celebration. Ms. Woodward, a former schoolteacher who now resides in Florida, is originally from Medina, Ohio, where Rahal was born. "At our facility in Florida, all of the ladies gather around the television to watch Bobby's races," she said. "At first, they didn't believe I was Bobby's grandmother, and then, they didn't know much about racing. Now, they keep up on his racing as much as I do." "I've got a lot of groupies," Rahal joked. "They just happen to be about 98. But it's fun for her and I know she got a kick out of it."
Bobby Rahal has a full schedule this week, beginning with Monday's roast-tribute dinner in Columbus sponsored by Miller Brewing Company, primary sponsor of the Miller Lite Reynard Ford which Rahal campaigns in the FedEx Championship Series. The program will be hosted by ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne, and will feature remarks from two-time FedEx Championship Series champion Al Unser Jr., NASCAR star Rusty Wallace, and four-time NHRA Funny Car world champion Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Proceeds will benefit the Bobby Rahal Foundation, a non-profit endowment which is generating and distributing charitable funds throughout Rahal's final season.
Tuesday, Rahal will be the guest speaker at the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society luncheon at Sardi's restaurant in New York City before concluding his day with an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS-TV. Letterman, an avid motorsports enthusiast, is a minority owner of Team Rahal, having joined the team in 1996. He will remain on board as a part owner when Rahal retires from driving at the conclusion of the current FedEx Championship Series season. "I'm not sure what Dave has in mind but it will be good to see him again," Rahal said. "He's been so busy with the show that he hasn't been able to make a race this year, but I think he's trying to make the Road America race [Texaco/Havoline 200] next week."
The Marlboro Pole Award rollover bonus went unclaimed for the 20th consecutive event Sunday, meaning that the potential Marlboro Pole Award payout at next Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America is a record $325,000, including $315,000 in rollover funds. The Miller Lite 200 will mark more than one year since the bonus, which grows at a rate of $15,000 per event until a victory from the pole is recorded, was last claimed by Alex Zanardi at Cleveland.
WHAT'S ON TAP:
The Miller Lite 200 will receive an encore performance Monday 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. The race will re-air 3:30 a.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN and 4 a.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2.
The FedEx Championship Series continues with its fifth event in six weeks, the Texaco/Havoline 200, next Sunday, August 16, from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Source: CART Online