TIGHTENED FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES RACE AT TO MILWAUKEE MILE FOR MILLER LITE 225 DETROIT (June 2, 1999) - It took only one event for a FedEx Championship Series championship race which was shaping up as a runaway to become closely contested.
TIGHTENED FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES RACE AT TO MILWAUKEE MILE FOR MILLER LITE 225
DETROIT (June 2, 1999) - It took only one event for a FedEx Championship Series championship race which was shaping up as a runaway to become closely contested.
As the series heads to West Allis, Wis. for Round 7, Sunday's Miller Lite 225 (4 p.m. ET, one-hour tape delay, ABC-TV), four drivers are bunched within 16 points of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Juan Montoya, who leads with 69 points in the race for the PPG Cup, symbol of the FedEx Championship Series driving title.
It was Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) who took early command of the season by claiming consecutive victories at Long Beach, Nazareth and Rio de Janeiro, jumping out to a 15-point cushion following the latter triumph. Suddenly, following Michael Andretti's victory at Gateway International Raceway on Saturday, the points race has become as closely packed as the Champ Car field figures to be at Sunday's 225-mile challenge on the venerable Milwaukee Mile.
Andretti's (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) victory vaulted him to third in the championship with 61 points. He trails Montoya and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), whose third-place effort at Gateway closed him to just four points (69-65) of Montoya after trailing by 15 (66-51) heading into the event.
Andretti could make another upward move this weekend. He is CART's all-time victory leader at Milwaukee, with five (1986, '87, '91, '92 and '96), and has six additional top-five finishes in his 14 career starts at The Mile.
Also prominent in the championship picture are Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift). Moore is a former winner at Milwaukee, having become the youngest race winner in CART history with his 1997 victory at age 22 years, 1 month and 10 days. He stands fourth in the championship with 53 points and has scored FedEx Championship Series points in 12 of his last 13 appearances on ovals, dating to the start of the 1998 season. Fittipaldi is riding a streak of top-nine finishes which stands at eight, dating to last year at Australia. He remains the only driver to complete every lap (1,004) and every mile (1,405.571) of competition this season. In addition to Andretti and Moore, former Milwaukee Mile winners in this weekend's field include Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) in 1990 and '94; Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) in 1995 and Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) last year. Unser Jr. has scored six podium finishes in 16 career starts at Milwaukee while Tracy owns five top-seven efforts, including three podiums, in six career starts. Meanwhile, Vasser has scored PPG Cup points in all six of his career starts.
Following the Miller Lite 225, the FedEx Championship Series travels to Portland International Raceway for the Budweiser/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco/Havoline, June 18-20.
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green has finished on the podium in eight of his last 12 starts in the FedEx Championship Series, dating to his inaugural series victory last season at Road America. Included in the run are victories at Road America, Vancouver and Houston last year; second at Australia last year; second at Long Beach and Rio de Janeiro this year and third at Homestead and Gateway this year. Rookie Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has won three of the past four FedEx Championship Series events, at Long Beach, Nazareth and Rio de Janeiro, and maintains the series points lead with 69 points, four ahead of Franchitti. Montoya has scored FedEx Championship Series points in five of his six starts in the series to date, the only exception being at Japan, where he finished 13th, one place shy of scoring.
Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) of Newman/Haas Racing has assembled a spectacular record in his 14 career FedEx Championship Series starts at Milwaukee. He is a five-time winner on the one-mile oval, with victories in 1986, '87, '91, '92 and '96. His Milwaukee Mile resume also includes runner-up finishes in 1989 and '97, third in '95, fourths in 1984 and '94 and fifth in 1990. He has qualified among the top-10 drivers in 12 of 14 appearances, with pole positions in 1986 and '88 and has led 625 laps, or 10.4 percent of his CART career-leading total of 5,975 laps led, at Milwaukee.
Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green owns five top-seven finishes in six career appearances at Milwaukee, topped by a victory in 1995. He also recorded podium finishes of third in 1994 and '96 and sat on the pole in 1996 and '97.
Defending Milwaukee race champion Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) owns a streak of six points-paying finishes in as many appearances at The Milwaukee Mile. In addition to last year's victory, he finished on the podium in 1997, when he took third. His other finishes at the venue include eighth in 1993, 11th in '94, ninth in '95 and 10th in '96, when he won the FedEx Championship Series title.
Michael Andretti's victory at Gateway allowed him to tie Rick Mears' CART record of 12 seasons with at least one victory. Andretti, CART's all-time victory leader with 38, posted his first FedEx Championship Series victory in 1986 at Long Beach and has added victories in 1987, '89, '90, '91, '92, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98 and this year. His next victory will allow him to tie Al Unser for third place on the all-time Champ Car victory list, with 39.
By leading 11 laps at Gateway, Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Penske) moved past Bobby Rahal (3,107) and into third place on the CART career laps-led list, with 3,113. Mears stands second at 3,286.
Michael Andretti's victory at Gateway allowed Ford to trim Honda's lead in the FedEx Championship Series Manufacturer's Championship to eight points, 111-103. Mercedes-Benz stands third with 64 points, followed by Toyota, with 19. Significantly, Honda and Ford have each scored exactly the same number of points on ovals, 89, the difference being Juan Montoya's victory for Honda in the series' lone road-course event to date, the April 18 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The last three FedEx Championship Series events at The Milwaukee Mile have been won by three different engine manufacturers. Michael Andretti won for Ford in 1996, Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) for Mercedes in 1997 and Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) for Honda last year. However, over the longer term, Ford has enjoyed outstanding success at Milwaukee, where it has scored 34, or 11.2 percent, of its 303 Champ Car victories.
Firestone has won 24 FedEx Championship Series events in a row, dating to Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) victory at Japan last year. Firestone's next victory will be its 50th since returning to Champ Car racing in 1995.
Qualifying for the Miller Lite 225 will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2 while ABC-TV's one-hour tape delayed broadcast begins at 4 p.m. ET.