CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Adrian Fernandez seeks unprecedented triple

DETROIT (May 8, 2000) - Fresh from his sixth career FedEx Championship Series victory at the April 30 Rio 200, Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing travels across the Pacific Ocean and heads into some really uncharted waters in Saturday's Firestone...

DETROIT (May 8, 2000) - Fresh from his sixth career FedEx Championship Series victory at the April 30 Rio 200, Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing travels across the Pacific Ocean and heads into some really uncharted waters in Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) has won the first two FedEx Championship Series events contested on Twin Ring's 1.549-mile oval, which began hosting Champ Cars in 1998. Now, Fernandez seeks to become the first driver to win the first three events contested at any FedEx Championship Series venue, current or inactive, in Saturday's 500-kilometer (312-mile) test.

Fernandez' victory at Rio de Janeiro - the fourth different country in which he has recorded a Champ Car triumph - moved him into fifth place in the championship with 20 points. Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green leads with 48 points, built on consecutive podium finishes of third at Homestead, first at Long Beach and third at Rio de Janeiro. Tracy's career-best finish in two appearances at Motegi is fifth in 1998.

With successive finishes of fourth at Homestead, third at Long Beach and second at Rio, Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing holds down second in the championship with 42 points. Vasser is a former pole winner at Japan, having claimed the 1998 pole position when qualifying was rained out and the starting grid was based on combined practice times. He has also scored championship points in both of his appearances at Motegi, with finishes of seventh in '98 and 12th last year.

Fernandez' Patrick Racing teammate, Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) stands third in the championship with 28 points. He has scored in all three events to date with finishes of second at Homestead, matching a career-best, ninth at Long Beach and sixth at Rio de Janeiro.

Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, winner of the season opener at Homestead, holds down fourth in the championship with 20 points. Though he and Fernandez have each scored 20 points, Papis is ranked higher based on next best finish, 16th at Rio.

The Firestone Firehawk 500 will mark the return of rookie Walker Racing driver Shinji Nakano (Avex Honda Reynard), who has been sidelined since sustaining several small brain contusions during a March 31 testing accident at The Milwaukee Mile. Nakano made an impressive FedEx Championship Series career debut with an eighth-place finish in the season opener at Homestead five days prior to his accident.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Tarso Marques (Panasonic/Swift Ford Swift) makes his 2000 season debut in a new entry formed by Swift Engineering and Dale Coyne Racing. Marques made his FedEx Championship Series career debut at Japan last year with Marlboro Team Penske, starting 22nd and finishing 14th.

Following the Firestone Firehawk 500, the FedEx Championship Series returns stateside, where it will resume with the Miller Lite 225 on Sunday, June 4 at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.

WHO'S HOT

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) has finished on the podium in each of the three FedEx Championship Series events contested in 2000, with finishes of third at Homestead and Rio de Janeiro sandwiched around a victory at Long Beach. He has an impressive run of eight podium finishes in his last 13 starts, dating to a runner-up effort at Toronto last year. Tracy leads the FedEx Championship Series with 48 points, six ahead of second-place Jimmy Vasser.

* Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) has finished among the top four drivers in his past three starts while improving on each occasion. He took fourth in the season opener at Homestead, improved to third at Long Beach and was runner-up to winner Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) at Rio de Janeiro. Vasser stands second in the championship with 42 points.

* Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) has scored championship points in each of his three starts this season to rank third in the championship, with 28 points. He matched a career-best finish with a runner-up effort in the season opener at Homestead, then added finishes of ninth at Long Beach and sixth at Rio de Janeiro. In six previous seasons of full and partial FedEx Championship Series competition, Moreno's best finish is 14th, last year.

* Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) has earned two pole positions this season, at Homestead and Long Beach, and has gone on to race-high laps led totals of 41 at Homestead and 30 at Long Beach. He stands second in the series with 71 laps led and stands seventh in the championship with 18 points.

* Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) comes to Japan off a performance which saw him record the first pole position of his FedEx Championship Series career at Rio de Janeiro, then go on to lead a race-high 76 laps before a pair of late race spins relegated him to a 13th-place finish. His fourth-place effort a Long Beach stands as the highest for a rookie this season and he leads his five fellow rookies in the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award standings, with 18 points, ranking him sixth in the championship overall.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Adrian Fernandez has been the dominant driver en route to victory in each of the first two FedEx Championship Series events contested at Twin Ring Motegi. He led 102 laps en route to victory in the inaugural event in 1998 and led 153 laps last year. Fernandez has led 255 of 402 laps (63.4 percent) contested at Japan over the past two years. In addition, he started on the outside pole in 1998.

* Gil de Ferran owns a pair of podium finishes and a pole position in his two career appearances at Twin Ring Motegi. He finished third in 1998 and was runner-up to Fernandez last year, when he won the pole at an average speed of 219.000 miles per hour (25.463 seconds). He has led 29 laps in his career at Japan, four in 1998 and 25 last year.

* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) has finished sixth in each of his two career starts at Twin Ring Motegi, in 1998 and '99. His top start of 10th at the venue came in 1998.

* Jimmy Vasser has scored championship points in both of his starts at Twin Ring Motegi, with finishes of seventh in 1998 and 12th last year. He was also awarded the pole position in 1998 after qualifying was rained out and the cars were gridded according to practice times. Vasser led 44 of 201 laps at Twin Ring Motegi in 1998.

* Helio Castro-Neves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) has scored championship points in both career appearances at Twin Ring Motegi. He finished 11th in 1998 and ninth last year.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Thanks to Adrian Fernandez' two victories, Ford has been the dominant engine manufacturer at Twin Ring Motegi to date. In addition to Fernandez' performance, Ford also received a podium result from Christian Fittipaldi, who finished third last year.

* Honda-powered drivers have claimed both pole positions at Twin Ring Motegi, with Jimmy Vasser being awarded the pole in 1998 after qualifying was rained out and the starting grid was based on practice times, and Gil de Ferran qualifying on the pole last year.

* Thanks to Vasser, Toyota has improved its "best-ever finish" in five seasons of FedEx Championship Series competition through each of the first three rounds of the 2000 championship. Vasser finished fourth in the season-opener at Miami, matching Toyota's best-ever finish established by Cristiano da Matta at Nazareth last year. Vasser followed up with Toyota's first podium result, a runner-up performance at Long Beach, then improved on that with a runner-up result to Adrian Fernandez at Rio de Janeiro.

MILESTONES

* Michael Andretti's next triumph will allow him to set a CART record for most seasons with at least one race victory. Andretti (Big/Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), CART's all-time victory leader with 38, is currently tied for the top spot with Rick Mears. Both have notched at least one victory in 12 seasons. Andretti is in his 17th season of FedEx Championship Series competition.

NOTEWORTHY

* Adrian Fernandez' consecutive victories in the first two FedEx Championship Series events contested at Twin Ring Motegi have put him in a position to become the first driver ever to win the first three events contested at any FedEx Championship Series venue, active or inactive. Already, Fernandez is in some pretty heady company with his back-to-back victories in Japan. The last driver to win the first two CART events contested at a given venue was Mario Andretti, who won at Long Beach in 1984 and '85 before his son, Michael won in '86. Others include Bobby Unser, who won twice at Trenton in 1979 and at Watkins Glen in 1979 and '80; Rick Mears, who won at Mexico City in 1980 and '81 and at Riverside (Calif.) in 1981 and '82; Johnny Rutherford, who won twice at Atlanta in 1979; and Al Unser Jr., who won at Denver in 1990 and '91. In addition, Teo Fabi won the first FedEx Championship Series event contested at Laguna Seca Raceway in 1983 before Bobby Rahal won the next four in succession, from 1984-87.

* Swift Engineering and Dale Coyne Racing announced last week that they have formed a new FedEx Championship Series entry which will debut at this weekend's Firestone Firehawk 500. The Ford-powered Swift will be driven by Brazilian Tarso Marques (Panasonic/Swift Ford Swift) with sponsorship from Panasonic. Team management personnel will be supplied by Swift from its San Clemente, Calif.-based operation. Peter Scott and Casper van der Schoot, formerly of Hogan Racing, will serve as team manager and chief engineer, respectively. Marques made his FedEx Championship Series debut at Twin Ring Motegi last year and finished the season with six starts for Marlboro Team Penske. His best finish was ninth at Rio de Janeiro in his homeland of Brazil. He also did some testing for Dale Coyne Racing during the 1999 pre-season. Swift competed for the FedEx Championship Series Constructor's Championship from 1997-99, with four victories and 21 additional podium finishes in 157 starts. Its best championship finish came from Michael Andretti, who finished fourth last year.

* Walker Racing driver Shinji Nakano (Avex Honda Reynard) has been added to the entry list for the Firestone Firehawk 500 in his homeland of Japan. Nakano has missed the past two events after sustaining several small brain contusions during a March 31 testing accident at The Milwaukee Mile. He made a strong start to his rookie campaign, finishing eighth in the FedEx Championship Series season opener at Homestead on March 31.

* Player's Forsythe Racing announced last week that driver Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) will be sidelined from this weekend's Firestone Firehawk 500 while he continues his recuperation from a slight fracture in his left wrist, sustained in an accident last month at his Las Vegas home. It had been hoped that Carpentier would be back in the car at Motegi, but his return was delayed following examination by Dr. Terry Trammell, CART's chief orthopedic consultant, last week. "I really expected that I'd get the go-ahead from the doctor, because I didn't have any trouble when I moved my wrist, and there was no pain when I lifted weights during my rehabilitation," said Carpentier, who now figures to return to competition at the rescheduled May 27 Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway. "My wrist did feel a bit different when the doctor removed my cast ... but when he told me he couldn't clear me to come back right away, it caught me off guard. I'm extremely disappointed, but all I can do is abide by his judgement. He simply didn't want me to take some unnecessary risks that might aggravate the injury and delay my return even longer." Despite missing two of three FedEx Championship Series events contested to date, Carpentier stands 13th in the championship with 10 points, built on a strong fifth-place finish in the season opener at Homestead.

ON THE AIR

* The Firestone Firehawk 500 will be aired via tape delay by ABC-TV on Sunday, May 14, beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Tarso Marques , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Shinji Nakano , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Chip Ganassi , Teo Fabi , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta , Johnny Rutherford , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dale Coyne Racing