CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Race Notebook

NOTEBOOK: Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) leads the PPG Cup championship for the first time in his six-year CART career. He has 29 points and is followed by Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes). Moore also has...

NOTEBOOK: Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) leads the PPG Cup championship for the first time in his six-year CART career. He has 29 points and is followed by Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes). Moore also has 29 points, but Fernandez holds the lead because the tiebreaker is best finish at this stage. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) is third with 21, Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) fourth with 20 and Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) fifth with 16. ... The United States, behind the second-place finish by Unser Jr., maintained its lead in the Nation's Cup. The U.S. has 38 points while Mexico and Canada have 29 each. ... Ford, which now has won the first two races of the season the last two years, leads the Manufacturer's Championship with 42 points. Mercedes-Benz is second with 33 and Honda third with 29. ... Reynard, buoyed by its victory Sunday, overtook Swift for the Constructor's Championship lead, 39-21. Penske is third with 16.

Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda), behind his sixth-place showing, leads the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year race with eight points. Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) is second with two points, which came courtesy of Sunday's 11th-place finish. Kanaan's performance was the best by a CART rookie since Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), the 1997 rookie of the year, finished second at Gateway in Round 6.

... At 100 laps, halfway through Saturday's 201-lap event, the average race speed was 199.066 mph, nearly 10 mph faster than the CART race record of 189.727 mph set during Unser Jr.'s victory at Michigan in '95 ... Fernandez led more laps Sunday (102) than he had in his career. His career total heading into this season was 18. He led one lap at Vancouver in 1994 and 17 when he won at Toronto in 1996. ... Unser Jr. led a lap for the first time since Road America in 1996. Unser Jr. led 25 of the final 26 laps in that event before suffering engine failure a half lap from the checkered flag, allowing Andretti to claim the victory. Unser Jr. led 26 laps Sunday, second only to Fernandez. ... Honda may not have won the inaugural race at its own Twin Ring Motegi oval Sunday, but the engine manufacturer did place five of its six entries in the top eight.

... Bobby Rahal escaped without injury from a late-race incident in which his Miller Lite Reynard Ford wound up upside down. The last time he was upside down in a race car was a GTP sports car at Sebring in 1986. Rahal, who started 17th, was running in third place with 15 laps remaining when a wheel bearing broke, causing him to hit the Turn 2 wall and land upside down. "Thank God for safe cars in CART. It was a wild ride," Rahal said. "The crash must have been more spectacular from the outside because things weren't too bad for me. A lot of things were flying around but I was okay. I know this is 'Rahal's Last Ride' tour, but they can't get rid of me that fast."

... Friday's qualifying session for the Budweiser 500 was canceled due to rain, the first time since 1996 at Milwaukee that a qualifying session was wiped out. Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) was awarded his fifth career pole position based on fastest practice times from Thursday's combined practice sessions. It was his first pole position since the 1996 Marlboro 500 at Michigan Speedway. However, Vasser was not awarded the PPG Cup championship point which accompanies a pole position earned during qualifying. Paul Tracy started first following the 1996 qualifying rainout at Milwaukee ... Due to the cancellation of qualifying, the Marlboro Pole Award went unclaimed at Motegi. As a result, a win from the pole at the April 5 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be worth $170,000, a record for the six-year history of the award. Both the $10,000 award which goes to the pole winner at each FedEx Championship Series event and the $15,000 per event bonus which rolls over each time a victory from the pole is not recorded continue into the Long Beach event, accounting for the potential record payoff. The rollover bonus has not been claimed since Alex Zanardi's (Target Reynard Honda) victory from the pole at Cleveland 10 events ago.

... With his 11th-place start at Motegi, Mauricio Gugelmin's (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) streak of 21 consecutive top-10 starting positions, which dated to 1996 at Road America, came to an end. Gugelmin's streak of 21 consecutive top-10 qualifying performances, however, remains intact ... Seven of the 10 countries competing for the Nation's Cup were represented among the top seven starters for the Budweiser 500. In order, they were Vasser (United States), Fernandez (Mexico), de Ferran (Brazil), Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda, Italy), Moore (Canada), Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda, Scotland) and Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes, England) ... Tom Foley, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and present U.S. Ambassador to Japan, delivered a welcome to the crowd during pre-race ceremonies.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Mark Blundell , Greg Moore