MOTEGI, Japan (May 14, 2000) - American Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing captured his FedEx Championship Series-leading 39th career win and second off North American soil Sunday with a victory in the rain-delayed Firestone Firehawk 500 at...
MOTEGI, Japan (May 14, 2000) - American Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing captured his FedEx Championship Series-leading 39th career win and second off North American soil Sunday with a victory in the rain-delayed Firestone Firehawk 500 at the Twin Ring Motegi before a crowd of 52,000.
Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), a 1999 CART All Star, grabbed the lead when fellow all-star Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing - who had held the lead for 172 of the first 175 laps - encountered a boost problem late in the 201-lap event. Andretti, who entered the event scoreless in the championship, went on to lead the final 26 laps and post a 0.546-second victory over Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), a fellow CART All-Star who, like Andretti, posted his first podium finish of the season.
The international victory - his other came in Australia in 1994 - allowed Andretti to establish a CART record for most consecutive seasons with at least one victory (13), breaking a tie with Rick Mears. He also moved into a tie with Al Unser for third place on the all-time Champ Car career victory list while becoming the fourth different winner in as many FedEx Championship Series events this season.
Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished third, his second podium effort of the season, and moved into a tie for second place in driver points with Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola), who did not score after finishing 21st. Both have 42 points.
Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, another 1999 CART All-Star, continues to lead the championship with 56 points following a sixth-place finish, his fourth consecutive top-six finish this season.
Montoya, the pole-sitter, dominated the first three-quarters of the event, building what was at times a lead exceeding 10 seconds. But during what was supposed to be his final pit stop on Lap 174, a valve came loose, requiring a subsequent stop on Lap 176 for repairs and effectively eliminating him from contention for the victory. Montoya, the defending series champion, managed to bounce back and finish seventh.
Andretti took over and never relinquished the lead. He averaged 157.154 miles per hour en route to the victory on the 1.549-mile oval.
Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports finished fourth, his second consecutive fourth-place effort following Rio de Janeiro. Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal rounded out the top five by recording the best finish of his rookie campaign.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola: "First of all, I want to thank the whole Newman/Haas crew. The pit stops were pretty good. The Ford engine gave us great power all day. The race went very smooth for us. We were able to get up to third pretty quickly, then the Ganassi cars took off a little bit. I don't know if we'd have had anything for them today, but for once, luck went our way. It was a day when everything went great. This thing is definitely not over. We're only 36 points out and we have 16 races left, which used to be a whole season for us. There are a lot of points out there. It just feels good to get back up here [on the podium]."
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "That first oval win still eludes us. We really struggled during qualifying, and we were disappointed with that. We knew we had a good race car, and we kept making up places on pit stops and restarts, and I think some of the retirements really helped. It was a great day for Team KOOL Green and I can't say enough about the Honda engine. But this guy [Andretti] is pretty tough to pass. He's been doing this for awhile and knows exactly where to position the car. It's nice to be back. I forgot what the press room looked like."
ROBERTO MORENO, Visteon Ford Reynard: "We've been quick throughout the weekend. The team came with a quick car right out of the box and we were quick throughout the weekend. The only problem we had was on the last set of tires. It caused us a little bit of a problem on restarts, but it was a good weekend."
* The FedEx Championship Series established a CART record last season with 10 different winners in 20 events and the series is in quick pursuit of the mark after just four rounds. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) was the fourth different winner, joining previous race winners Max Papis (Miller Lire Ford Reynard) at Homestead, Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) at Long Beach and Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) at Rio de Janeiro.
* Andretti's start from the eighth position was the highest starting position by a race winner this season. Papis started 13th, Tracy 17th and Fernandez 16th, leaving the average starting position for the winner at 13.1.
* The win by Andretti moved him into a tie for third place in all-time Champ Car victories (1909-current), but he will have his work cut out for him to reach either of the top two positions. Andretti, with 39 wins, trails A.J. Foyt (67 wins) and Mario Andretti (52).
* The rain-delayed Firestone Firehawk 500 had a strong oval crowd of 65,000 on Saturday and the Japanese fans turned out strong Sunday as well as the track announced a crowd of 52,000. Thousands of fans spent the evening in their cars during last night's downpour in anticipation of today's start. "I would really like to thank all the fans who braved the rain yesterday and came back out to see us again today," Andretti said. "They are great fans here and we really appreciate their support."
* Andretti has been a charm for Lola as he delivered the chassis constructor's first win since 1996. The last driver to win with the Lola chassis? Andretti at Vancouver in '96, one of eight for Lola during that 16-race season. Andretti won five races, Andre Riberio two and Adrian Fernandez one. Lola stands second in the Constructor's Championship to Reynard, which leads 82-64.
* Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) led a race-high 172 laps to push his career total to 1,147 and move him into 13th place in CART history. Montoya passed Johnny Rutherford, who previously held 13th position with 1,025 laps led. Montoya leads the FedEx Championship Series this season with 193 laps led.
* PPI Motorsports driver Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) matched his career-best finish for the second consecutive event. Da Matta, who established a career best of fourth at Nazareth in his rookie season last year, has reeled off consecutive fourth-place performances at Rio and Sunday's Firestone Firehawk 500.
* With Fernandez's pair of victories and Andretti's on Sunday, Ford has been victorious in all three Firestone Firehawk 500 races. It also is the third win in four races this season for Ford, who leads the Manufacturer's Championship by six (74-68) over Honda.
* Andretti's win allowed the United States to forge a tie with Brazil for the lead in the Nation's Cup at 62 points. The United States won the Nation's Cup from 1995-98 while Brazil is the defending champion.
* Team Rahal driver Kenny Brack's (Shell Ford Reynard) season-best fifth-place finish allowed him to close the gap on Player's Forsythe Racing driver Alex Tagliani in the Rookie of the Year standings. Tagliani (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), who finished 15th, leads Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) by five, 18-13.
* Roberto Moreno (Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) and Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) are the only two FedEx Championship Series drivers this season who have completed all 541 laps and 899.337 miles of competition through four rounds.
The FedEx Championship Series continues with the completion of the weather-delayed Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota (originally scheduled for April 9) on Saturday, May 27 at Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pa.