DETROIT (April 4, 2000) - Although he had earned his first career victory two weeks earlier at Long Beach, it was actually his win at Nazareth Speedway last year that served notice of the kind of force Juan Montoya would become in the FedEx ...
DETROIT (April 4, 2000) - Although he had earned his first career victory two weeks earlier at Long Beach, it was actually his win at Nazareth Speedway last year that served notice of the kind of force Juan Montoya would become in the FedEx Championship Series.
Montoya turned in an utterly dominant performance, leading 210 of 225 race laps from the pole, to claim the second of his eventual seven victories during a spectacular rookie season that culminated in the FedEx Championship Series championship. His victory at Nazareth moved Montoya into the championship points lead and he held it following all but three of the remaining 17 events.
Now, as the series prepares for Round 2, the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota (1 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ABC-TV), Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) finds himself looking for his first points of the new season. He led the first 21 laps of the March 26 season opener at Homestead, Fla. from the outside pole, but finished 23rd due to engine problems.
In the meantime, the weekend belonged to Team Rahal driver Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who earned his first career FedEx Championship Series victory and took the championship lead for the first time in his five-year career. Papis, who has finished fourth or better in his past five FedEx Championship Series starts dating to last year at Laguna Seca, holds a 20-16 advantage over Patrick Racing driver Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) in the championship. Moreno matched a career-best result with his runner-up performance at Homestead, a career-best on an oval.
Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green (KOOL Honda Reynard) finished third at Homestead and brings 14 points to Nazareth, where he owns a pair of victories (1994,'97), a pair of poles (1996, '97), and three other podium finishes, including third last year.
While Papis and Team Rahal captured many of the headlines following the season opener, a resurgence has begun at storied Marlboro Team Penske. At Homestead, Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) opened the weekend by earning the team's first pole position since 1997. De Ferran also led a race-high 41 laps - nearly double the amount the team led all of last year - and may well have brought veteran team owner Roger Penske his 100th career Champ Car victory but an untimely caution following the team's green-flag pit stop ruined his bid for the win. De Ferran ultimately finished sixth and comes to Nazareth, where he finished fourth in 1997 and '98, with 10 points.
Former Nazareth winners in this weekend's field include Montoya, Tracy, Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) and Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola). Andretti, a Nazareth resident, is a two-time winner at his home track (1987, '96) while Vasser won in 1998.
Following the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, the FedEx Championship Series makes a cross-country journey the following week for Round 3, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 14-16 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.
* Team Rahal driver Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who leads the FedEx Championship Series points race for the first time in his five-year career, brings a string of five top-four finishes into Sunday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota. The streak began last year with his first career podium result (third) at Laguna Seca and was followed by a fourth at Houston and runner-up efforts at Australia and California Speedway. Papis then continued the run with his first career victory at the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. Papis has finished fifth or better in nine of his past 12 starts, dating to last year's fifth at Road America.
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green brings a run of 11 consecutive points-paying finishes to Nazareth, the longest active streak in the FedEx Championship Series. It began with a victory at Toronto last year and includes subsequent wins at Detroit and Australia. Franchitti, runner-up in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series, recently recovered from a fractured pelvis and brain contusions sustained in a single-car accident during CART Spring Training at Homestead in February. He finished 11th in the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota.
* Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing has scored points in eight of his past nine FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to last year's 12th-place finish at Cleveland and including his first career victory at Road America. The run was interrupted as Fittipaldi missed five events while recovering from a subdural hematoma sustained in a testing accident at Gateway International Raceway last August. He finished seventh in the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. Overall, Fittipaldi has scored in 16 of his past 18 starts, dating to a third-place finish at Australia in 1998.
* Tony Kanaan (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) of newly formed Mo Nunn Racing has scored in six of his past seven FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to an 11th-place finish at Chicago last year, and eight of 10 dating to his first career victory at Michigan Speedway. Kanaan finished 10th at Homestead.
* Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) owns eight top-five finishes in 12 career starts at his "home" track - Nazareth Speedway - including victories in 1987 and '96. He also recorded runner-up finishes in 1988, '92 and '97, finished third in '91 and claimed the pole position in '87 and '92. He has scored points in 10 of 12 career starts and has led 646 career laps at Nazareth, over 10 percent of his CART-leading career total of 6,119.
* Team KOOL Green driver Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) owns five podium finishes in nine career starts at Nazareth, including victories in 1994 and '97. He also finished third in 1992, '93 and last year. He is a two-time polesitter (1996, '97) and has finished outside the top 10 only once (26th in 1995). Of his 2,313 career laps led in FedEx Championship Series competition, 536 - 23 percent - have come at Nazareth.
* Max Papis' victory in the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota gave Ford-powered drivers six victories in the past eight FedEx Championship Series season openers, dating to Nigel Mansell's 1993 win at Australia. The other Ford-powered winners were Michael Andretti (Australia, 1994); Jacques Villeneuve (Miami, '95); and Andretti (Homestead, '97-98).
* Honda, courtesy of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, has won the past two FedEx Championship Series events contested at Nazareth Speedway. Jimmy Vasser won in 1998 and Juan Montoya was victorious last year.
* By leading a race-high 41 laps in the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota, Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) moved into 16th place on the CART career laps led list with 710. He passed Nigel Mansell, now 17th with 706 career laps led. Teo Fabi stands 15th with 774 career laps led.
* Max Papis' win in the Miller Lite Ford Reynard from the 13th starting position at Homestead ranks fourth in CART for furthest starting position to a victory on short/medium ovals. The record is held by Mike Mosley, who started 25th and won at Milwaukee in 1981.
* Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) and Michael Andretti moved up in the CART annals for most consecutive starts following their season debuts at Homestead. Vasser, whose streak began at Laguna Seca in 1993, moved into sole possession of sixth place with 107 consecutive starts. Andretti, whose streak began at Australia in 1994 upon his return from Formula One, moved into a tie for seventh with his father, Mario, at 106 in a row. The CART record is 192, set by Al Unser Jr., and the current streak is 109 by Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes).