NAZARETH, Pa. (April 7, 2000) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya, utterly dominant at Nazareth Speedway last year, kicked off his defense of the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota title by topping the...
NAZARETH, Pa. (April 7, 2000) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya, utterly dominant at Nazareth Speedway last year, kicked off his defense of the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota title by topping the opening day of practice for Sunday's second round of the 2000 FedEx Championship Series (1 p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV).
Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) averaged 177.477 miles per hour (19.189 seconds) on the .946-mile oval to lead 24 drivers posting times for Sunday's event. Practice continues Saturday morning before qualifying begins 1:15 p.m. ET.
Montoya won last year's event from the pole and led 210 of 225 laps. It was one of seven victories he recorded during the season en route to the championship which made him the second rookie ever to win the FedEx Championship Series title.
Helio Castro-Neves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) was second fastest at 176.200 mph (19.328 seconds). He enjoyed a strong performance at Nazareth last year, qualifying second and leading 15 laps before exiting due to contact after completing 175 of 225 laps.
Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) was third at 175.519 mph (19.403 seconds). He comes to Nazareth off a runner-up finish in the March 26 season-opener at Homestead , Fla., which matched a career best established at Laguna Seca, Calif. last year.
Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) was fourth-fastest at 174.978 mph (19.463 seconds), followed by Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), at 174.458 mph (19.521 seconds). FedEx Championship Series leader Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) was seventh fastest overall at 174.396 mph (19.528 seconds). He holds a 20-16 lead over Moreno heading into Saturday's qualifying.
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Toyota Lola: "This morning, the car wasn't great ... [it was] very loose. This afternoon, we made a lot of changes and the car was much better. We got in a long run and right at the end, everyone was going for a fast lap, because everyone knows what the weather is supposed to be like tomorrow. Everyone knowing that the weather was coming, everyone went out to see what they could do because if it rains tomorrow, this is the grid. I'll be all right. I just go out and push."
HELIO CASTRO-NEVES, Marlboro Honda Reynard: "This morning, we were going very fast. We were trying to keep good balance, but something happened to the car. In the afternoon, we decided to go with the race setup and the car was very, very good. We ran a lot of laps, and the car was very, very good. I'm very excited, and I think the fans are going to see a great race. I think everyone is going to see a lot of passing, especially in Turn Two."
ROBERTO MORENO, Visteon Ford Reynard: "I was a little concerned before I came here, but it's all water under the bridge. The team gave me a car that was very good right out of the box, and that helped to build my confidence. This is a place where if you have a good car, it's very easy, because the car does everything here. I very much like the wings we're running now. It gives you very good confidence and makes the racing safer."
* Walker Racing driver Shinji Nakano (AVEX Honda Reynard), who sustained several small brain bruises in a March 31 testing accident at The Milwaukee Mile, will be sidelined for the next three rounds of the FedEx Championship Series, at Nazareth, Long Beach (April 16) and Rio de Janeiro (April 30). Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, and consulting neurologist Dr. Terry Horner monitored Nakano's recovery at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis. He was scheduled to be released Thursday. "Shinji has several small bruises on his brain," said Dr. Horner. "While this is a moderately severe injury, there is really nothing we can do to speed the healing process. The brain heals pretty slowly in comparison to the rest of the body, so it just takes time." Nakano finished eighth in the season-opening FedEx Championship Series event at Homestead, the best result for a rookie driver in his opening event since the late Greg Moore finished seventh at Homestead in 1996. "We're obviously disappointed at not being able to go to Nazareth," said team owner Derrick Walker. "Shinji had worked very hard on ovals and we were looking forward to continuing the good progress he made at Homestead, but we agree with the doctors that it is best that he fully recover. In the meantime, we are regrouping and fully expect to participate at Long Beach with a replacement driver who we will announce on Monday. We all wish Shinji a speedy recovery and thank the doctors and staffs at St. Vincent's and Froedtert [Hospital, Milwaukee] for taking good care of Shinji."
* CART Chief Steward J. Kirk Russell announced Friday that Newman/Haas Racing driver Christian Fittipaldi has been fined $5,000 for committing an unsafe act in the pits during the March 26 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at Homestead-Miami Speedway. According to the stewards' review of the incident, Fittipaldi struck a crew member during a pit stop in the race. The act violated Rule 6.7.26 of the CART Rule Book. According to the stewards, Fittipaldi was not penalized during the race because information from the presiding pit official was inconclusive at the time.
* CART, Eurosport and ESPN International, primary agent and distributor for CART international programming, announced Friday that Eurosport will cover FedEx Championship Series events during the 2000 season. The hour-long programs will be broadcast on Wednesday evenings in prime time and will feature complete reviews of each FedEx Championship Series event, with in-depth analysis and behind the scenes coverage. The coverage will be broadcast on Eurosport's pan-European network to more than 86 million homes and 220 million people in 54 countries. "Eurosport allows us to reach a significant number of racing fans and enthusiasts throughout Europe," said Keith Allo, vice president of broadcasting for CART. "This coverage will help build our sport in a part of the world that already has a strong understanding and following for CART racing and the FedEx Championship Series."
* CART President and CEO Andrew Craig responded to speculation that the FedEx Championship Series will not be returning to Nazareth Speedway next season with the following statement Friday afternoon: "We have a contract through 2001 and we will be in Nazareth next year for a FedEx Championship Series event. We never discuss publicly the status of negotiations beyond the life of the current contract."
WHAT'S ON TAP
Pole qualifying for the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota will air 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2.