NAZARETH, Pa. (May 6, 2001) - Rookie Scott Dixon of the PacWest Racing Group became the youngest driver ever to win a major open-wheel racing event Sunday when he drove to victory in the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth ...
NAZARETH, Pa. (May 6, 2001) - Rookie Scott Dixon of the PacWest Racing Group became the youngest driver ever to win a major open-wheel racing event Sunday when he drove to victory in the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway, Round 4 of the FedEx Championship Series.
Dixon (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota), the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, led the last 35 laps en route to a 0.366-second victory over Kenny Brack of Team Rahal, who matched a career-best performance with his runner-up effort. The accomplishment made Dixon, at age 20 years, nine months and 14 days, the youngest driver to win in CART, Formula One or Indy Racing League competition.
The CART record had been held by Greg Moore, who was 22 years, one month and 10 days old when he won at Milwaukee in 1997.
Dixon became the first CART rookie ever to win his first FedEx Championship Series start on an oval. His victory from the 23rd starting position represented the second-deepest point on the starting grid from which anyone has driven to victory, exceeded only by Mike Mosley, who drove from 25th to first at Milwaukee in 1981.
The victory was the first for the PacWest Racing Group since Mark Blundell's triumph at California Speedway in 1997. Dixon averaged 114.840 miles per hour en route to the win, which came in his third CART start. He matched Juan Montoya (Long Beach, 1999) as the second-fastest rookie ever to score his first CART victory, exceeded only by Nigel Mansell, who won his first start at Australia in 1993.
Brack's runner-up effort was a season best and matched a career best established at Cleveland and Australia last year. It marked his best-ever finish in 10 FedEx Championship Series oval starts. The 17 championship points Brack collected for finishing second and leading the most race laps (126) moved Brack from ninth place to a tie for fifth in the championship, with 29 points.
Third-place went to Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, who moved into a tie for the championship points lead with Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing by virtue of his performance. Tracy's sixth podium performance in 11career starts at Nazareth gave him 40 points, equal the total of da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola), who finished 10th Sunday.
Brack (Shell Ford Lola) squeezed past rookie polesitter Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing heading into the first turn of the first lap, and held the advantage for the first 125 laps. Brack pitted on Lap 125 after contact between Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) and Alex Tagliani (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) brought out a yellow flag, at which point the lead went to Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Honda Reynard).
Kanaan remained in front from Lap 126 through Lap 189 before pitting and handing the lead to Dixon, who held it until the checkered flag. Dixon was able to complete the final 109 laps without pitting for fuel thanks to 31 caution laps in that span, which helped to improve his fuel mileage.
Fourth-place went to Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing, while Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing finished fifth. Both performances represented season bests.
Vasser and de Ferran are tied with 30 championship points, ranking just behind da Matta and Tracy and just ahead of Castroneves and Brack, as the top six drivers in the championship are separated by just 11 points.
SCOTT DIXON, Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota: "Basically, there was a lot of radio conversation with ten laps to go about whether or not we had enough fuel to go the distance quite happily. We're lucky that we saved a lot of fuel earlier on so we could run 'full rich.' Our car was really strong on the exits of the corners. It was sort of hard to know what to expect. We've had a lot of down time with the team this year and this week with [teammate] Mauricio [Gugelmin] not joining us. I was a little down yesterday after qualifying 23rd. I don't know how this will affect the team. It hasn't really sunk in yet."
KENNY BRACK, Shell Ford Lola: "Scott was very good out of the corners. I couldn't get a run on him, but we had a good day. I don't know what we have to do. We'll do all we can and go on to the next one. Every pass you try to do here is a great risk. In the end, I was half a second to a second faster than Scott, but if you're fast in the right places, nobody can pass you. I was hoping that traffic would come up, but he had clean track after the last restart. Scott was better off Turn 2 and Turn 3, but I was better everywhere else. The problem is you can't drive through people. I've got to go back and look at what happened. I still can't believe where we ended up. Second is better than third. Of course, you'd like to win one race, or at least one, but I guess we'll have to wait."
PAUL TRACY, KOOL Honda Reynard: "It's so hard to pass here. You've got to be so much faster than the other guy. I think it's great that Scott won being from Indy Lights. It's frustrating to me to see the Indy Lights series struggling with entries. It's proven over and over again that it's the best series. Not many guys have gotten to the top by bypassing Lights. It's a good formula."
* Scott Dixon's (Powerware Panasonic PacWest Toyota) victory was the fifth for a Toyota-powered driver in the last six FedEx Championship Series oval events. The other victories, in order, came last year, from Juan Montoya at Milwaukee and Michigan, Cristiano da Matta at Chicago and Montoya at Gateway. Toyota power has also captured the past three FedEx Championship Series events contested on one-mile ovals, with Montoya at Milwaukee and da Matta at Chicago preceding Dixon's effort.
* Dixon collected the 43rd FedEx Championship Series victory for an Indy Lights graduate since Paul Tracy claimed the first at Long Beach in 1993. Dixon's victory in his third CART start represented the earliest a Lights grad has ever posted a victory after moving up to Champ Car competition, exceeding Andre Ribeiro, who won at New Hampshire in 1995 in his 15th start. Indy Lights products have won all three FedEx Championship Series events this season, as Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) and Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) preceded Dixon, at Mexico and Long Beach, respectively.
* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) tied the CART record for career starts when he took the green flag for Sunday's Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota. Andretti, who qualified 13th and finished sixth, made the 273rd start of an 18-year career that began in 1983. He will be looking to set the record at 274 during Round 4 of the FedEx Championship Series, the Firestone Firehawk 500, May 19 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.
* His sixth-place finish represented Andretti's 11th top-six finish in 14 career starts at Nazareth, a run that includes victories in 1987 and '96, runner-up performances in 1988, '92, and '97, third in 1991, fifths in 1989 and '90 and sixths in 1999 and 2000. He has scored championship points in 11 of 14 starts at Nazareth Speedway.
* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) collected his sixth podium finish in 11 starts at Nazareth with his third-place performance. He owns victories in 1994 and '97 and thirds in 1992, '93 and '99.
* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing took over the active lead in consecutive CART starts Sunday when he made his 129th, dating to 1993 at Laguna Seca. Vasser took over the lead from Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group, whose streak ended at 130 when he missed Sunday's event due to the passing of his son.
* Vasser finished fourth and has now scored championship points in six of eight appearances at Nazareth Speedway, including a victory in 1998. The run also includes finishes of fifth in 1997, seventh in 1996 and '99 and 11th in 1999.
* Among the celebrities attending Sunday's race were late-night talk show host David Letterman, co-owner of Team Rahal with three-time FedEx Championship Series champion (1986, '87, '92) Bobby Rahal, and Detroit Red Wings veteran defenseman Larry Murphy.
* CART continued its ongoing commitment to safety by making its newly mandated single-point refueling system mandatory at all future FedEx Championship Series events, beginning with Sunday's Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota. Previously, two pit crew members were responsible for refueling duties, one to handle the fuel hose and another to vent the fuel line. The single-point system has been recommended for use by all FedEx Championship Series teams since the start of the season, but became mandatory with this weekend's event. "We tested the single-point fuel system for CART at Fontana when we ran Casey Mears, and it worked very well," said Ray Leto, Technical Coordinator for Team Rahal. "In fact, we thought it was quicker and safer and the way to go, so we have been using it all season on both cars." Team Rahal currently campaigns Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) and Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series.
* Scott Dixon's victory, coupled with a pole position from Bruno Junqueira (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, marked the first time since 1983 at Michigan International Speedway that two different rookies had won the race and the pole position at the same FedEx Championship Series event. Teo Fabi won the pole and John Paul Jr. won the race at Michigan in '83.
* In response to numerous queries about the future of CART racing at Nazareth, Championship Auto Racing Teams President/CEO Joseph Heitzler released the following statement Sunday morning:
"CART is in the business of conducting major, open-wheel racing events throughout the world and, to effectively do that, we must create and foster relationships with a number of audiences. It's also important to keep in mind the significant role tradition plays in sports, and the heritage and tradition of our sport has deep roots in the Lehigh Valley and at Nazareth Speedway ... One of the things that has become clear to me in my five months at CART is that we must develop a process that allows us to more effectively determine where we conduct races. We have established more definitive criteria than were used in the past and are now approaching where we race in a more formal manner. This approach applies directly to the situation we face in the Lehigh Valley. Following our [May 19] race in Japan, Rich Henley, our new Senior Vice President of Marketing, and I plan to meet with Craig Rust, President of Nazareth Speedway, and other International Speedway Corporation officials. At that time, we will review the options at relating to CART racing at Nazareth Speedway."
The FedEx Championship Series continues with its fitst overseas event of the season, the Firestone Firehawk 500, on Saturday, May 19, at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan.