DETROIT (October 13, 1999) - There's plenty of excitement to begin with when the FedEx Championship Series makes its annual visit to Australia. This year, for the first time in the event's nine-year history, the PPG Cup will be on the line...
DETROIT (October 13, 1999) - There's plenty of excitement to begin with when the FedEx Championship Series makes its annual visit to Australia. This year, for the first time in the event's nine-year history, the PPG Cup will be on the line as well. Heading into the Honda Indy 300 (Saturday, Oct. 16, midnight, live, ESPN), the 19th of 20 rounds in the championship, rookie Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green are locked in a pitched battle for the FedEx Championship Series crown. Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) holds a 13-point lead, 200-187, and could clinch the title by exiting Australia with a 22-point advantage. In previous years, the championship has never been at stake in Australia, mostly due to the event's position on the schedule. For the first seven years of its existence, the annual Champ Car extravaganza at Surfers Paradise on Queensland's Gold Coast was among the first three races contested in the season. Last year, the Honda Indy was moved to the fall, and Alex Zanardi had already clinched his second PPG Cup when it arrived on the calendar. This year, the Australians, who regularly turn out in droves - as evidenced by the 95,901 who witnessed Zanardi's victory last year - may be treated to something they've never witnessed first-hand, the possible coronation of the FedEx Championship Series champion. While Montoya, the rookie marvel who leads the series with seven victories and seven pole positions, was able to maintain the upper hand following Round 18 in Houston, Franchitti was able to close considerable ground. Franchitti's runner-up effort, his series-high 10th podium finish of the season, allowed him to trim a 29-point deficit (200-171) entering the event when Montoya exited early due to contact with Helio Castro-Neves (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Mercedes Lola). That sets the stage for Round 19 on the 2.795-mile temporary street circuit at Surfers Paradise. The eight previous Honda Indys have produced eight different winners, four of whom will be in this year's field. Two of those, Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift), who won in 1994, and Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), who won the following year, are battling for third place in the championship. Tracy currently holds the position, with 155 points to 141 for Andretti, and both are coming off outstanding performances. Tracy drove to his second victory of the season in dominant fashion at Houston while Andretti finished third. Other previous winners in this year's field include Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard) and Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard)). Vasser won in 1996 while Pruett was victorious the following season. Following the Honda Indy 300, the FedEx Championship Series returns stateside for its season finale, the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, Sunday, Oct. 31 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
* Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) leads the FedEx Championship Series with seven victories, seven pole positions and 200 points. He has earned three of his seven victories on temporary street circuits (Long Beach, Cleveland, Vancouver). Montoya is the sixth driver in series history to score 200 PPG Cup points in a season under the current scoring system. He joins Alex Zanardi (285 in 1998), Al Unser Jr. (225 in 1994), Michael Andretti (234 in 1991), Bobby Rahal (200 in 1991) and Unser Jr. (210 in 1990).
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) owns a FedEx Championship Series-high 10 podium finishes this season. He also has claimed four of his five career victories on temporary street circuits (Vancouver, Houston in 1998 and Toronto, Detroit this year). He has scored PPG Cup points in seven of his past eight starts and 14 of 18 this season, and holds down second place in the championship with 187 points.
* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) moved from 10th to fifth in the championship in the past two events on the strength of a career-best third-place finish at Laguna Seca followed by a fourth-place effort at Houston. He owns nine finishes of fifth or better this season, including four in the past five events. In his first year with Team Rahal and his fourth in the FedEx Championship Series, Papis already owns a career high with 117 PPG Cup points.
* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in seven of his past eight FedEx Championship Series starts, including six finishes of sixth or better in that span. The run includes third at Road America, fourth at Portland, fifth at Milwaukee and Laguna Seca and sixth at Toronto and Michigan. Despite missing four events (Detroit, Mid-Ohio, Chicago and Vancouver) due to a fractured radius bone in his right wrist, Fernandez stands seventh in the championship with 106 points.
* Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) has scored PPG Cup points in 12 of 13 starts this season and owns top-10 finishes in 11 of those events. Included are podium performances of third at Japan, Rio de Janeiro and Toronto and his first career victory at Road America. Fittipaldi, who missed five events due to a subdural hematoma sustained in an Aug. 2 testing accident at Gateway International Raceway, also has completed all but two laps of competition in his 13 starts to date.
* Scott Pruett (Visteon Ford Reynard) has finished fifth or better in five of six career appearances at Surfers Paradise, including his second career FedEx Championship Series victory in 1997. The run also includes finishes of second in 1996, third in 1995, fourth last year and fifth in 1991.
* Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Team, Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) owns three top-eight finishes in as many starts at Australia, including podium results of third in 1996 and second in 1997. He also finished eighth last year.
* Christian Fittipaldi has recorded top-five finishes in two of three career starts at Australia, including a podium finish of third last year to culminate his a triumphant return to the venue where he sustained a broken leg which kept him out of seven events in 1997. Also included is a fifth-place finish in 1996.
* Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) owns three top-six finishes in five career starts at Surfers Paradise, including back-to-back fourth-place efforts in 1995 and '96. He also finished sixth in 1994 and scored PPG Cup points with a 12th-place result last year.
* Ford-powered drivers have won four of the past six FedEx Championship Series events contested in Australia. The victories have come from Nigel Mansell in 1993, Michael Andretti in '94, Paul Tracy in '95 and Scott Pruett in '97.
* Honda, which clinched the 1999 Manufacturers' Championship at Laguna Seca, has won seven of the past eight FedEx Championship Series events, dating to Dario Franchitti's victory at Toronto. The run also includes triumphs by Juan Montoya at Mid-Ohio, Chicago and Vancouver; Franchitti at Detroit; Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Team Honda Reynard) at Michigan; and Tracy at Houston. Honda-powered drivers have also won the last 13 FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street circuits, dating to the start of the 1998 season.
* Firestone has won 17 of 18 FedEx Championship Series events contested this season and 35 of 36 overall, dating to Adrian Fernandez' victory at Japan last year.
* With a victory in the Honda Indy 300, rookie Juan Montoya could tie the FedEx Championship Series record of eight victories in a season established by Michael Andretti in 1991 and matched by Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Montoya already owns the series rookie record of seven victories and has tied Nigel Mansell's 1993 rookie mark of seven pole positions, which he could break with a pole in one of the season's remaining two events. In addition, Montoya, with 929 laps led this season, needs 37 more to move into second place on CART's single-season laps led list, passing Michael Andretti's 1991 total of 965. Andretti's 1992 total of 1,136 laps led tops the list.
* By starting the Honda Indy 300, Mauricio Gugelmin will move into sole possession of fifth place on the CART consecutive starts list, with 107. Gugelmin, whose streak began in 1993 at Mid-Ohio, is currently tied at 106 with Mario Andretti.
* The buzz about Juan Montoya in his native Colombia has produced an ever-growing contingent of his countrymen at FedEx Championship Series events as CART's 21st season has progressed. The sensational rookie, who has won seven times in 18 events this year, is in position to win the series' prestigious PPG Cup - and the $1 million that goes with it - if he can hold off Scotsman Dario Franchitti in the final two races of the season. As they follow Montoya's championship run, more and more Colombians have been appearing at CART events. Demand has increased to the point that, for CART's last stop in Houston, additional flights were added from Colombia to the Texas city to accommodate the hundreds who wanted to be present to watch Montoya close in on the title. Disappointment set in early for Montoya followers, as an early-race accident damaged the right-front tire and suspension on his Target-sponsored machine and he went scoreless. Franchitti, meanwhile, finished second on the Houston streets and closed Montoya's series points lead to 13 (200-187) with a maximum of 44 points available in the season's final two events. Even more Colombians seem poised to join the 100,000-plus people expected at California Speedway on October 31 for the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. But some have been discouraged by inaccurate information that no tickets remain for the 20th and final race in FedEx Championship Series. While tickets are selling briskly and a sellout is expected, good seats remain for the 500-mile race. "We only have a small number of seats available, but good seats can be purchased for Saturday and Sunday," said California Speedway President Scott Atherton. "We have received several calls from people in Colombia who want to attend our race, but said they heard we were sold out. We just wanted to let people know that they can still purchase seats. The way this is shaping up, they better hurry and contact us now to ensure that they can get seats." Those interested in tickets for the season-ending race should call 909/429-5000 or 800/944-7223 for more information.
* The Honda Indy 300 will air live on ESPN on Saturday/early Sunday, Oct. 16/17, beginning at midnight ET.