CHAMPCAR/CART: Rio 200 Race Summary

CHAMPCAR/CART: Rio 200 Race Summary
May 1, 2000, 5:35 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (April 30, 2000) - Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing became the third driver in as many FedEx Championship Series events to drive to victory from deep on the grid Sunday when he captured the Rio 200 before a capacity crowd ...

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (April 30, 2000) - Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing became the third driver in as many FedEx Championship Series events to drive to victory from deep on the grid Sunday when he captured the Rio 200 before a capacity crowd on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), who started 16th, seized the lead with nine laps remaining when rookie polesitter Alex Tagliani, who led a race-high 76 laps, spun in Turn 2 while leading on the 100th of 108 laps. Fernandez went on to a 0.931-second victory over Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in the event that ended under caution as a result of a second spin by Tagliani with four laps remaining.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green finished third to retain the top spot in the FedEx Championship Series points race, leading Vasser by a 48-42 margin through three rounds.

The victory was the first of the season for Fernandez and sixth of his career. He averaged 124.256 miles per hour en route to the triumph. The victory was the 24th in the history of Patrick Racing, the team for whom Fernandez has driven the past three seasons and has contributed five of those wins.

Fernandez continued an early-season trend that has seen the winners of all three FedEx Championship Series events to date come from well back on the starting grid. Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal started 13th and drove to victory in the season opener at Homestead before Tracy climbed from the 17th position to triumph at Long Beach.

Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) led the first 35 laps and 35 more after the first round of pit stops, and appeared to be positioned for his first career victory until his late-race spin. The spin ruined a dazzling performance from Tagliani, who was looking to become just the fifth rookie driver to win from the pole in CART history. He finished scoreless in 13th place, but maintains sixth place in the championship with 18 points.

Vasser's runner-up effort was a season best and his third top-four result of the season. It was also the highest FedEx Championship Series finish for a Toyota-powered driver, exceeding third in Vasser's last start at Long Beach.

Tracy's podium finish kept him perfect for the season. Tracy, a 1999 CART All-Star, was third at Homestead and drove to victory at Long Beach.

Tagliani led the first 35 laps before pitting on Lap 36 and handing the lead to Tracy. Tracy (1), Vasser (1) and Fernandez (2) combined to lead the next four laps before Tagliani resumed the point for another 35-lap stint. Rio 200 Race

Following Michael Andretti's (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) two-lap stay on the lead on Laps 75 and 76, rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal led Laps 77-93. Tagliani's final six-lap stay on the lead came from Laps 94-99, setting the stage for his spin that gave Fernandez control of the race.

Tagliani's spin, which produced a large cloud of smoke from the tires, played an unfortunate role for a few others as Andretti, Brack and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green. All three managed championship points, however, as the trio finished ninth through 11th, respectively.

Cristiano da Matta (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports finished fourth, giving Toyota two of the top-four finishers and matching da Matta's career best of fourth at Nazareth last year.

Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), Andretti's Newman/Haas Racing teammate, rounded out the top five with a season-best fifth-place effort. It was also his second consecutive top-five result in his homeland of Brazil, following third last year after winning his first career pole.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard):

"It was a different kind of day for me. I started way back in the pack, we didn't really get the set-up right the first two days here. I also had a problem with the accident at the beginning of the race. I guess I was just confused, I thought we were supposed to stay behind the front row so I was trying not to pass anybody (under the caution flag). I fell to 20th or 21st position and I was getting frustrated. I had to work my way through and I made a few passes and had some good pit stops. We stayed a long time with the same tires. We ran about 80 laps with the same tires. That was a big key for us today."

JIMMY VASSER (Target Toyota Lola):

"I saw (Tagliani) spinning in front of me and then coming back down (the track). Then I think he lit them up and tried to do a donut or something. I lost him in the smoke and I thought he was still rolling down. So I decided to go for the outside. It was basically a 50-50 chance. It was more luck than anything."

PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard):

"For me, I started the race with more downforce than we needed on the track. I thought the field would be closer than it was but Juan and Alex just took off and I was slower down the straight. But the car was good by the end of the race. I was able to get by traffic and caught up to Jimmy and Adrian and I was really happy with the job the team did. (On the accident) Jimmy and I went through the smoke and I actually hit Alex's car. I clipped the wing but the car was okay and I was able to make it through."

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) is becoming CART's unofficial international ambassador. With Sunday's victory, Fernandez has now won events in four of the five countries that the FedEx Championship Series competes. He claimed his first career victory in Canada (Toronto, 1996), followed with victories at Japan (1998 and '99) and added U.S. triumphs in '98 (Mid-Ohio) and '99 (California Speedway).

* Fernandez, 26th in the championship entering Sunday's event, moved into fifth place with Sunday's victory. The points were his first of the season.

* Fernandez's charge from the 16th starting position to Victory Circle made the average starting position of this year's FedEx Championship Series winners 15.3. Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) drove from 13th to the checkered flag at Homestead, while Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) started 17th and won at Long Beach. Rio 200 Race 3-3-3-3

* Jimmy Vasser's (Target Toyota Lola) runner-up effort was a career-best in five starts at Rio de Janeiro, topping sixth in 1998. It was also his eighth top-five finish in his past 11 starts, dating to fifth at Detroit last year.

* Tracy has finished on the podium in eight of the past 12 FedEx Championship Series events, dating to last year at Toronto. The run comprises victories at Houston last year and Long Beach this year; runner-up at Toronto, Detroit and Mid-Ohio last year and third at Michigan last year and Homestead this year.

* Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) of PacWest Racing earned the Budweiser Hard Charger Award for showing the greatest improvement from start to finish of any driver in the 25-driver field. He started 23rd and finished seventh, an improvement of 16 positions.

* Memo Gidley (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) recorded a career-best FedEx Championship Series finish of eighth while substituting for the injured Patrick Carpentier of Player's Forsythe Racing. It was the 12th start of Gidley's career and his first on an oval. His previous career-best result was 11th at Cleveland.

* Newman/Haas Racing crew member Todd Tice, vent man for Michael Andretti, sustained a fractured right lower leg and ankle, according to CART Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Steve Olvey, when the vent apparatus became stuck in the car as Andretti began to exit on a routine pit stop. Olvey said that Tice's leg was placed in a long leg cast at the track hospital. Tice was to fly to Indianapolis Sunday evening and be evaluated Tuesday by Dr. Terry Trammell of the CART Medical Team to determine if surgery is required.

The FedEx Championship Series continues with its second international event in two weeks, the Firestone Firehawk 500, Saturday, May 13, at the Twin Ring Motegi Motorsports Complex in Motegi, Japan.

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