CORBY, England (September 22, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Team Penske slipped past current FedEx Championship Series leader Kenny Brack of Team Rahal heading into the third turn of the final lap Saturday...
CORBY, England (September 22, 2001) - Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Team Penske slipped past current FedEx Championship Series leader Kenny Brack of Team Rahal heading into the third turn of the final lap Saturday and held on for a scintillating victory in the inaugural Rockingham 500 before a crowd of 38,000 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.
De Ferran (Honda Reynard), who had led 83 of the first 138 laps on the 1.5-mile oval, lost the lead on the 139th and penultimate lap when Brack eased by on the outside as de Ferran was held up in traffic. Brack (Shell Ford Lola) took the white flag with the lead and appeared to be in position for his series-leading fifth victory of the season until de Ferran got a run on him heading into the third turn of the final lap.
The two championship frontrunners went breathtakingly side by side through the final two turns before de Ferran nosed ahead of Brack coming onto the front straightaway in a sprint toward the checkered flag. De Ferran held on for a 0.634-second victory for Team Penske's first FedEx Championship Series oval triumph since de Ferran recorded the team's 100th Champ Car win at Nazareth last year.
De Ferran's first victory of the season also made him the 11th different winner of the FedEx Championship Series campaign, tying a record established last year.
Despite being edged out on the race track, Brack maintained the FedEx Championship Series championship lead with 147 points, followed by de Ferran with 141. Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola stands third with 125 points following a fifth-place finish Saturday, while reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (Honda Reynard), de Ferran's Team Penske teammate, finished fourth and stands fourth in the championship with 123 points.
Following the event, Castroneves was penalized one finishing position for passing Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing during a full-course caution condition. The incident occurred beyond the blend-out line as the two drivers exited the pits at the conclusion of the 100th lap. Following a post-race review of videotape and Timing and Scoring documents by CART stewards, it was determined that da Matta and Castroneves would switch finishing positions, with da Matta being awarded third place for his first podium result since second at Long Beach in Round 2.
De Ferran's victory marked his fifth top-five finish in the past six events, dating to a third-place result at Chicago. He has scored 69 of his 141 championship points in that span and has moved from fifth to second in the title race.
Brack continued as the dominant FedEx Championship Series driver in oval competition this season, with four victories and two runner-up results. He has scored 116 of his series-leading 147 championship points on oval tracks.
The race, which began roughly four hours after its originally scheduled 12:30 p.m. green flag, was shortened from its originally scheduled 210-lap distance due to concerns over adequate daylight and impending bad weather.
Castroneves' fourth-place finish marked the sixth points-paying result in his past seven starts, while Andretti's fifth-place effort represented his fourth consecutive top-five showing, dating to a podium performance of second at Road America.
The Rockingham 500 was Round 17 of 21 in the 2001 FedEx Championship Series. The series visits seven countries and four continents during the season and climaxes with the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Nov. 4 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Thanks to a partnership between Marlboro, Toyota, CART and California Speedway, the winner of the season finale will collect $1 million, one of the richest paydays in all of motorsports. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing is the defending event champion. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.
GIL de FERRAN, Team Penske Honda Reynard: "I think first of all, I'd like to say that we're still running under a little bit of a cloud with all of the things that happened in the U.S. last week and what happened to [Alex] Zanardi is still in all of our minds. We've just got to keep going. As far as the race is concerned, I'm glad to have raced today. When I saw the blue sky this morning I thought, 'It's now or never.' I got a good run on the first lap into Turn 1 and 2 and was able to pass Kenny. The guys in the pits did a wonderful job on the second stop to put me ahead of Kenny. Traffic was very, very difficult, and with two laps to go, I thought I'd dive under Max and it didn't work out so good. I understeered and Kenny was able to get by. But I got a good run going off of Turn 2 on the last lap, into 3, and through 4, and thankfully I was able to make it by. It was a very exciting race. It was a good race, and I hope everybody enjoyed it. For those who don't know, I have some strong attachments to this country. My wife is British, and my career took off here. It's really special for me.'
KENNY BRACK, Shell Ford Lola: "I think Gil went loose or something and I managed to get by him, but in the end I couldn't hold him off. I don't know what he did in the last corner there. I thought we had him, but obviously, we didn't. In these races, they're very unpredictable. We were very competitive, and it went down to traffic at the end. That's how we were able to get by him, and that's how he was able to get by me. I have no complaints. It was a tough race, it was an exciting race, and that's the way I think oval racing should be."
HELIO CASTRONEVES, Team Penske Honda Reynard: "Definitely, it was a very busy day for everyone, not only for the drivers, but also for the mechanics. Definitely, it's a great [track] layout. It's really kind of exciting. Fortunately, the weather held. I was just concerned with making sure I made the first lap. Then, obviously, while the race was going on I started saving fuel as usual. We dropped to ninth on the first stop, but then they did a fast recovery getting me to third on the second stop. The backmarkers did a great job staying out of the way. It was good for Team Penske and let's keep going, because we're going to a few more races. Definitely, we were in a better situation before, but there's still four races to go. We're going to a street circuit, and we've been achieving good results on those races, especially me. Hopefully, the dice will play to our side. On the track, I just need to take care of collecting as many points as possible. Hopefully, I'll get out of here with a big smile on my face."
* Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Honda Reynard) has finished eighth or better in each of his past six FedEx Championship Series starts, and fifth or better in five of those. The run began with a podium performance of third at Chicago, followed by a runner-up effort of second at Mid-Ohio and finishes of fifth at Road America, second at Vancouver and eighth at Germany. De Ferran's active run of six consecutive points-paying finishes is his longest since the final six events of the 1997 season.
* Gil de Ferran's victory marked the second consecutive Champ Car triumph for a Team Penske driver on English soil. The last time Champ Cars visited the United Kingdom, Rick Mears drove to victory for Team Penske on the Brand's Hatch road course on October 7, 1978.
* In seven oval-track starts this season, Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) owns six podium finishes, including victories at Japan, Milwaukee, Chicago and Germany, and runner-up efforts at Nazareth and England. Brack has scored 116 of his 147 championship points in oval competition, more than double the oval point total of second-place Scott Dixon (57).
* Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) led 56 laps, keeping intact a run which has seen him lead at least 54 laps in each of his seven oval track starts this season. Included are race-high totals of 125 laps led at Nazareth, 130 at Milwaukee and 82 at Germany. Brack also led 75 laps at Japan, 54 at Michigan and 59 at Chicago. All told, Brack has led a series-high 621 laps this season, including 591 on ovals, more than triple the total of second-place Tony Kanaan (no limits Honda Reynard), who has led 175 laps in oval competition. Brack's performance also moved him into sole possession of ninth-place on the CART single-season laps-led list, with 621, 11 more than Mario Andretti (1987) and Alex Zanardi (1996), who led 610 each.
* Cristiano da Matta's (Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola) third-place finish was a season best on an oval, exceeding fourth at Michigan. It also marked his best overall finish on an oval since last year's victory at Chicago.
* Gil de Ferran's victory was the first oval win of the season for Honda and its first since de Ferran's win at Nazareth last season. Honda continues to lead the CART Manufacturer's Championship with 278 points, followed by Ford with 240 and Toyota with 236.
* Gil de Ferran's victory also allowed Reynard to increase its lead in the CART Manufacturer's Championship to 307-260 over Lola.
* Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola has finished fifth or better in each of his past four FedEx Championship Series starts, including second at Road America, third at Vancouver, fourth at Germany and fifth on Saturday.
* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished seventh for his best overall result since fifth at Cleveland in Round 9. It was also his best performance on an oval since finishing fifth at Japan in Round 5.
* Oriol Servia (Sigma Autosport Ford Lola) of Sigma Autosport finished 10th, collecting championship points for the fifth consecutive event, dating to a ninth-place result at Mid-Ohio. The run also includes finishes of 10th at Road America and fifth at Vancouver and Germany.
* Rookie Townsend Bell (Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Dale Coyne Racing finished 12th Saturday to score the first championship point of his FedEx Championship Series career, in his second career start. Bell, the Dayton Indy Lights championship leader for Dorricott Racing, made his first career Champ Car start at Germany last week, finishing 13th.
* Paul Tracy (Team Green Honda Reynard) of Team Green and Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group moved up on the CART career starts list when they took the green flag Saturday. Tracy broke a tie with Danny Sullivan and moved into eighth place with his 168th start, while Gugelmin passed Arie Luyendyk for 13th place with his 143rd.
* Championship Auto Racing Teams, Honda, Penske Racing, Fernandez Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske drivers Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves combined to raise $38,537 Saturday for the World Association To Aid Children charity fund designated by recently injured two-time FedEx Series champion Alex Zanardi. The group based its donations upon performances in Saturday's 140-lap event at Rockingham Motor Speedway in terms of either laps completed, laps led or both. The fund was designated by the Zanardi family for donations in lieu of flowers for the Champ Car star who had both lower legs amputated from a tragic race accident last week in Germany. CART, which donated $100 on behalf of the lap leaders, will contribute $14,000 on behalf of de Ferran and Team Rahal driver Kenny Brack. An $8,400 donation will be sent on behalf of de Ferran for leading 84 laps and $5,600 on behalf of Brack for leading the other 56. Honda, which was set to contribute $100 for every lap led by a Honda-powered driver, led 84 laps for $8,400 but will stand on a minimum pledge of $10,000 to the fund. Penske Racing, which contributed $10 for every lap completed and $25 for each lap led by its drivers, will donate $2,800 for laps completed by the team and $2,100 for laps led for a total of $4,900. De Ferran and Castroneves matched the contributions of Penske Racing and the breakdown will have de Ferran contributing $3,500 and Castroneves $1,400. Fernandez Racing, which was contributing $10 per lap completed by drivers Adrian Fernandez and Shinji Nakano, raised $2,058 but will stand on a minimum pledge of $3,500. Target Chip Ganassi Racing, contributing $10 per lap completed for drivers Memo Gidley and Bruno Junqueira, raised $2,237.
The FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 18, the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, Oct. 5-7 on the streets of downtown Houston, Tex.