SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (October 17, 1999) - The heavyweight bout for the undisputed FedEx Championship Series title took a dramatic turn during Sunday's Honda Indy 300 as Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green stormed to a...
SURFERS PARADISE, Queensland, Australia (October 17, 1999) - The heavyweight bout for the undisputed FedEx Championship Series title took a dramatic turn during Sunday's Honda Indy 300 as Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green stormed to a victory from the pole to unseat rookie sensation Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing for the championship lead before a record crowd of 102,844 on Australia's Gold Coast. Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), who entered the Hondy Indy 300 facing a 13-point deficit (200-187), completed a stunning 22-point sweep while Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) was held scoreless due to an accident, giving the 26-year-old Scotsman a nine-point advantage, 209-200, heading into Round 20, the season-ending Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota at California Speedway on Oct. 31. A $2 million payout could be on the line for either title contender with the series champion receiving $1 million from PPG and an opportunity for another $1 million for a race victory. Franchitti, who gained a point Saturday for the pole position, registered 20 for the race win and another point for leading the most laps - 49 of 65 on the 2.795-mile temporary street course - en route to a 2.609-second margin over Team Rahal's Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard). Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing finished third. The victory was Franchitti's third of the season and the sixth of his career, and made him the ninth different winner in the nine-year history of the event. None of the previous events topped this edition for attendance as the three-day CART total was a record 219,253, the largest series event this season. It appeared that Franchitti, despite a 22-point sweep, would still head into the season finale trailing Montoya, who was running strong until his late mishap. Montoya, the record-setting rookie who leads the series in wins (7) and poles (7), moved to as high as second from his fifth starting position and was running third when calamity struck on Lap 49. He was unable to negotiate the Turn 9 lefthander and made contact with the tire barrier, ending his day. Jan Magnussen (Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard), who opted not to pit during the caution, assumed the lead when it went green on Lap 53, but Franchitti immediately passed him heading into Turn 1 on the Lap 54. He went on to become the third driver to win from the pole in this event and capture the championship lead. The last time the FedEx Championship Series had a new points leader this late in the season was 1992 when Bobby Rahal regained the lead from Al Unser Jr. with a win at Nazareth in Round 15 of 16 and then clinching in the season finale at Laguna Seca. It was also a stellar day for Papis, who established a career best with his runner-up performance. The effort, his 10th top-five finish of the season, eclipsed his previous best of third this season at Laguna Seca. For Fernandez, it was a career-best finish at this venue - topping sixth last season - and also his third podium of the season. Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) and Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) rounded out the top five, respectively. Herta posted his third consecutive top-five finish and a personal best at Australia, topping 10th last season. The performance for Andretti was his ninth top-five finish of the season and allowed him to close to 10 points, 161-151, of Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) for third place in the championship.
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "At the start, I got a good jump on Bryan and after that it was fairly comfortable and I worked on opening a consistent gap. The first [pit] stop took a little longer than I'd like, but after that it was just getting on with it, staying out front, saving fuel and being consistent. Then [team general manager] Kim Green came on the radio and said [Juan] Montoya was out and I thought, 'This is what we've been waiting for. Don't make any mistakes.' It was a perfect weekend. I really have to thank Reynard, Honda and Firestone because today they proved to be the perfect package. It was just perfect and now we hope for a similar result in Fontana."
MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "We started further back [on the grid] because we had some difficulties in qualifying [11th], but we came out very strong. When everybody else pitted, I thought, 'Oh, my God!' but I trust [team owner] Bobby [Rahal] and my crew a lot. They were my eyes and I have all confidence in them. I had a very, very fast car, maybe the fastest car on the track. The Ford engine was very strong. I want to thank Australia for putting on this show. The people here really make you feel like you're part of something very important and something very special."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard: "My car was working very well at the start of the race. I managed to save a lot of fuel and I was able to do one lap more than anybody else. There was a little confusion with Bryan [Herta] and after that, I was able to move up. Then, it was just a question of seeing how the fuel strategy was going to play out. The tires were working well and the Ford engine worked really well all day. I'm very happy to finish my best race here in Australia."
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "Obviously, this isn't the way I wanted to end the day. I'm mostly disappointed because we had a winning car and a shot at a spot on the podium. I locked the rear brakes, turned around and tagged the wall. Now, we look toward Fontana."
* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) became the ninth different winner in as many FedEx Championship Series events contested in Australia, joining John Andretti (1991), Emerson Fittipaldi (1992), Nigel Mansell (1993), Michael Andretti (1994), Paul Tracy (1995), Jimmy Vasser (1996), Scott Pruett (1997) and Alex Zanardi (1998).
* Five of Franchitti's (KOOL Honda Reynard) six career FedEx Championship Series victories have come on road or street courses, including all three this season. The quintet consists of wins at Vancouver and Houston last year, and Toronto, Detroit and Australia this year.
* Franchitti's victory marked the sixth time a driver has won from the pole this season. The other victories were recorded by Greg Moore (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) at Homestead; Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) at Nazareth, Cleveland and Vancouver; and Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) at Laguna Seca.
* Franchitti's victory made Team KOOL Green team owner Barry Green the first Australian owner to win a Champ Car event in his native land. Franchitti: "Barry said afterward that he won the Indy 500 [with Jacques Villeneuve in 1995] and this was bigger. He had his mum and his family here and it was a great day for him. It also was a good feeling for me to give him the victory."
* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) continued his outstanding second half of the season with a career-best runner-up performance in his 58th Champ Car start. It marked his fifth top-five showing in the past six events and his 10th of the season. The others are third at Laguna Seca, fourth at Rio de Janeiro, Chicago and Houston; and fifth at Homestead, Gateway, Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio. "I would like to dedicate my career-best day to my friend Gonzalo," said Papis, referring to rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez who lost his life in a race practice accident Sept. 11 at Laguna Seca.
* Franchitti's victory was the 14th of the season for a Honda-powered driver, including eight in the past nine events. The victories consist of seven from Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), a CART rookie record; three from Franchitti; two from Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) and one each from Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) and Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Team Honda Reynard). Honda-powered drivers have now won 14 consecutive FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street courses, dating to Alex Zanardi's victory at Long Beach in 1998.
* Franchitti's victory was the 18th in 19 events this season for Firestone and 36th in the past 37 FedEx Championship Series events, dating to Adrian Fernandez' victory at Japan last year. Firestone also has won every FedEx Championship Series street course event since 1997, a total of 20 victories.
* An already taut Nation's Cup battle tightened even more Sunday as Bryan Herta's (Shell Ford Reynard) fourth-place finish brought the United States to four points of leader Brazil, 257-253, with one event remaining in the FedEx Championship Series season. Kanaan finished sixth for Brazil's highest result. Canada, second entering Sunday, fell to third with 248 points following Paul Tracy's (KOOL Honda Reynard) seventh-place finish. Points in the Nation's Cup are scored according to the same scale used to score the drivers' championship, but only the highest-finishing driver scores for his country in any given event. Since debuting in 1995, the Nation's Cup has been won by the United States in each of its four years of existence.
* When Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift) exited due to an engine fire after completing three of 65 laps, it marked the first time he had failed to finish a FedEx Championship Series event in 14 starts this season. Fittipaldi missed five events after sustaining a subdural hematoma in an Aug. 2 testing accident at Gateway International Raceway.
* Robby Gordon (Johns Manville/Panasonic/Menards Toyota Eagle) matched his season-best finish with an eighth-place effort. His previous eighth-place finishes came at Japan and Road America.
* Jan Magnussen (Visteon Ford Reynard) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Ford Lola) each recorded their second points-paying performances of the FedEx Championship Series season by finishing 11th and 12th, respectively. Magnussen had previously finished a career-best seventh at Vancouver while Jourdain Jr. had finished a career-best seventh at Road America.
The 1999 FedEx Championship Series season concludes with the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, Oct. 31 at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The event will feature two separate $1 million awards, one to the winner of the race and another to either Juan Montoya or Dario Franchitti for winning the PPG Cup.