CHAMPCAR/CART: Team Penske looks to return to glory at Road America

DETROIT (August 15, 2000) - From 1992 through '95, Marlboro Team Penske won 11 of 16 FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses. The juggernaut which included drivers Al Unser Jr. (4 victories), Emerson Fittipaldi (4)...

DETROIT (August 15, 2000) - From 1992 through '95, Marlboro Team Penske won 11 of 16 FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses.

The juggernaut which included drivers Al Unser Jr. (4 victories), Emerson Fittipaldi (4) and Paul Tracy (3) lambasted their competition, winning 68.7 percent of the time at purpose-built road racing circuits.

The years from 1996-99 were another matter, however, as Marlboro Team Penske went winless on the roads. But with the dawn of a new century, the team's fortunes have turned. Penske drivers have won both of this year's road-course events, getting victories from Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) and Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Portland and Mid-Ohio, respectively.

Marlboro Team Penske will look to keep the streak alive this weekend at scenic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., as the FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 14, the Motorola 220 (4 p.m. ET Sunday, tape delay, ABC-TV). The 4.048-mile road course has played host to three Marlboro Team Penske victories over the years, from Danny Sullivan (1989), Fittipaldi (1992) and Tracy (1993), who led all 50 laps from the pole en route to his triumph.

Team Penske's 2000 resurgence, however, has not been restricted to permanent road circuits. After going winless through the 1998 and '99 FedEx Championship Series campaigns while searching for that elusive 100th victory, Team Penske has already pushed its total to 103, as de Ferran (Nazareth oval) and Castroneves (Detroit street circuit) have complemented their road-course successes with victories at other venues.

As a result, Team Penske is chasing its first series championship since Unser Jr.'s in 1994. Heading into this weekend's Motorola 220, de Ferran stands second to championship leader Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing, who holds a 125-106 points lead over de Ferran. It marks the deepest point of the season that a Penske driver has been in contention for a championship since 1996.

But Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), CART's all-time victory leader (40), continues as a formidable adversary. He is a three-time winner at Road America (1990, '91 and '96), the two-time defending pole-sitter and track record-holder with his qualifying lap of 145.745 miles per hour (1 minute, 39.988 seconds) in 1998.

Andretti's Newman/Haas Racing teammate, Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), enters this weekend as the defending event champion. He recorded his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Road America last year and has finished fourth or better in each of his past three appearances, including third in 1998 and fourth in '97.

Like Fittipaldi, Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green logged his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Road America in 1998. Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), his teammate, owns consecutive pole positions from 1992-94, in addition to his 1993 victory.

Andretti and de Ferran are two of the three FedEx Championship Series drivers who have reached 100 championship points through the season's first 13 rounds. The other is Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing, who stands third in the championship with 100 points, including his first career victory at Cleveland.

Rounding out the top five drivers in the championship are rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal, who, despite being without a victory, has finished sixth or better in seven of his past 11 FedEx Championship Series starts en route to 88 points. Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing stands fifth with 87 points, built on a victory at Brazil and points-paying results in 10 of his past 11 starts.

This year, for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history, all cars ride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.

Following the Motorola 220, the FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 15, the Molson Indy Vancouver, September 1-3 at Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

*Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing continues to set a steaming pace as the current leader in the chase for the Vanderbilt Cup, emblematic of the FedEx Championship Series championship. Andretti's eighth-place finish at Mid-Ohio last Sunday gave him championship points in 10 of his last 11 starts, including victories at Japan and Toronto and podium finishes of second at Milwaukee, Michigan and Chicago. He enters this weekend's Motorola 220 as the two-time defending polesitter and holds a 125-106 points lead over Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske in the championship race.

*Gil de Ferran has scored championship points in 10 of his 13 starts this season and is one of four drivers who have won multiple events, with victories at Nazareth and Portland. He has finished on the podium in each of the past two events - third at Chicago and runner-up at Mid-Ohio - and has taken over second place in the championship race with 106 points, 19 behind leader Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing. De Ferran also owns three poles this season (Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio) and has qualified among the top 10 drivers in 11 of 13 starts.

*Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal has scored championship points in nine of his past 11 FedEx Championship Series starts, and has finished sixth or better in seven of those. Included in the run are podium finishes of second at Cleveland and third at Nazareth, in addition to finishes of fourth at Milwaukee and Chicago, fifth at Japan and Mid-Ohio and sixth at Portland. He has moved to fourth in the championship with 88 points and has doubled the point total of Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), who has 44, in the battle for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Award.

*Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in 10 of his last 11 FedEx Championship Series starts, beginning with a victory at Rio de Janeiro. He also owns a podium finish of second at Toronto, and, following last week's sixth-place finish at Mid-Ohio, has moved to fifth in the championship with 87 points, one behind rookie Kenny Brack.

*Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) of Player's Forsythe Racing has finished seventh or better in seven of 10 FedEx Championship Series starts this season, and has scored championship points in seven of his past eight. Included is a podium finish of third at Milwaukee and finishes of fourth at Michigan and fifth at Detroit and Cleveland. Despite missing three events earlier in the year with a small fracture of the left wrist sustained in an accident at his Las Vegas home, Carpentier stands 10th in the championship with 71 points, a career-high total already for his four FedEx Championship Series seasons.

*Rookie Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsports joins Gil de Ferran as the only FedEx Championship Series drivers to have scored championship points in as many as five of the six road or street course events contested to date. Servia's run includes finishes of sixth at Long Beach, a career-best third at Detroit, eighth at Portland, 11th at Toronto and 10th at Mid-Ohio. He stands 16th in the championship with 41 points.

*Michael Andretti is a three-time winner at Road America (1990, '91 and '96), and has scored championship points in 10 of 15 appearances there, including podium results of 1985, '86 and '99. His victory in 1996 - when he took the lead from Al Unser Jr., who suffered an engine failure on the final lap - made him one of only four drivers in CART history to win while leading only the final lap of a race. Andretti is also is the two-time defending pole-sitter at Road America and owns the track record of 145.745 miles per hour (1 minute, 39.988 seconds) set in 1998.

*Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green won at Road America in 1993, finished second in 1995 and earned three of his 13 career pole positions in 1992, '93 and '94. He has led 90 career laps at the venue, including all 50 from the pole en route to his 1993 victory.

*Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing drove to his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Road America last year, when he led the final seven laps. He also finished on the podium with a third-place effort in 1998 and finished fourth in '97. Counting his eighth-place performance in 1995, he has scored championship points with finishes of eighth or better in four of his five career starts at the venue.

*Tony Kanaan (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing owns top six finishes of fourth in 1998 and sixth last year in his two career appearances at Road America.

*Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has finished ninth or better in four of his six career starts at Road America, topped by a third-place result in 1995. He also finished sixth in 1996, eighth in '97 and ninth last year.

*Ford-powered drivers have won four of the past six FedEx Championship Series events contested at Road America, getting victories from Jacques Villeneuve in 1994 and '95, Michael Andretti in 1996 and Christian Fittipaldi last year. Ford has also won three of the past five poles, with Villeneuve leading the field in 1995 and Andretti doing the honors in '98 and '99.

*Honda has won both FedEx Championship Series events contested on permanent road courses this season, getting victories from Marlboro Team Penske drivers Gil de Ferran at Portland and Helio Castroneves at Mid-Ohio. Honda has also won four of the past six permanent road course events over the past two seasons, including victories last year from de Ferran at Portland and Juan Montoya at Mid-Ohio.

*Target Chip Ganassi Racing has scheduled a media availability, featuring team owner Chip Ganassi and driver Jimmy Vasser on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the Media Center at Road America, following Monday's announcement that Vasser would not drive for the team in 2001. Since joining the team in 1995, Vasser has recorded eight victories and seven pole positions. He won the 1996 FedEx Championship Series championship, starting the team on an unprecedented run of four consecutive series titles. "Jimmy is one of the main reasons for Target Racing's success over the years," Ganassi said. "I value what he has brought to this team and the impact he has made, and more importantly, I value his friendship. It's an unfortunate part of our business that friends have to deal with each other in this environment. I've been proud to have Jimmy on the team for the past six years." Said Vasser, "Chip said he wants to make a change, and he thinks that change would be good for both the team and me. I tend to agree. We have a lot of history together and maybe things have gotten a little stale. It should be an amicable divorce. The timing gives me the opportunity to see what options are available for next season and in the future."

*By starting Sunday's Motorola 220, Michael Andretti will tie current CART President and CEO Bobby Rahal for second place on CART's career starts list, with his 264th. Al Unser Jr. sits atop CART's career starts list, with 273.

*Qualifying for the Motorola 220 will air 5 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2; CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, with ABC-TV's tape-delayed race broadcast slated to begin 4 p.m. ET. The race will also air live on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website at www.cart.com .

-CART-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack , Danny Sullivan , Chip Ganassi , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing