CHAMPCAR/CART: Toronto preview

Franchitti Back In The Thick Of Championship Chase As FedEx Championship Series Heads To Molson Indy DETROIT (July 11, 2001) - Look who's back. While Kenny Brack of Team Rahal and Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske were grabbing most of...

Franchitti Back In The Thick Of Championship Chase As FedEx Championship Series Heads To Molson Indy

DETROIT (July 11, 2001) - Look who's back.

While Kenny Brack of Team Rahal and Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske were grabbing most of the headlines through the first half of the FedEx Championship Series season, a former championship contender was lurking quietly in the wings, collecting championship points at virtually every stop on the 2001 tour.

Suddenly, following a victory two weeks ago at Cleveland, Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green has projected himself into the thick of the championship fight.

Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) ended a 1½-year absence from victory circle when he triumphed on the runways of Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport on July 1, collecting his first win since October, 1999 in Australia. Thanks to that victory, the most recent of his seven points-paying finishes in eight starts this season, Franchitti has vaulted into contention for the FedEx Championship Series championship as the season reaches its midway point.

Heading into Round 10, Sunday's Molson Indy at Toronto's Exhibition Place (1 p.m. ET, live, ESPN), Franchitti stands third in the championship with 65 points. It marks his highest placement in the championship hunt since the 1999 season finale at California Speedway, where Franchitti was edged for the FedEx Championship Series championship by Juan Montoya following the first tiebreaker in series history.

Franchitti's thrilling 1999 campaign also included a dominant victory at Toronto in which he led all 95 race laps. In addition, he is a two-time pole winner at Exhibition Place (1997, '98), and has claimed six of his seven career FedEx Championship Series victories on temporary street circuits, so Franchitti will rank among the favorites for victory this weekend.

But Franchitti is just one of five former Molson Indy winners on this weekend's entry list, and while that represents a prestigious group, one member of that quintet stands head and shoulders above his peers.

That would be defending Molson Indy champion Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola, who has collected six of his CART career-leading 40 victories in Toronto. In addition to last year's win, Andretti also won at Toronto in 1989, '91, '92, '94 and '95. He has finished fifth or better in 11 of 14 career starts at Exhibition Place.

Joining Andretti and Franchitti as former Champ Car winners at Toronto are Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green (1993), Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) of Fernandez Racing (1996) and Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing (1998). Tracy has finished on the podium in each of his past two starts at Toronto, taking second to Franchitti in 1999 and third last year, while Fernandez was second to Andretti last year and Zanardi collected back-to-back runner-up finishes in 1996 and '97.

Brack (Shell Ford Lola) comes to Toronto retaining the championship lead he has held since his victory at Japan in Round 5. With 84 points, he holds a 14-point edge over Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard), whose 70 points place him five ahead of third-place Franchitti.

All FedEx Championship Series entries ride on Firestone Tires, the Official Tire of CART.

The Molson Indy is Round 10 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. An additional $1 million, as well as the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup, will be awarded to the driver who wins the FedEx Championship Series championship.

The Molson Indy begins a run of five FedEx Championship Series events in six weeks, continuing with the Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota on Sunday, July 22, at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

WHO'S HOT

* Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green owns top 10 finishes in seven of his eight FedEx Championship Series starts this season, including a victory in the most recent event at Cleveland. He also finished on the podium with a runner-up result last month at Detroit. His run also includes finishes of sixth at Long Beach and Portland, eighth at Nazareth, and ninth at Mexico and Milwaukee. The victory at Cleveland, his first since 1999 at Australia, moved him from sixth to third in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 65 points.

* FedEx Championship Series points leader Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Lola) of Team Rahal has scored championship points in his past six starts and seven of eight overall during the 2001 season. Included in the run are his first two career victories, at Japan and Milwaukee, and a runner-up result at Nazareth. He also finished ninth at Detroit, 11th at Portland and sixth at Cleveland and enters this weekend's Molson Indy as the FedEx Championship Series championship leader, with 84 points. Brack also owns poles at Mexico, Texas and Milwaukee and outside poles at Long Beach and Nazareth.

* Roberto Moreno (Visteon Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in six of his past seven starts, including podium finishes of third at Portland and second at Detroit. The run also includes finishes of eighth at Cleveland, 10th at Japan, 11th at Long Beach and 12th at Nazareth. He is 10th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 41 points.

* Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Toyota Lola) of Newman/Haas Racing finished 11th at Cleveland to continue a run that has seen him score championship points in five of his past six starts, dating to a fifth-place finish at Nazareth. He also finished fourth at Japan, fifth at Detroit and third at Portland. Fittipaldi has improved from 22nd when the run began to eighth in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 48 points.

* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) of Team Rahal owns points-paying finishes in four of his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, including a victory from the pole at Portland, the second win of his FedEx Championship Series career. Papis' run also includes finishes of sixth at Japan, eighth at Milwaukee and 11th at Detroit. He stands 12th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 38 points.

* Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Toyota) of the PacWest Racing Group earned the pole at Cleveland, his first since the 1997 season finale at California Speedway, where he became the first driver in Champ Car history to post a qualifying lap of over 240 miles per hour (240.941 mph). His 10th-place finish at Cleveland allowed Gugelmin to score championship points for the fourth time in his past five FedEx Championship Series starts, including finishes of 10th at Milwaukee and Detroit and 12th at Japan. He stands 20th in the FedEx Championship Series championship, with 11 points.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Defending Molson Indy champion Michael Andretti (Motorola Honda Reynard) of Team Motorola has scored six of his 40 career FedEx Championship Series victories at Toronto, the most success he has enjoyed at any venue. In addition to last year's triumph, his previous victories have come in 1989, '91, '92, '94 and '95. Andretti has finished fifth or better in 11 of 14 Molson Indy career starts, including fifth in 1987, third in '88, second in '90, fourth in '97 and second in '98. He has led 448 laps on the streets of Toronto, including all 103 en route to victories in 1991 and '92 and 34 last year. In addition, Andretti won the 1991 pole at Toronto and has qualified among the top 10 drivers for all 14 of his starts at the venue.

* Alex Zanardi (Pioneer Honda Reynard) of Mo Nunn Racing owns a victory in 1998 and runner-up finishes in 1996 and '97 in three career starts at Toronto. He led a race-high 63 laps in 1996 and three in 1998. Zanardi also started on the outside pole at Toronto in 1996 and '98.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) of Team KOOL Green, a native of nearby Scarborough, Ontario, has earned seven top-10 finishes in nine career starts at Toronto, topped by a victory in 1993. He also recorded a runner-up finish to Team KOOL Green teammate Dario Franchitti in 1999 and finished third last year. In addition, Tracy's Toronto resume includes finishes of fifth in 1994 and '96, eighth in '95 and 10th in '97.

* Dario Franchitti owns a victory and two pole positions in four career appearances at Toronto. He became the first FedEx Championship Series driver to win consecutive poles at Toronto in 1997 and '98 and led all 95 laps en route to his victory from the outside pole in 1999.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) of Fernandez Racing earned his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Toronto in 1996 and returned to the podium with a runner-up finish to Michael Andretti last year. He has scored championship points in five of seven career appearances at Exhibition Place, including finishes of seventh in 1995, ninth in '98 and sixth in '99.

* Christian Fittipaldi has scored championship points in four of his six career appearances at Toronto, topped by a podium result of third in 1999. He also owns finishes of ninth in 1995, seventh in '96 and 11th in '97.

* Jimmy Vasser (Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard) of Patrick Racing has scored championship points in seven of nine career appearances at Toronto, topped by a finish of third in 1998. He also finished 12th in 1992, 11th in '93, eighth in '96, seventh in '97, eighth in '99 and ninth last year.

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

* Honda-powered drivers have won all three FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street circuits this year, getting victories from Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) at Long Beach and Detroit and Dario Franchitti at Cleveland. Overall, Honda-powered drivers have won 20 of the past 24 FedEx Championship Series events contested on temporary street circuits, dating to Alex Zanardi's victory at Long Beach on April 5, 1998.

ON THE AIR

* Qualifying for the Molson Indy will air 5 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 1 p.m. ET. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN, and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Mauricio Gugelmin , Kenny Brack , Mo Nunn