Fontana, CA - October 29, 1999 - Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., has reached an agreement to provide Toyota engines to three-time defending CART champion Target/Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season. Target/Chip Ganassi...
Fontana, CA - October 29, 1999 - Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., has reached an agreement to provide Toyota engines to three-time defending CART champion Target/Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season.
Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has earned each of the last three PPG Cup titles (Jimmy Vasser in 1996, Alex Zanardi in 1997 and 1998) and heads into the season finale in position to earn its fourth consecutive championship with rookie sensation Juan Montoya. The first-year driver also can tie the CART single-season record for victories with eight if he wins this weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota.
"We're tremendously pleased to add the dominant team in Champ Car racing to the Toyota line-up for the new millennium," said Jim Aust, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., vice president of motorsports. "It says a lot about the progress of our program that an established champion has that type of confidence in us. Chip Ganassi has a proven record for recording 'firsts,' and we believe he gives us another great opportunity to win, and earn our first CART championship in 2000."
Target/Chip Ganassi recorded the first ever victory for the Reynard Champ Car chassis in 1994, with Michael Andretti behind the wheel. It also became the first multiple winner and championship team for Honda in 1996.
The agreement comes just days after Toyota earned its best-ever starting position with a third at Australia, where Scott Pruett ran second for the 21 circuits of the 65-lap race before pit stop problems dropped him to ninth. The manufacturer has surpassed all of its previous Champ Car standards and has become a consistent top-10 finisher and qualifier through the last half of the season but has yet to break through for its first win.
Fortunately, winning is what Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has done best over the past four years. The team has registered 30 Champ Car victories beginning with the 1996 season -- 21 more than the next closest team in the same time period. Overall, Chip Ganassi-led teams have 39 victories and four CART championships since 1988, featuring such drivers as Emerson Fittipaldi, Andretti, Zanardi, Vasser and Montoya.
Both Montoya and Vasser, a northern Californian Toyota dealer, currently rank in the top 10 in the PPG Cup points championship. Montoya enters the season finale just nine points behind in the title chase. Before preparations can be made for the 2000 season, Toyota hopes to end 1999 on a high note at this weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota to be broadcast live on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET/12 noon PT. Pruett, coming off his record-setting qualifying performance in Australia, sat on the pole at Fontana a year ago. The elder statesman of CART is making his final Champ Car start before moving to stock cars next year. Pruett qualified fifth, just one-tenth off the pole, at Fontana's sister track in Michigan where he ran comfortably in the top 10 all day before making contact with the wall late in the race.
Pruett's teammate, rookie Cristiano da Matta, also is expected to be in the hunt this weekend. The 1998 Indy Lights champion has qualified in the top 10 at each of the last three oval-track races and earned Toyota's all-time best finish of fourth earlier this season at Nazareth.
Another Toyota driver that has excelled on the superspeedways is Pasadena native Richie Hearn. Hearn ran in the top 10 at Michigan before suffering electrical problems and registered his best Champ Car finish there - a fifth - a year ago.
Rounding out the Toyota effort on Sunday will be a pair of Dan Gurney Eagle chassis driven by Team Gordon's Robby Gordon and All American Racers' Raul Boesel. Each has been fast in Fontana testing, with Gordon logging a 232.5-mph lap and Boesel going over 231 mph two weeks ago.