Vancouver, BC-- As Jimmy Vasser attempts to close ground on Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Zanardi in the race for the FedEx Championship Series crown, he can draw strength from the memory of last year's stretch run for an opportunity...
Vancouver, BC-- As Jimmy Vasser attempts to close ground on Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Zanardi in the race for the FedEx Championship Series crown, he can draw strength from the memory of last year's stretch run for an opportunity at the PPG Cup.
Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) closed the 1997 campaign with a rush, scoring podium finishes in the final three events to move from eighth to third place in the championship. Included were runner-up efforts at Vancouver and California Speedway, sandwiched around a victory at Laguna Seca.
Now, as the FedEx Championship Series prepares for Round 15 - Sunday's Molson Indy Vancouver (5 p.m. ET, tape delay, ESPN) - Vasser trails Zanardi by 80 points, 206-126, in the championship. With five events remaining, Vasser, the 1996 PPG Cup winner, needs a finish similar to last year's to remain in contention for his second series championship in three years.
"I had a really good race at Vancouver last year and felt I could have won," said Vasser, who led a race-high 46 laps but finished second as Mauricio Gugelmin (Hollywood PacWest Mercedes) claimed his first FedEx Championship Series career victory. "Although we didn't win, that race gave us some pretty good momentum that we carried through to the final two races of the season."
In addition to stops at Vancouver, Laguna Seca and California Speedway, the remaining schedule includes a trip to Australia, site of Vasser's second FedEx Championship Series career victory in 1996. But his uphill quest begins this weekend on the new temporary street circuit at Concord Pacific Place.
"In terms of the track itself, it's been completely reconfigured since last season, so it's going to be like racing on a brand new course," Vasser said. "They've added some new turns, there are a couple of new passing areas, and I think the whole track is going to be a lot less bumpy. All of the changes are really positive and should make for faster and more exciting racing."
Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) has won a season-high six races in pursuit of his second consecutive FedEx Championship Series crown, which he can clinch by leaving Vancouver with an 89-point advantage over his closest pursuer. He has not won a pole position since last year at Vancouver. His 1996 pole at Vancouver was the third of a CART-record six in a row.
Speaking of poles, Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) is coming off his first in three years, two weeks ago at Road America. He has scored three of his CART-record 37 career victories at Vancouver (1991, '92 and '96), and has led a career-best 304 laps at the venue.
CART's all-time victory leader at Vancouver, is Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), who won the inaugural event in 1990, then added three in a row from 1993-95. His 1995 victory at Vancouver stands as the most recent of his 31 in FedEx Championship Series competition.
Still alive in the FedEx Championship Series title battle are Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) and Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes). Fernandez, already with a career-high 120 points, owns three top-five finishes in his past five starts. Moore, a hometown favorite and resident of nearby Maple Ridge, B.C., has scored PPG Cup points just twice in his past six events. However, one of those was a victory in the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway.
After several near misses, Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) broke into the victory column with an outstanding drive at Road America. He led the final 21 laps en route to a comfortable, 7.102-second victory over Zanardi. Christian Fittipaldi (Kmart Swift Ford) finished third at Road America, and owns one of his four career podium finishes at Vancouver, third in 1996.
Veterans Bobby Rahal (Miller Lite Reynard Ford) and Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) bring impressive records of consistency to Vancouver. Rahal, owner of three career runner-up finishes at Vancouver, has scored PPG Cup points in 11 straight events dating to a sixth-place finish at Nazareth, a personal best for the 17-year veteran. Pruett has finished sixth or better in five of the past six events and owns top-10 finishes in eight of the past nine.
Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) has finished fourth or better in all three career appearances at Vancouver, paced by a runner-up effort in '95. Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford) led with 14 of 100 laps remaining at Vancouver last year, but contact caused by Zanardi sent him into a tire barrier and resulted in an eighth-place finish.
Gugelmin owns three top-six finishes in four starts at Vancouver, highlighted by last year's breakthrough victory. Teammate Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) has scored PPG Cup points in both Vancouver appearances, topped by seventh last year.
Robby Gordon (Panasonic Duskin/MCI Reynard Toyota) earned one of his four career pole positions at Vancouver in 1994. Canadian Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) has qualified among the top six three times at Vancouver, but has garnered PPG Cup points only once in six starts.
Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) expects to compete in Vancouver while continuing to recover from a fractured left fibula sustained during provisional qualifying at Road America. He finished 25th in that event, exiting after seven of 50 laps due to engine problems. Richie Hearn (Budweiser/Ralphs Food 4 Less Swift Ford) seeks a return to the top 10, where he has finished six of 14 events this season.
Tony Kanaan (LCI Reynard Honda) matched a career-best finish of fourth at Road America and moved well in front of Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) in the race for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award. Kanaan holds a 58-33 points lead, with fellow rookies JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) and Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Eagle Toyota) sitting at seven and one point, respectively.
Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) and Arnd Meier (Hasseroder/J.A.G. Lola Ford) make the first appearances at Vancouver of their FedEx Championship Series careers. Carpentier missed last year's event due to a broken collarbone sustained in a bicycling accident.. Meier arrives off the best finish of his two-year career, 10th at Road America.
Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota), named Monday to replace Rahal upon the latter's retirement as a driver at the conclusion of this season, has scored PPG Cup points in four of his past six finishes. Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) finished 14th at Road America, his first top-15 effort since 13th at Detroit.
PJ Jones (Castrol-Degree Eagle Toyota) makes his first start in an Eagle chassis since the 1996 season finale at Laguna Seca. Dennis Vitolo (SmithKline Beecham Reynard Ford) returns to competition and makes his first start since the U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota in July.
Qualifying for the Molson Indy Vancouver will air 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2, one-half hour prior to ESPN's tape-delayed race broadcast. The Molson Indy Vancouver will be broadcast live on the CART radio network, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
Following the Molson Indy Vancouver, the FedEx Championship Series continues with its second event in as many weeks, the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Texaco/Havoline 300, Sept. 13 from Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.
Source: CART Online