Franchitti Wins, Zanardi Clinches PPG Cup Vancouver, BC (September 6, 1998) - Alex Zanardi became the first repeat FedEx Championship Series champion in more than a decade while Dario Franchitti earned the biggest jackpot in the history of the...
Franchitti Wins, Zanardi Clinches PPG Cup
Vancouver, BC (September 6, 1998) - Alex Zanardi became the first repeat FedEx Championship Series champion in more than a decade while Dario Franchitti earned the biggest jackpot in the history of the Marlboro Pole Award Sunday by winning the Molson Indy Vancouver at Concord Pacific Place.
On a day when Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) earned his second consecutive victory in a FedEx Championship Series event, Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) drove to a fourth-place finish that allowed him to clinch his second consecutive PPG Cup and $1 million bonus from the PPG Cup points fund.
Zanardi became the first back-to-back series champion since Bobby Rahal earned consecutive crowns in 1986 and '87 and - coupled with teammate Jimmy Vasser's 1996 title - allowed Target/Chip Ganassi Racing to become only the second team in CART history to win three in a row. The only other team to accomplish the feat was Penske Racing, which won three straight from 1981-83.
Zanardi's fourth-place effort gave him a 92-point lead (218-126) over Vasser (Target Reynard Honda), who was held scoreless, in the FedEx Championship Series standings. A maximum of 88 points is available in the final four events of the 19-race championship season, paving the way for Zanardi's ability to clinch Sunday. By clinching the title with four races remaining, Zanardi does so earlier than any driver in CART history. Rick Mears clinched the 1981 PPG Cup over Bill Alsup with three races remaining.
Meanwhile, Franchitti, the polesitter, finished 3.437 seconds ahead of Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford) in the 86-lap, timed event to become the first driver in 22 events to win from the pole position. That accomplishment earned him a record rollover bonus of $330,000 from the Marlboro Pole Award, which has been accumulating at a rate of $15,000 per event since Zanardi's triumph from the pole at Cleveland in July of 1997.
Combined with the $100,000 winner's purse and the $10,000 Franchitti collected Saturday for winning the pole, his total take for Sunday's victory was $430,000. The previous Marlboro Pole Award record jackpot of $160,000 was claimed by Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) at Portland in 1994.
Franchitti led a race-high 28 laps, including the final seven after passing Andretti, who was conserving fuel, heading into the first turn on Lap 80. He averaged 77.081 miles per hour on the new 1.802-mile temporary street circuit while becoming only the second driver to win consecutive events this season. He recorded his first career FedEx Championship Series victory Aug 16. at Road America.
Scott Pruett (Visteon Reynard Ford) finished third, 4.745 seconds behind Franchitti. It was his sixth top-six finish in the last seven events, including runner-up finishes at Portland and Mid-Ohio.
Rounding out the top five were Zanardi and Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes), respectively. Unser Jr.'s finish was his best since fifth at Portland.
The scheduled 90-lap event was reduced to a two-hour race (86 laps) due to time restraints, which adheres to CART regulations in regard to road/street course events.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Reynard Honda: "The start wasn't really too much of a problem. To do some yellow [caution] laps on warm tires, there was an incredible amount of pickup, even driving on the line. About 20 laps into the race, I could smell smoke and during the first yellow stop, I was trying to see where it came from. You can smell it now, but it's mingled with [victory] champagne so it's not a problem. I tried to pass [Andretti] once and it wasn't there. It was close, I was on his inside and I figured I'd try it, but Michael just wasn't having any of it. Then I got a good run and after I got by, I went full rich [with fuel] and was able to pull away. We finally got the [Marlboro Pole Award] money. We've had a few chances. It feels pretty good. It's a great feeling to win two in a row, and to win on a street course after being so close. Every time in the car you try to do your best. You get a rapport with your team; you get a little more used to driving the car and it just sort of all comes together. And we've been very competitive on road courses this season."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford: "It was a fuel consumption race, although it didn't start out that way. It turned out because of the way the yellows [caution flags] fell. I was being told to really conserve fuel and keep Dario behind me, and I said, 'Yeah, right. How do you do that?' He [Franchitti] got the word and perked up and I didn't. Maybe it had to do with the fact that they didn't want to make a call about how many laps were left because of the two-hour time limit. I'm really disappointed. I went in [Turn 1] trying to protect my line a little bit. It had to do with me trying to conserve fuel, because that was one of the areas where I was trying to conserve, and he got a run on me. Alex [Zanardi] winning the championship is not a reflection of how competitive it is [in the series]. He was able to make the misfortune of others and turn it into good fortune for himself, which is how championships are won.
SCOTT PRUETT, Visteon Reynard Ford: "Today was a fuel mileage race. Races were won and lost in the pits, and the Visteon team did a great job for me today. It was up to the drivers to set your own pace and conserve as much fuel as possible. Michael and I pitted early, or at least earlier than most, and fortunately, the race came back to us."
ALEX ZANARDI, Target Reynard Honda: "When you do this job and compete at this level, it's important to listen to what people have to say. But you cannot worry about people's opinions about what you should or shouldn't do. It's important to me to do my job. I'm not going to Laguna just to have fun and celebrate, I'm going there to win the race because I know I have a great race car and a great team behind me. I had a slight feeling [during the race about clinching the championship], but Chip [Ganassi] waited until there were three or four laps to go to tell me. [Regarding next year's plans] The important thing for me is to finish this season well and once things have been decided, it will be up to my employer to decide the strategy of how that will be announced. This is a great feeling and it actually comes at a beautiful period of my life. My wife is expecting it could happen any day and I want to dedicate this one to my kid, who maybe in the next few days will be starting the race of life."
CHIP GANASSI, owner, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing: "I've been blessed to have good partners and good employees and good people to help accomplish this. Believe me, no one person wins championships. I've been blessed to work with good people from the top down. I'm just the guy who's been able to put the ingredients together and then sit back and watch the pie bake. The kind of team I want to put out there is the kind of team I'd want to drive for and that's what I've been fortunate enough to do thanks to the people I have surrounding me. I told Alex with five laps to go, 'You're in fourth place. You can stay where you are and win the championship, or you can go for it. And do you know what he said? 'We're going for it.' That, as much as anything, is why he's here today."
Alex Zanardi (Target Reynard Honda) became the third driver in FedEx Championship Series history to win consecutive championships, following Rick Mears (1981, '82) and Bobby Rahal (1986, '87). He also became the fifth multiple champion in FedEx Championship Series history, joining Mears, Rahal, Al Unser (1983, '85) and Al Unser Jr. (1990, '94).
Dario Franchitti (KOOL Reynard Honda) led a race-high 28 laps Sunday and led a race-high number of laps at both Canadian venues this season. Coupled with the 76 laps he led in the July 19 Molson Indy at Toronto, Franchitti has led a combined 104 of 181 laps contested in Canada this season.
Franchitti's victory was the 10th of the season for Honda, including six by Zanardi, two by Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) and two by Franchitti. It was the 14th in a row for Firestone and the 25th in the past 26 events, dating to Greg Moore's (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) win at Milwaukee last year.
When Alex Barron (Castrol-Degree Reynard Toyota) led Laps 51 through 62 Sunday, it marked the first time in its 48-event tenure in the FedEx Championship Series that a Toyota-powered car had led a Champ Car event.
Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez/Viva Mexico! Reynard Ford) established a career best with a 10th-place finish. He topped his previous best of 12th at Nazareth this season and Portland last year.
Andre Ribeiro (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) established a season best with a seventh-place finish. His previous best had been ninth at Homestead. Rookie JJ Lehto (Hogan Motor Leasing, Inc. Reynard Mercedes) also logged a season best by finishing eighth, topping ninth at Gateway.
Max Papis (MCI Reynard Toyota), named Monday to replace the retiring Bobby Rahal in the Miller Lite Reynard Ford next year, finished ninth. He has recorded his best two finishes of the season in Canada, including eighth at Toronto, and has scored PPG Cup points in five of the past seven events.
Sunday's Molson Indy Vancouver was the first FedEx Championship Series timed event since last year at Portland when Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) defeated Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) by 0.027 seconds in the closest finish in Champ Car history.
Sunday's race was witnessed by 69,037 fans and the three-day crowd of 165,360 was the third-largest in the nine-year history of the Molson Indy Vancouver.
When Helio Castro-Neves (Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes) took the lead on Lap 22, it marked the first time he had led a lap since leading one at Milwaukee in June. It was his first lead on a road or street course since Long Beach, where he led 16 laps in April. Castro-Neves, who made a career-best road/street course start of ninth Sunday, finished with 20 laps led, surpassing his career total of 17 entering the event.
When Vasser retired following contact with Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes) on Lap 11, it marked only the fourth time in the past 49 FedEx Championship Series events but the second time in the past three that he had not been running at the finish. The stretch dates to the 1995 season finale at Laguna Seca. Vasser exited on the opening lap at Mid-Ohio due to contact with Franchitti, who had made earlier contact with Bryan Herta (Shell Reynard Ford). Vasser had also scored PPG Cup points in 50 of his 58 previous starts in the series, dating to 1995 at Milwaukee.
While Zanardi and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing wrapped up a record-tying third straight championship at Vancouver, the Tasman Motorsports Group is establishing a dynasty of its own in the PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship. Second-year driver Cristiano da Matta won his fourth race of the year at Vancouver to give the Steve Horne-led team its fourth Indy Lights championship in five attempts. Tasman's four Indy Lights titles - Herta (1993), Steve Robertson (1994), Tony Kanaan (1997) and da Matta - are more than any other team in the 13-year history of CART's "Official Development Series." The record is even more impressive considering Tasman skipped the 1995 Indy Lights season to launch its CART Champ Car team. Kanaan finished second in the championship upon Tasman's return to Indy Lights in 1996.
Sunday was declared "Bobby Rahal Day" in the City of Vancouver, in honor of the three-time PPG Cup winner (1986, '87, '92) who is retiring as a driver at the conclusion of this season after 17 years in the FedEx Championship Series. In recognition of the event, Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen issued a proclamation acknowledging Rahal's "professionalism, championship spirit and contributions to the sport of racing," as well as his commitment to race fans in Vancouver. "This is a well-deserved honor for Bobby, one that reflects not just a great career in racing, but countless hours of work on behalf of charities and our sport," said Stuart Ballantyne, general manager of the Molson Indy Vancouver. "He's a tremendous competitor and a terrific ambassador for motor racing." Rahal, a three-time runner-up at Vancouver, finished 25th Sunday, exiting due to an engine fire after completing 30 of 86 laps.
WHAT'S ON TAP:
The Molson Indy Vancouver will receive an encore performance 1 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN and again 4 a.m. ET Thursday on ESPN2.
The FedEx Championship Series continues Sunday, Sept. 13 with the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Texaco/Havoline 300 from Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.
Source: CART Online