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De Ferran takes historic victory

28 May 2000

Sooner or later it had to come. A team of Penske's calibre doesn't just stop winning. There may be low points, the three years since Paul Tracy's win at Gateway in 1997, but everyone knew that one day Roger Penske would gain his 100th Champ Car victory as a team owner. Today was that day.

Brazilian Gil De Ferran was the man to give Penske that much sought after victory. After starting from sixth position in the 225 lap Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth, finally being run almost two months late, De Ferran stayed in contention throughout the opening period of the race, moving into the lead when those around him either hit trouble or messed up their fuel strategies.

There was drama before the start of the race when Dario Franchitti spun across the circuit as the green flag fell causing the start to be abandoned. Franchitti, misjudging the temperature of his tyres made contact with the inside wall putting an end to his day. The field had already been depleted to 23 as Takuya Kurosawa crashed heavily in the morning warm up session and missed the race. Also caught up in Franchitti's spin was Cristiano Da Matta who rotated his Reynard Toyota in avoidance of the Team KOOL Green Reynard Honda. Da Matta was able to continue at the back of the field.

At the second time of asking, the race began without any undue hassle. Pole man Juan Montoya made a superb getaway and immediately pulled into a secure lead over Christian Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. Helio Castroneves (no hyphen anymore) sat in fourth place ahead of Kenny Brack and De Ferran while Roberto Moreno headed a long train of cars in seventh.

Montoya in his Target/Chip Ganassi Lola Toyota looked as though he was on course for Toyota's first win in Champ Cars, building up a six second cushion after 15 laps. However as the Colombian began to lap backmarkers, the chasing Fittipaldi and Tracy were able to haul him in.

One driver who was in danger of going a lap down in the early stages was Motegi winner Michael Andretti. The American could not find a proper balance on his Newman-Haas Lola Ford and had not made the expected progress from his 15th starting position.

Andretti was saved from going a lap down when Max Papis, running amongst the train of cars battling with Moreno for seventh, hit the wall. This brought out a caution and the leaders pitted for fuel. Tracy's Team KOOL Green mechanics worked wonders to get the Canadian out in-front of Montoya during the frantic pit lane activity. Thankfully noone was injured and the only victim of the cramped conditions was Castroneves who, after emerging from the pits in fifth place behind De Ferran, had to take a drive through penalty for running over his team-mate's air hose, dropping him to the tail of the lead lap.
This promoted Brack to fifth and Tony Kanaan to sixth, Mo Nunn's driver getting ahead of Moreno in the pits.

The re-start was again delayed, this time by Luiz Garcia's harmless spin, and when the green flag finally flew Montoya dived back ahead of Tracy to take the lead. This time however, the Colombian didn't pull away and was kept firmly in check by Tracy and Fittipaldi, still in third.

As the race passed the 100 lap mark, series returnee Patrick Carpentier departed the scene with an electrical problem, but only after he and his Player's Forsythe team-mate Alex Tagliani had engaged in a lively dice for eighth place with Kanaan, Adrian Fernandez, Jimmy Vasser, Mauricio Gugelmin and Max Papis in the early stages. Tagliani was also destined to retire shortly after halfway with liquid leaking from his car causing him to be black flagged.

The next caution of the race came after 115 laps when Norberto Fontana hit the wall. Crucially, of the cars on the lead lap only Kanaan and Vasser stayed out while the rest pitted. This left Kanaan leading from Vasser with Tracy, sitting behind some lapped traffic in third. De Ferran emerged in fourth place ahead of Moreno and Brack, Montoya down in seventh after a troubled stop. Fittipaldi had also dropped back after a poor stop and now found himself surrounded by the remaining cars on the lead lap comprising Andretti, Fernandez, Gugelmin, Castroneves and Oriol Servia who was driving well in his PPI Motorsports Reynard Toyota.

For the third time in the race, a re-start saw chaos ensue as on this occasion Michel Jourdain Jr spun directly infront of the pack. Tracy, following closely rubbed past the Lola Mercedes driver as cars went in all directions but Montoya was not so fortunate. The Colombian ran into the back of Moreno's car and damaged his front wing. This necessitated a pit stop which dropped him to thirteenth behind his team-mate Vasser who had now decided to pit. Thirteenth soon became twelfth however as Tracy was given a drive through penalty for overtaking under the yellow flags, dropping him to the tail of the lead lap.

When the race finally went green Kanaan and De Ferran led the field away. Pretty soon a gap began to emerge between the lead pair and the chasing Moreno and Brack, Kanaan was able to fend off the Penske challenge thanks to his lighter fuel load. Behind the leading four, Gugelmin, Andretti and Fernandez occupied the next three places while Montoya was on a charge through the field. Seeing his chances of completing a unique double victory this weekend disappear, the Colombian passed Vasser, Castroneves and Servia and was lying ninth when Jourdain crashed for good on lap 154.

Kanaan dived into the pitlane, emerging thirteenth and out of contention. De Ferran now led from Moreno, Brack, Gugelmin, Fernandez, Andretti and Montoya, now up to seventh.

The next caution went a long way in deciding the outcome of the race. On lap 167 Castroneves, still trying to make up lost ground, collided with Mark Blundell. Both cars were heavily damaged and out of the race although neither driver was injured. Blundell remained at the circuit's medical facility for some time but was later released. Such was the level of debris, the race stays under caution for another 22 laps meaning the leaders could now make the finish on just two fuel stops. There was no need of a third stop which effectively ended Kanaan's and Vasser's hopes.

The next re-start came on lap 190and De Ferran once again led away. Montoya made another flying getaway and swept passed first Andretti and then Fernandez to take fifth place behind Gugelmin. Soon the Colombian was reeling the Brazilian in and looked set took take fourth until he got caught in traffic. As the leaders fought their way through the slower cars Gugelmin was able to overhaul Brack for third position leaving the Swede to fend off attacks from Montoya and Fernandez. As Gugelmin crept away and began pursuing the second placed Moreno, Fernandez was able to get passed both Brack and Montoya to take fourth.

As the race entered its' closing stages, it was clear to see that Moreno was in some kind of difficulty as Gugelmin relentlessly closed in. On lap 214, with Brack and Montoya (both having re-passed Fernandez) behind him, Gugelmin took second from Moreno as the Team Patrick driver to slid high after suffering a slow puncture. This brought out another caution and erased De Ferran's handy advantage. Gugelmin was driving his best race since 1997 and had managed his fuel to perfection. He was able to run his mixture slightly richer than De Ferran which meant that when the green flag fell with just four laps to go, the PacWest driver was all over De Ferran like a rash.

Knowing the wait that Roger Penske has had to endure, De Ferran was not going to pass up the opportunity of a win and stuck to his guns, taking the win by eight tenths of a second. Gugelmin was a delighted second while Brack scored his first ever CART podium with a well deserved third place.

β€œIt's a very special day,” an emotional De Ferran said after the race. β€œI've got to thank the team because it's just fantastic, it was one of those days when everything just comes easy.” De Ferran's win vaults him into fourth place in the Fed-Ex championship, 17 points behind Tracy who retains his championship lead despite finishing in tenth place.

Montoya finished just off the podium and was left to rue more bad luck. Toyota will have to wait another week at least to take their first Champ Car win. He and seventh placed Vasser now have to turn their attention to tomorrow's Indy 500.

Completing the top five was Fernandez who ran smoothly all day in the Patrick Reynard-Ford. Michael Andretti was a creditable sixth after fighting with his car for the early part of the race. Behind Vasser in eighth was Tony Kanaan who, despite losing out through his pit strategy still recorded the second fastest lap of the day. Kanaan inherited his position on the last lap when Oriol Servia, who had stayed on the lead lap throughout the race, hit mechanical problems and dropped to ninth. Tracy, Fittipaldi who stopped with a puncture and Tarso Marques completed the points scorers'.


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