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Penske procession at Laguna Seca
11 September 2000
Helio Castroneves swept to his third win this year at Laguna Seca, heading home new Championship leader Gil De Ferran in a race remarkable for its lack of overtaking.
There was a distinct case of follow the leader at Laguna Seca on Sunday as for the second year in succession, the pole position holder led virtually every lap en-route to victory with Helio Castroneves taking the honours in another Team Penske one-two.
The only time Castroneves was headed during the 83 lap event was during the first round of stops when Juan Montoya held top spot for two laps in a race where no less than five of the top ten qualifiers held their positions until the flag. This was not the most enthralling CART race of all time to say the least.
Castroneves led away from the start with De Ferran, Dario Franchitti and Montoya following at respectful intervals. In fact the only pass during the opening 20 laps came at the first corner when Montoya went around the outside of Bryan Herta to relegate the returning American to fifth place, one spot ahead of the man who replaced him in the Team Rahal squad, Kenny Brack.
The top six stayed that way until the first round of stops when Montoya did his usual magic trick of putting in a stunning in and out lap to take second from De Ferran and Franchitti although the Colombian could do nothing about the red and white car ahead of him.
The first moment of excitement came on lap 45 when Roberto Moreno tried too hard in his efforts to displace Max Papis from 15th position and spun into the tyres at Turn Six. A little way behind the Brazilian, Alex Tagliani joined him in the dust after getting pushed aside by an over zealous Michel Jourdain Jr, but as Tagliani gathered himself together and continued the ultra consistent Moreno was out.
For the first and only time the pace car was deployed and as the drivers made their second and final stop, a tense fuel economy run to the finish was set up. The main loser in the second round of stops was Montoya, whose air hose failed dropping the Target Lola-Toyota to the ground and costing the Colombian five places.
Away from the re-start, several drivers elected to make a precautionary third stop just to ensure that they had enough fuel to get to the finish, Michael Andretti, Mark Blundell and Paul Tracy included, and although they were now at the tail of the field they were able to run with more boost and therefore make up most of their lost ground.
As Montoya swiftly dealt with Mauricio Gugelmin for sixth place, Brack was a tougher nut to crack and despite many determined attempts to wrest fifth from his Swedish rival, each one fell short and the Colombian had to settle for sixth.
The fact that the lapped car of Memo Gidley was able to keep pace with the leaders in the final 30 laps is not only testament to the Della Penna team but also to the conservative pace that the leaders were running. Despite Castroneves, De Ferran, Franchitti and fourth placed man Herta being separated by just four seconds, there was never any danger of a passing move being completed.
The main action was behind the impressive Gugelmin at the tail end of the top ten with positions 8-15 separated by just six seconds at the flag. Oriol Servia looked to have the position sown up until Jimmy Vasser barged through at the Andretti hairpin with five laps to go, Vasser went on to secure the place with Servia running dry out of the last hairpin and dropping to 17th.
Patrick Carpentier took ninth after a strong drive from 18th while Christian Fittipaldi inherited tenth from Paul Tracy when the Canadian half spun on the final lap. Points leader Andretti fell to 14th after his precautionary third stop and failed to score for the second time in three races. The American spent the final 20 laps following the second PacWest machine of Blundell and the Team Patrick car of Adrian Fernandez with the Mexican winning the race for the final Championship point after a tough weekend.
The remarkable aspect of the race was the exceptional level of reliability shown by the field with no less than 21 of the 26 starters running at the end meaning that many strong performances went unrewarded including Blundell's gritty drive from 21st and Gidley's strong run from stone last.
With De Ferran's second place giving him a six point advantage at the top of the standings and Andretti's failure to score, the top six in the standings are now separated by just 17 points with four races to go. If the Honda Grand Prix of Monterrey was soporific, it certainly helped set up a title showdown at Fontana in October.
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