Gil De Ferran took the 2000 CART Fed-Ex Championship a day late at the Fontana Speedway in Southern California in a race filled with drama and excitement than saw Christian Fittipaldi scoop the $1 million winner's bonus.

The Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota may have come a day late thanks to heavy rain on Sunday but for all the race fans who took the day off work and returned to the Roger Penske owned California Speedway in Fontana, Southern California, the Champ Car boys put on a tremendous show that culminated in Team Penske's Gil De Ferran being crowned the 2000 series Champion and taking the prestigious Vanderbuilt Cup.

After watching just 33 racing laps on Sunday, the 23 cars left in the race lined up for a 10 am PST start with Juan Montoya, De Ferran and Michael Andretti leading the field. Ahead of them were 227 hard laps around the two-mile oval after which either De Ferran, Adrian Fernandez or Kenny Brack would be crowned 2000 CART Champion.

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A little over three hours after the green flag fell and it was the Reynard-Honda driver celebrating after a closely fought, attrition filled race in which almost every car on the track had a shot at winning the lucrative $1 million victors cheque. In the end it was the Newman-Haas Lola-Ford of Christian Fittipaldi who emerged victorious and became the eleventh different winner of what can only be described as the best Champ Car season to date.

In a race which saw the entire contingent of Mercedes and Toyota powered runners retire through engine or damage related failures, the durable Ford unit proved to be the deciding factor as of the six cars left running at the end, just one was not powered by the blue oval. That man was Gil De Ferran and it is when you consider that piece of information then the manner of De Ferran's win becomes clear.

Never a true front-runner, De Ferran stayed with the leaders all day and watched as car after car made their bid for victory only to have an engine failure and drop out and so the Brazilian bided his time and watched where Fernandez and Brack were running and controlled the car magnificently.

No Championship winner can survive without a little luck and someone was surely smiling down at De Ferran on lap 88 when Tony Kanaan, who had just taken the lead in a thrilling three-wide manoeuvre on the front straight past Brack and Helio Castroneves, had his Mercedes engine expire and covered the track in a thick smoke screen.

Running seventh behind Kanaan, Brack, Castroneves, Fittipaldi, Andretti and Oriol Servia, De Ferran moved to the top of the circuit as the entire field became blinded, however Andretti, who had been running almost directly behind Kanaan, braked much harder than the following Servia anticipated and the Spaniard ploughed into the rear of the Newman-Haas machine and the pair careered towards the outside wall and directly in front of De Ferran. While Servia's momentum moved him away from De Ferran as he stamped on the brakes, Andretti was on course to hit the Reynard amidships until a superb bit of avoidance driving by both somehow meant that contact was avoided.

As expected, De Ferran was made to fight every inch of the way for his win and during the course of the race, the title swapped hands numerous times between Fernandez and De Ferran as the leading order changed continuously. The ultra quick circuit made for excellent drafting and the officially recorded lead changes numbered close to this year's record-breaking race at Michigan.

A total of nine caution periods punctuated the action and indeed the race ended under caution after Alex Tagliani lost an engine and hit the wall denying a possible grandstand finish between the five drivers left on the lead lap. In truth however it is unlikely that Fernandez, running fifth behind Fittipaldi, Roberto Moreno, De Ferran and Casey Mears, would have been able to challenge those ahead for he had been battling a poor car all day and did not figure strongly in the lead battle for much of the way and so third place was all the Brazilian needed to take his first, and Penske's eighth, CART title by a final margin of ten points over the Mexican Team Patrick driver.

The only other man who started the 'second leg' with a shot of the title, Kenny Brack, was one of many who failed to make the finish after a turbo problem on lap 167. Needing to win, lead most laps and hope that De Ferran finished out of the points to win the title, the Swedish driver went about his task with great gusto and was one of the fastest cars on the race track from the very start and was on course to really push the Championship issue when he was forced to retire. Brack was eventually classified 13th and gained an extra point for leading the most laps in what was a very determined effort for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year. The extra point Kenny gained for his efforts lifted him above Paul Tracy and into fourth overall in the points standings after a highly successful debut year.

In total, 16 of the 23 cars that re-started the race took the lead at some point and although not all of them were officially recorded as leading a lap, the competitiveness of the CART series was there for all to see.

Others to fall by the wayside whilst in with a chance included Alex Barron who for the second week running blew an engine while in second position. The Dale Coyne Lola-Ford driver battled hard in the early stages to regain his lost lap and looked very smooth as he cut his way past the leaders and opened up a gap at the head of the field until being allowed to retake his position at the tail end of the leaders when the Kanaan/Servia/Andretti caution came out. Barron then proceeded to embarrass many more of the well funded operations in the pitlane as he really took it to the leaders, passing Montoya, Castroneves and other surprise front-runner Michel Jourdain Jr all in one go as the race entered lap 199. The American stayed at the front for several laps and battled wheel to wheel with Castroneves for the lead right until a cruel blow-up saw his chances of a historic win evaporate on lap 239.

The same fate had already befallen Jourdain some 30 laps previously just three laps after the young Bettenhausen driver led for the first time this year in his Lola-Mercedes. Almost inconsolable after watching the best drive of his career literally go up in smoke, Jourdain had to settle for eleventh place in the final reckoning, three spots behind Barron.

Jourdain's retirement was even more heartbreaking for Mercedes, who saw all four of their cars lead at some point only to suffer an engine failure in their final race in CART. First to go was Kanaan, who led for a matter of metres on lap 88 and then PacWest's Mauricio Gugelmin who chose to stay on track as the other leaders pitted during the ensuing caution. 'Big Mo' led nearly ten laps before his unit tightened and he coasted in to retire as his soon to be ex-teammate, Mark Blundell took up the cudgels.

Mark moved into contention shortly after Gugelmin's demise on lap 103 and the Englishman took the lead in a superb move coming across the start/finish line as the leaders began lap 129 only to see his engine expire as he entered turn three. It was a sad end to Mark's PacWest career and it still remains to be seen whether he will return to the series next year.

Already out by half distance were Jimmy Vasser and Dario Franchitti who both suffered early mechanical problems despite running at the front in the early going. Franchitti lasted just five laps of the re-started race, which went green on lap 40, before losing power and Vasser got to lap 71 before his Toyota unit went bang.

The final seventy laps saw the demise of leading contenders Montoya, Castroneves and Max Papis who all suffered engine failures while in the top three. Papis had looked good all day in his Team Rahal Lola-Ford and the Italian looked to be on course fro a possible second career victory until his Superspeedway jinx struck once again on lap 182 while Montoya and Castroneves ran side by side for many laps as the race headed towards its conclusion until the Colombian suffered his 12th DNF of the year on lap 219 with Castroneves following suit seven laps later.

For Castroneves the problem was more serious for as he ran alongside Moreno for second place going into lap 226, oil on his rear tyre pitched the car backwards into the wall where a burst of flame erupted as the car made a heavy impact. Thankfully the Brazilian was unscathed and he was finally classified ninth, one spot ahead of Montoya.

Christian Fittipaldi's first oval win in CART may look slightly fortuitous considering the amount of attrition and indeed, had several other drivers not have dropped out, the Brazilian would not be $1 million richer at this point. But Fittipaldi's skill in making his equipment last while others couldn't and his ability to remain in the lead battle all day showed that he was a deserving victor in what has been a largely disappointing season in terms of final results.

Moreno once again used canny strategy and racecraft to come through in second position and the veteran Brazilian capped off his first full season with Patrick with third place in the championship. 'Pupo' was another driver who figured strongly all day and although he did not lead many laps, he was never far from the action and couldn't quite match the electrifying pace of Fittipaldi in the final green flag period.

Fourth place for Champ Car rookie Casey Mears was as much a victory as De Ferran's third place for the 22-year-old native Californian excelled himself beyond anyone's predictions as he raced hard and clean all day long. Mears looked like a seasoned veteran as he battled two and three wide all day long and even took the lead for a short while between lap 185 and 195. On the final green flag lap he made a decisive move on Fernandez for fourth position and was just one step off the podium in his first 500-mile event.

Adrian Fernandez can look back on the year 2000 with a great deal of joy after he completed all but two races on the mammoth 20 race schedule out of the points. Not since Detroit all the way back in June has the Mexican failed to finish a race and his two wins this year at Rio and Surfers Paradise were achieved from starting positions of 16 and 17. He has now established himself as one of the best drivers in CART and he is the only man in series history who has won on all four continents that CART competes in. He may be off to set up his own team next year and so he is unlikely to have the opportunity to challenge for the title but his day will still come.

Tagliani was classified sixth despite ending the race in the wall and the young Canadian took a long while to exit his crumpled machine in a scene that bore a harrowing similarity to the events of the year previously when the man he replaced in the Player's team, Greg Moore passed away. Thankfully Tagliani was not injured and he too can look back on a race where he gave himself every chance of victory until fate struck a cruel blow.

The only other car left on the racetrack at the end was the Swift-Ford of Tarso Marques who followed up his strong finish at Michigan earlier this year with a fine seventh position. The Dale Coyne driver was three laps down and finished behind Tagliani on overall classification but the young Brazilian ran well all day despite having no one to race with for much of the way.

And so ends another CART season. Last year at Fontana there were tears of sorrow as what had been a thrilling season came to a tragic end. This year the series has been better and the tears shed by De Ferran at the end of the race were tears of pure joy as the man who was scheduled to drive alongside Moore in the Penske outfit this year achieved a dream.