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.
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.