DETROIT (June 28, 2000) - With seven different race winners in itsfirsteight events, the FedEx Championship Series has been unpredictableduringthe 2000 season. As the series heads to the shores of Lake Erie thisweekendfor Round 9, the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar(1p.m. ET, live, ABC-TV) it does so with a seven-year veteran who is notevenamong this season's winners yet leading the championship for the firsttimein his career.
That distinction belongs to Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing, whobrings aone-point lead, 68-67, in the championship over Gil de Ferran ofMarlboroTeam Penske, the season's only two-time winner to date. Moreno(Visteon FordReynard) has parlayed a consistent finishing record, highlighted by arunner-up effort last week at Portland, matching a career best, intothepoints lead. Moreno, who is still seeking his first career FedExChampionship Series victory, owns six top-10 finishes in his firsteightstarts, with additional podium results of second at Homestead andthird atJapan.
"It's a reward, really," said Moreno, in his first year at PatrickRacing."We put in a lot of hard work. We've been chasing and knocking on thedoor.We worked very, very hard, and I never expected myself to be on thepodium acouple of times before the sixth or seventh race. I feel very, verygoodabout it because I did develop a great relationship with the team. SoIfeel now we can fight on equal terms [with other drivers]."
And what a fight it is shaping up to be. De Ferran (Marlboro HondaReynard)has parlayed victories in two of the past four events (Nazareth andPortland) into second place in the points race while Paul Tracy (KOOLHondaReynard) of Team KOOL Green, the season's early leader, stands thirdwith 59points.
Interestingly, Moreno's three closest pursuers in the championshipbattleare all former winners at the 2.106-mile temporary circuit laid out ontherunways of Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. De Ferran drove tovictoryin 1996, Tracy in 1993 and fourth-place Michael Andretti (BigKmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) in 1991. Andretti, of Newman/HaasRacing,arrives in Cleveland with 56 championship points, two ahead of TargetChipGanassi Racing driver Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola), who standsfifth inthe championship with 54.
Moreno's top finish in three career appearances at Cleveland came lastyearwhen he took eighth while substituting for the injured Mark Blundellwiththe PacWest Racing Group. He led three laps of that event and is theonlydriver to have led at least one lap in all three of this season's roadorstreet course events to date.
Defending FedEx Championship Series and reigning Indianapolis 500championJuan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing joinsdeFerran, Tracy and Andretti on the roster of previous Cleveland winnersinthis weekend's field. He drove to victory from the pole inunpredictableweather conditions last year, leading a race-high 76 of the 90 laps.
This year, for the first time in FedEx Championship Series history,all carsride on Firestone Firehawks, the Official Tire of CART.
The Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar concludes astretchof three consecutive weekends of FedEx Championship Seriescompetition. Theseries takes a weekend off before continuing with Round 10, the MolsonIndy,June 14-16 at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard) of Patrick Racing has takenthe FedEx Championship Series points lead for the first time in hisseven-year career by recording top-10 finishes in six of eight startstodate. En route to a series-leading 68 points, Moreno has recordedrunner-upefforts at Homestead and Portland, matching the season-best heestablishedat Laguna Seca last season, and a third-place finish at Japan. He istheonly FedEx Championship Series driver to have led at least one lap ineachof the three road or street course events to date - 10 at Long Beach,1 atDetroit and 4 at Portland.
Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske haswon two of the past four FedEx Championship Series events (NazarethandPortland) and has moved into second place in the championship with 67points. He has scored championship points in seven of eight starts, aserieshigh, and also owns pole positions at Homestead and Long Beach.
De Ferran's teammate, Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Honda Reynard) ofMarlboro Team Penske, has finished seventh or better in all threeFedExChampionship Series starts on road or street courses this season. Hefinished second at Long Beach, claimed the first victory of histhree-yearcareer at Detroit, then finished seventh from the pole at Portlandlastweek. He stands ninth in the championship with 44 points.
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola) ofNewman/Haas Racing has earned top-10 finishes in five of his past sixFedExChampionship Series starts, including a victory at Japan - his CARTcareer-leading 39th - a runner-up effort at Milwaukee and fourth atPortland. He stands fourth in the championship with 56 points.
Rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal has finishedsixth or better in four of his past five starts, topped by his firstcareerpodium finish of third at Nazareth. Also included are fourth atMilwaukee,fifth at Japan and sixth at Portland.
Rookie Oriol Servia (Telefonica Toyota Reynard) of PPI Motorsportshas finished eighth or better in all three FedEx Championship Serieseventscontested on road or street courses this season. Included was hisfirstcareer podium finish of third at Detroit. He also took sixth at LongBeachand eighth at Portland.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Gil de Ferran has earned three podium finishes and a pole positionin five career starts in Cleveland, including a victory in 1996. Hefinishedsecond in 1997 and '99, and claimed his first career FedExChampionshipSeries pole position in 1995. He also finished sixth in 1998 and hasled arace-high number of laps in three of his five career appearances atCleveland, including 67 in 1995, 34 in '96 and 49 in '97. He also ledninelaps last year.
Michael Andretti has recorded five podium finishes in 14 careerstarts at Cleveland, topped by a victory in 1991. The other podiumresultsinclude second in 1986, '92 and '98 and thirds in '84 and '99. He hasledlaps in six of 14 starts, topped by 34 en route to his 1991 victory.Andretti also won the pole in 1989 and has started among the top threedrivers on six occasions.
Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) turned in a dominant performanceduring his FedEx Championship Series debut at Cleveland last year,winningfrom the pole position while leading a race-high 76 of 90 laps. Hisvictoryfrom the pole position was one of three he recorded en route to the1999FedEx Championship Series championship.
Bryan Herta (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard),substituting for the injured Tony Kanaan, owns four top-six finishesin sixcareer starts at Burke Lakefront Airport, including podium results ofsecondin 1995 and third in '97. He also finished fifth in '96 and sixth lastyear.
Honda-powered drivers have won the past 16 FedEx Championship Seriesevents contested on temporary street circuits, dating to the start ofthe1998 season. Honda-powered drivers have also won three of the pastfourFedEx Championship Series events, with victories from Gil de Ferran atNazareth and Portland, and Helio Castroneves at Detroit. In addition,Hondaowns four victories in a row at Cleveland - de Ferran (1996), AlexZanardi(1997 and '98) and Juan Montoya (1999).
Ford-powered drivers swept three of the top four finishing positionsat last week's Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 Presented by Texaco atPortlandInternational Raceway. Heading the list was runner-up Roberto Moreno,whowas followed in third place by Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart/Route66 FordLola) and in fourth by Michael Andretti. Ford trails defendingchampionHonda by just two points, 138-136, in the battle for the CARTManufacturer'sChampionship.
ON THE AIR
Qualifying for the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented byFirstar will air 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. "CART 2Day" airs 11a.m. ETSunday on ESPN2, with ABC-TV's live race broadcast scheduled to begin1 p.m.ET.
MARCONI GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY FIRSTAR "QUOTEBOARD"
JUAN MONTOYA (Target Toyota Lola), defending Marconi Grand Prix ofClevelandchampion, on the enjoyment of racing at Burke Lakefront Airport:"Clevelandwas definitely one of my favorite races from last year. There's a lotofopportunity for passing and the track's layout suits my driving well.Oneof the trademarks of Team Target over the years is consistency. Ourteam ismaking that one of our main goals for the remaining races. TheToyota-Lolais capable of finishing and winning. We'll be back in Winner's Circlesoon,hopefully starting in Cleveland. Qualifying is an important part oftherace, but as drivers have shown in recent years, you can win atCleveland nomatter where you start. I had a nice run of poles this season, so itwouldbe nice to start a new one in Cleveland."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), on hisanticipationof racing in Cleveland: "I'm really looking forward to the Clevelandrace.It's one of the favorite courses for the drivers because you can pushevenharder without the usual threat of hitting the wall like on some roadcourses and all street courses. We ran well here last year andfinishedsecond despite dropping to 15th for apit-speed penalty. I think we will be competitive again this year,but wewant to avoid the penalty. That really cost us a victory. The fansaregreat in Cleveland. You can tell they follow the sport all seasonlong bythe type of things they say to you or their questions. I'm glad weare ableto come back this year. The Portland race put us in a strong positionto gofor the championship and we plan to build on that in Cleveland. Beinginfourth place, only 14 points out of first, is good for the team. Wehavebeen working hard this season to improve on our pit stops and overallcompetitiveness. We had some DNF's at the beginning of the seasonthat hurtus but the previous front runners in the championship have had theirshareof problems also so that helped put the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline teambackin it."
PAUL TRACY (KOOL Honda Reynard), on regaining his momentum inCleveland: "Aracing season has its peaks and valleys and we've been going throughsometough times the last few races. It's the type of thing that tests yourresolve and your patience, but you've got to work your way through it.Ihave no doubt that we're going to put everything together and returnto thesuccess Team KOOL Green had earlier in the season. I like our chancestostart turning things around in Cleveland. I still have fond memoriesofwinning there in 1993, in my first season in the CART series, and I'vehadsome pretty good races there over the years. One thing's for sure:There'sloads of room for passing on the Burke Lake Airport track, and we'regoingthere with the intention of making things happen."
GIL de FERRAN (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on the "openness" of the BurkeLakefront Airport road course: "Cleveland is a fantastic city and hometoone of the best races on the CART circuit. There's plenty ofopportunity toovertake and it's very open so you can take different lines, whichmakes foran exciting race. My statistics at this track, coupled with MarlboroTeamPenske,s recent form on road and street courses, bode well for us;however,we need to stay focused on the task at hand and see how the weekendplaysout. I look forward to spending time with my family in Cleveland andseeingthe many friends we've made there."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (Marlboro Honda Reynard), on his fondness forCleveland:"Cleveland is a special place for me because it's the site of my firstpodium finish in the U.S. while driving in Indy Lights [third in1996]. Thetrack is a lot of fun, given it's wide which makes for a number ofpassingareas -- especially the first turn. It's also great for the fansbecausethey can see most of the track from the grandstands. The track isbumpy soit's always a challenge for the engineers to find a set-up that canhandlethe demands of this circuit. Marlboro Team Penske brings a lot ofmomentuminto Cleveland after winning the last two races and taking the pole inPortland. All of our hard work is starting to pay off and we justneed tokeep focused on the job at hand and come out in the points again thisweekend."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (KOOL Honda Reynard), remaining optimistic in theface ofadversity: "I get the feeling that as long as we continue to hang inthereand keep working hard, Team KOOL Green is going to get some breaks.Weweren't lucky last Sunday in Portland, when contact on the first lapset usback. But we managed to keep our composure, pick up a few points andbuildsome momentum for Cleveland. With only three points separating theNos. 6through 10 drivers in the standings, any points you can collect arebigright now. We ran into some bad luck in Cleveland last year with athrottleproblem that ended our race. But we got to the podium there the yearbefore(3rd place), so we do have some success in Cleveland. Being a fan ofrockmusic, it's always fun to go to the city that has the Rock and RollHall ofFame. But Team KOOL Green wants to do some rocking of its own bygettingback into the Winner's Circle at the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland."
CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Lola), looking for somegoodracing luck this weekend: "I can't wait to race in Cleveland. You canreally go for it. I am due for some good luck here. My airjack brokein1997 when I was leading. I was leading again the next year and ayellowcame out but my radio didn't work and I didn't hear the team call forme topit immediately. The Cleveland race was one of my worst last year. Ispunon slick tires trying to get to the pits in the heavy rain. I spunagain ontrack and almost took Michael [Andretti, teammate] out with me. ThenI spunacross from my pit and the guys had to get the quick jack to bring meintothe pit box. It was one thing after the other that day. For sure,the raceis one of the most exciting for the fans. You can see almost theentiretrack from the stands. At one point last year, it didn't look like weweregoing to race here this year but I'm glad it was worked out because Iamlooking forward to the race this year. I think we will be competitiveherebased on how we have done on road and street courses so far thisseason."
JIMMY VASSER (Target Toyota Lola), on "turning it up a notch" inCleveland:"No one is getting nervous because we all know we have the ability towin onany track, but with just over half of the season remaining, we thinkit'stime to start putting together a good string of races and moving up inthestandings. We all have confidence that the Toyota-Lola can win, soit's justa matter of time before we visit the podium again. I've grown to enjoyracing at Burke [Lakefront Airport]. We had some bad luck in Clevelandlastyear, so hopefully, I got that out of my system. This is a good timeofyear to start earning valuable points and that's our goal heading intotheweekend."
PATRICK CARPENTIER (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), onhiscomfort level in Cleveland: "I'm going to feel right at home on thetrack inCleveland because we're going to be racing on the runway at BurkeLakefrontAirport. The Player's team already got some practice in this regardwhen wetook part in a speed showdown against a fighter plane on an airportrunwayin Bagotville, Quebeca few weeks ago. When we raced in Cleveland last year, we battled forfourthplace right to the end before finishing seventh. That was our bestperformance on a road course last year, next to the podium we got forsecondin Vancouver. We've been improving every year at Cleveland and I'mconfidentthat trend willcontinue this year. We've got a good shot at the podium in Cleveland."
ALEX TAGLIANI (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard), on hispastexperience on the Burke Lakefront Airport runways: "Although it'sgoing tobe my first time on the Cleveland course in the CART series, I'mfamiliarwith the layout from my days in [Toyota] Atlantic. That's going tohelp asthe Player's team prepares for the Grand Prix of Cleveland. I knowit's atrack that is demanding on the drivers, both mentally and physically.Theweather is usually very hot and that takes a toll on you as well. Thephysical training and mental preparation I went through in theoff-seasonshould come in handy for this race. I'm very encouraged by the factwe'vebeen right in contention in the last two races, and only some bad luckprevented us from making it into the top six twice in a row. There'snodoubt in my mind the Player's Champ car can compete with anyone and Ithinkthe Burke Lakefront Airport track, with its many open spaces forpassing,will bring out the best in the car this weekend."
BRYAN HERTA (Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard), lookingforward tohis "unexpected" return to Cleveland: "I'm so glad to be going backtoCleveland. I was down in the dumps last year when they announced weweren'tgoing back. And then, this year, when my full-time ride situationwentaway, it looked like I wasn't coming back after all. Like I said atPortland, these aren't the circumstances you want to get you back in aracecar [replacing injured regular Tony Kanaan]. Tony's doing really wellandwill be back before too long. But in the meantime, I want to do mypart tokeep the program rolling in the right direction. We had a roughweekend inPortland, but it got better as we went along. I even turned thefifth-fastest lap of the race by the time all was said and done. Sothat'sa good foundation to build on here in Cleveland. I love the track.It'sprobably the funnest time we have all year because it's wide-open,full-throttle racing. I felt very comfortable in myHollywood/Mercedes byrace's end at Portland. So we'll start fresh on Friday and be thecontenderwe know deep down inside we are. Cleveland rocks!"