De Ferran takes Portland victory
|Sunday, June 25th 2000, 23:34 GMT|
Anyone not driving a Marlboro Team Penske Reynard-Honda was in for a hard weekend at Portland. Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves topped nearly every timed session around the 1.9-mile road course and in the end it was the former who came through to become the first driver to win two CART races in the 2000 season.
However, for the vast majority of the 112 lap race it looked like Castroneves would be the man to take Penske's 102nd victory. The Detroit winner was gutted after the race, a failed fuel gamble leaving him to limp home seventh in a race that looked to be his for the taking.
As Castroneves faltered, de Ferran proved the strength of Team Penske by taking control of the race and holding off a determined Roberto Moreno to the flag. The latter now holds the points lead, but de Ferran is right behind him.
The Penskes held formation at the start of the race, but unsurprisingly the combination of a 25-car field running four and five abreast and a tight chicane resulted in first lap chaos for the midfield. Kenny Brack started the fun by nudging Dario Franchitti into a spin in front of the pack. The inevitable melee that followed saw both Team KOOL Green cars, Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr drop to the back of the field while Jimmy Vasser and Max Papis were forced to retire.
After several laps under yellow the race got underway properly. Castroneves left de Ferran standing. In a weekend dominated by CART's ever-increasing Brazilian community, the initial top six had a very South American feel. Moreno ran third, under pressure from Christian Fittipaldi, Juan Montoya and Cristiano da Matta, the latter pair swapping places twice in the early stages.
Fittipaldi dropped out of this battle after flat-spotting his tyre and being forced to pit, despite his Newman-Haas crew encouraging him to stay out and battle on. Montoya was also in trouble, never getting a handle on his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Lola-Toyota and wearing out his tyres too quickly. He lost a place to the impressive da Matta and couldn't quite keep pace with the battle for second.
Behind them, Alex Tagliani was the big winner of the first corner farce, coming from 15th to seventh ahead of Michael Andretti, Oriol Servia and Kenny Brack, the latter pair having both lost places as Tagliani gained them. Patrick Carpentier ran with this group for a while before dropping back due to the first of a handful of off course excursions.
The race was fairly static for much of the first three-quarters. Castroneves stabilised his lead at around 5-6s as de Ferran battled oversteer, and worked to fend off menacing countrymen Moreno and da Matta. The main interest was coming from Fittipaldi, who set a series of fastest laps as he tried to fight his way back into contention. He was slicing through the bottom half of the running order with laughable ease, lapping up to 2s quicker than his victims. A highlight of his charge was a wheel-banging moment with Carpentier. To maintain team symmetry, Andretti and Tagliani later had a very similar incident, but in both cases the respective Newman-Haas and Player's/Forsythe cars got away unscathed.
It was after the second pit stops that the contest came alive. Castroneves had been held up by backmarker Luiz Garcia Jr and his lead had dwindled to less than a second. Penske chose to put both cars on a three-stop strategy, intending to give the leaders short second stops so they could make use of their light cars and charge while their more conservative rivals saved fuel in an effort to avoid a third stop.
The plan worked perfectly for de Ferran, but for some reason Castroneves received a full fuel load. Not only was his stop therefore significantly longer than his team-mates', he was also left with a much heavier car. To add to his frustration, the Marlboro Reynard developed a gearbox problem and he had to avoid using third gear whenever possible.
This allowed de Ferran to stretch out an ample lead as his team-mate came under pressure from da Matta and Andretti, the latter having also gone for the three-stop option and charged past Tagliani and Montoya. Moreno should have been with this group but for a slow second stop that dropped him to fifth. Fittipaldi's yo-yo fuel strategy also put him briefly in the mix.
De Ferran built a 22s lead before making his stop and dropping to fourth, just ahead of Moreno and Tagliani. By this time Montoya was out, struck by another Toyota engine failure.
Castroneves led once more but was being hounded mercilessly by da Matta and Andretti until both made their stops. The leader tried in vain to stretch his fuel mileage as de Ferran and Moreno moved into second and third and closed in. Tagliani was no longer a factor, having pitted for a third time and stalled at his stop, but Fittipaldi was creeping back into contention after a star performance, now up to fourth and carving chunks out of the leaders' advantage.
As Moreno began to put de Ferran under some serious pressure, Penske decided to bring Castroneves in. His stop was stunning and he rejoined fourth, just ahead of the battling Andretti, da Matta and Brack, the latter having come into play with a strong second stint. The Swede had spent most of the race fighting with Servia but pulled away in the latter stages to chase the leaders.
Moreno was the only man to make the two-stop strategy work, and now he began to push for his first ever CART victory, closing to within 0.6s of de Ferran as they both struggled to lap Carpentier. When the Canadian badly baulked the leader on lap 110 it briefly looked like Moreno would be able to pounce, but de Ferran repelled his challenge. With one lap to go Carpentier finally yielded to the Penske only to close the door for Moreno and deprive the crowd of a stunning race to the flag.
That meant that de Ferran's margin of victory was a flattering 2.6s in the end. The hard-charging Fittipaldi was third, but poor Castroneves ran out of fuel exiting the final corner and dropped to seventh behind Andretti, da Matta and Brack.
Servia took eighth in the second PPI car, ahead of Dario Franchitti, who never really got back into the fight after losing so much time in the opening lap shambles. Carpentier was tenth ahead of Shinji Nakano, unobstrusively impressive on his CART road course debut, and Adrian Fernandez, another big loser in the startline shunt, although he lapped at the same pace as the leaders subsequently.
Tagliani eventually finished an utterly unrepresentative 13th, followed by the improving (if still obstructive) Garcia Jr and Tarso Marques, whose Swift faded another running convincingly in the top ten at first.
Bryan Herta had a hard time in Mo Nunn's Reynard, a problem with the refuelling gear forcing five pit stops, although he had never really been on the pace in Tony Kanaan's car at any point during the weekend.
Montoya was joined in retirement by Paul Tracy, whose suspension finally broke 62 laps after being damaged in the first lap collision. Both PacWest cars went out after another miserable weekend, Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell's Reynard-Mercedes' both proving as unreliable as they were slow. Norberto Fontana tagged onto the battle for the lower top ten placings before a mechanical problem put him out, while Takuya Kurosawa and Michel Jourdain Jr both made early exits too.
De Ferran's win was not as significant as Penske's total command of the weekend. The team may have stopped building their own chassis, but their cars are still unique, the old design staff now modifying their Reynard-Honda's in a way that seems to be extremely effective. The last time Penske looked this strong was in 1994, when they blitzed the whole season and took a one-two-three in the series standings.
De Ferran has always been quick at Cleveland, the venue for next week's round of the CART series, but Castroneves will be eager to fight back after a bitterly disappointing weekend. Penske's Brazilian pairing may be good friends, but Castroneves could be forgiven for thinking that it should have been him, not de Ferran, picking up 20 points and the winner's trophy in Portland. After two wins in a row, is the 2000 Fedex Championship Series turning into an all-Penske battle, or can the likes of Tracy, Montoya and Franchitti come back and beat the Brazilians?
Results from Portland:
1 Gil de Ferran Team Penske Reynard-Honda
2 Roberto Moreno Patrick Racing Reynard-Ford + 2.625s
3 Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 8.982s
4 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 29.731s
5 Cristiano da Matta PPI Motorsports Reynard-Toyota + 30.590s
6 Kenny Brack Team Rahal Reynard-Ford + 30.590s
7 Helio Castroneves Team Penske Reynard-Honda + 33.710s
8 Oriol Servia PPI Motorsports Reynard-Toyota + 54.469s
9 Dario Franchitti Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda + 1m02.484s
10 Patrick Carpentier Player's/Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
11 Shinji Nakano Walker Racing Reynard-Honda + 1 lap
12 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Racing Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
13 Alex Tagliani Player's/Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
14 Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Project Reynard-Mercedes + 2 laps
15 Tarso Marques Dale Coyne Racing Swift-Ford + 2 laps
16 Bryan Herta Mo Nunn Racing Reynard-Mercedes + 3 laps
Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Paul Tracy Team KOOL Green Reynard-Honda
Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Norberto Fontana Della Penna Reynard-Toyota
Takuya Kurosawa Dale Coyne Racing Lola-Ford
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Max Papis Team Rahal Reynard-Ford