Fernandez wins in Rio

Adrian Fernandez won the Rio 200 under yellow flags when dominant leader Alex Tagliani spun in turn four, for the second time in the closing stages of the race. "This is the best reward," said the Mexican after a difficult weekend came good.

Fernandez wins in Rio

The 35 year old had yet to make it as far the first pit stop in all the races so far this season, and started down in 16th, but kept his head brilliantly to take victory when others fumbled the ball.

An incident on lap 102 ended rookie Tagliani's challenge. The 27-year-old French Canadian went high and spun from the lead, and in the ensuing commotion delayed Kenny Brack - who had led - Michael Andretti and Dario Franchitti, dropping them several laps behind the leaders. Paul Tracy actually made contact with the Forsythe car, but was able to continue in third place.

A single point for most laps led was scant reward for what had been a great drive from Tagliani.

Jimmy Vasser finished second, equalling the highest finish for the Toyota engine, while Paul Tracy came home a solid third, extending his series lead, despite the late race damage.

Both of these drivers outlined their championship credentials, running steadily and high in the points for all the championship rounds so far. Vasser ran in the top five for most of the day, battling with Kenny Brack in the early stages, and outlining the competitiveness of the Toyota and the Lola chassis.

Tracy held his third place from the grid, and steady rather than inspired pit strategy kept him in touch while his team mate Franchitti hit trouble on more than one occasion, including a spin in the pits.

Franchitti's title challenge appears to be faltering in the face of lost pre-season testing, poor qualifying and mechanical problems. Meanwhile, Tracy is steadily racking up points and podium places.

The early running was made by polesitter Tagliani and Rahal's Kenny Brack, who moved up from fifth to second in the first 30 tours, with a brilliantly aggressive move on Jimmy Vasser added to by Montoya's early exit due to a mechanical failure.

Attrition was high and many potential front runners exited due to gearbox problems. The heavy braking and downshifting required on the Emerson Fittipaldi speedway were cited as the reason.

Morning practice star Gil de Ferran was out for this reason after 80 laps, having climbed to third.

At this stage, Brack appeared to have the upper hand, after Tagliani stayed on the track during the second full course caution - brought out because of Herta's gearbox failure stranded his Reynard on the track.

Brack picked off Fernandez to run fourth, which became first when the leaders had to pit. He pulled out an advantage of over eight seconds, but the pendulum swung back in favour of Tagliani when the next round of pitstops came around.

While Brack would have to make it to the end on the fuel he had, Tagliani would be able to run full rich and make up ground. The tactic seemed to be working as Tagliani once again took the lead, but he spun down to ninth causing followers Brack, Andretti and Dario Franchitti to spin.

Due to limited space on the apron, the spinners found it hard to regain the right direction, and by the time opportunities had availed themselves, a lap had been lost - two in Tagliani's case.

The Toyota Atlantic Champion finished the race in the pits, four laps behind.

Meanwhile, Fernandez ran faultlessly with a car that was not entirely to his liking, and held off a charging Vasser and Tracy to the end. When the race was green flagged with just five laps to go, it seemed as though any of the three men could take victory, but Tagliani spun on the restart, and when the time ran out to go green, the order remained until the flag.

The next race takes place at Motegi in Japan on May 14.

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