Saturday, April 10, 1999

C A R T _A U T O _ R A C I N G

Associated Press
Mexico's Adrian Fernandez raises his fist in the cockpit
after crossing the finish line to win the CART Firestone
Firehawk 500 in Motegi, Japan.

gambles, wins
Firehawk 500

He passes up a fuel stop
with six laps remaining and
defends his title in the
Japan event

Associated Press


MOTEGI, Japan -- With six laps left in the Firehawk 500, four of the top five drivers turned for pit road to fuel up for a final charge.

But front-running Adrian Fernandez and his team stayed out during the caution period, betting that the driver could back off the accelerator enough to finish on his remaining fuel.

The strategy worked, and Fernandez earned his fourth career win and second straight at Twin Ring Motegi today.

The top 12 finishers in CART's FedEx point standings will be invited to race in the Hawaii Super Prix Nov. 13 at Barbers Point.

"The numbers said no way we were going to make it," said Fernandez, who finished 6.347 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Gil de Ferran. "I was just praying for more yellows. When the last yellow came out, they said, 'Back off! Back off!' and that was it."

Fernandez led from lap 53, but the win wasn't locked up until Gregg Moore, running second, spun out approaching the green flag that would bring the race out of the caution period with three laps left.

De Ferran slipped by Moore's spinning car and moved into second, followed by Christian Fittipaldi. They finished in that order under another caution.

Fernandez led for 153 laps of the 500-kilometer race (311 miles). He averaged 176.195 mph in earning the $100,000 first prize.

Would Fernandez have had enough fuel if not for the late cautions?

"I think we would have just barely made it, but you never know," he said.

The car ran dry during a victory lap and had to be towed off the 1.549-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval.

Moore finished fourth after recovering from the spin, staying on the lead lap despite badly damaged rear tires.

"When I spun, I just kept looking into my mirrors, trying to keep the car away from the wall," said the Canadian, who retained the lead in the drivers' standings after winning the season-opening Grand Prix of Miami last month.

Fittipaldi's third-place finish was his best since a second in 1995.

The most surprising performance came from Colombian Juan Montoya. He charged from the 15th starting position to second behind Fernandez midway through the race.

Montoya made several attempts to overtake Fernandez and nearly made it past the leader in lap 139 before debris on the track brought on a caution.

Montoya fell back three laps later when he ran out of fuel. He finished 13th.

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