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NOTES

An Impressive Dash From Last-Place Start

November 04, 2002|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

FONTANA — Oriol Servia didn't finish on the lead lap, but he did turn in one of the best performances of the Toyota 500 at California Speedway. The Spaniard started last in the 18-car field, but finished fifth Sunday in owner Pat Patrick's Toyota-powered Reynard.

"It was a good race, but it wasn't what I wanted," said Servia, whose best finish this season was fourth at Rockingham Speedway in England, also an oval. "I wanted a podium."

Servia passed seven cars on the first lap, but was passed back by two of them on the second lap before settling into his steady climb through the field.

"I didn't expect the start to be as critical [but] it wasn't as easy as years past to pass," Servia said. "The start was very important."

Servia became unemployed when PWR Racing folded after three races. He has raced nine times for Patrick, and this was his third top-10 finish, his second in the top five. He had the race's fastest lap, 232.114 mph, on Lap 234, almost a full mile an hour faster than winner Jimmy Vasser. Servia might have challenged the leaders, but was lapped during his last pit stop by race leader Cristiano da Matta.

"If I had known [Da Matta] was the leader, I would have put up a fight for position," said Servia, who was told Da Matta was not the leader because his crew misunderstood the question over the radio. "I feel for sure we have the potential to win. Next year, I think we can be a real contender."

*

The only crash was a memorable trip by Tora Takagi through the pits -- backward.

Takagi has been on crutches since he suffered a fractured pelvis last week in a nine-car crash in Australia. Sunday, he locked the brakes of his Toyota-Reynard and made soft contact with the pit stall wall. Guided by the wall, he went neatly through more than a dozen pit stalls, three of them occupied -- including his own, which was laid out for a pit stop. Fortunately, Takagi was on a different pit schedule because he had to replace a pop-off valve earlier in the race.

"He's in a lot of pain, but when he's driving, he doesn't feel it that much," said his team owner, Derrick Walker. "He feels it more going over bumps, which is why he had the problem driving into the pits. I think he's in a lot more pain than he's admitting.

"I'm sure Tora will go out the first day [at Mexico City in two weeks] and see how he feels. If Tora's fit to drive, it's not an issue ... but there are lots of drivers who would like to go and race there."

*

Max Papis, who lost his job when Sigma Autosport folded after five races, is available. With two second-place finishes in the last three years at California, Papis filled in for injured owner-driver Adrian Fernandez. He started 10th and was running a solid sixth when his Honda encountered engine problems on Lap 215. He finished 14th.

"I feel I am an open-wheel driver [and] showed I'm a strong driver and deserve a place [in the field]," he said. "If I have a contract next week in [the NASCAR Busch Series], I'll sign it. You go where people want you the most, and I feel pretty welcome in the NASCAR paddock."

*

Bruno Junqueira, who finished ninth, leads Patrick Carpentier by three points and Dario Franchitti by 10 in a spirited battle for second place in the championship. Carpentier finished third, Franchitti 10th. Junqueira was seventh before the first round of pit stops, but lost a wheel when he exited. He lost a lap, and was penalized a lap. He finished three laps behind.

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