Surfers Paradise, Australia Gil de Ferran thought his career would take an upward turn when he signed on before last season to drive for Roger Penske.
But the 33-year-old Brazilian never figured his fortunes would improve so dramatically after five years as just another contender on the CART circuit. Two seasons with the greatest open-wheel team in American history have resulted in two championships.
"Never in a million years did I ever think I would achieve this much success," de Ferran said after clinching the championship Sunday in the Honda Indy. "For me to be speaking here as a two-time champion is very special. I guess we'll just keep going."
He went far enough in the race through the city streets to finish fourth behind winner Cristiano da Matta, one position ahead of Kenny Brack. De Ferran picked up 12 points, leaving him with 191. Brack got 10 points to give him 163, but was closed out because a maximum of 22 can be earned next Sunday in the season finale at California Speedway.
"I guess it hasn't completely sunk in yet," de Ferran said of the title. "All I can think is I'm a very fortunate person to be driving for a guy like Roger and a team like we have.
"I've been living in a dream since I joined the team two years ago. My life has been wonderful from a personal and professional standpoint."
The title was not decided without a bit of a controversy, however. Bobby Rahal, who owns Brack's car, charged that his driver was being blocked for part of the race by Helio Castroneves, de Ferran's teammate.
Castroneves, also within striking distance of the championship when the race began, said bad brakes hurt him in a 20th-place finish.
Brack didn't complain about Castroneves, choosing instead to congratulate de Ferran, who gave Penske his ninth CART championship and 11th open-wheel title overall.
"They did a great job all year," Brack said of de Ferran's team. "I always had a feeling he would be the one to beat for the championship."
Penske said de Ferran has established himself as a true champion, and was never better than this year, when he was forced to rally for the title.
"He came from behind in the points and was fast and consistent when he needed to be," Penske said.
The victory was the second this season for da Matta.
1, (3) Cristiano da Matta, Brazil, Toyota Lola, 65 laps, 97.511 mph.
2, (6) Michael Andretti, United States, Honda Reynard, 65.
3, (7) Alex Tagliani, Canada, Ford Reynard, 65.
4, (2) Gil de Ferran, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 65.
5, (13) Kenny Brack, Sweden, Ford Lola, 65.
6, (10) Jimmy Vasser, United States, Toyota Reynard, 65.
7, (16) Michel Jourdain Jr., Mexico, Ford Lola, 65.
8, (15) Christian Fittipaldi, Brazil, Toyota Lola 65,
9, (14) Max Papis, Italy, Ford Lola, 65.
10, (23) Memo Gidley, United States, Toyota Lola, 65.
11, (9) Patrick Carpentier, Canada, Ford Reynard, 65.
12, (18) Shinji Nakano, Japan, Honda Reynard, 65.
13, (26) Alex Barron, United States, Ford Lola, 65.
14, (4) Paul Tracy, Canada, Honda Reynard, 65.
15, (8) Scott Dixon, New Zealand, Toyota Reynard, 65.
16, (20) Tora Takagi, Japan, Toyota Reynard, 65.
17, (19) Tony Kanaan, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 65.
18, (22) Bryan Herta, United States, Ford Reynard, 65.
19, (17) Adrian Fernandez, Mexico, Honda Reynard, 65.
20, (11) Helio Castroneves, Brazil, Honda Reynard, 64, running.
21, (21) Bruno Junqueira, Brazil, Toyota Lola, 55, contact.
22, (1) Roberto Moreno, Brazil, Toyota Reynard, 54, mechanical.
23, (5) Dario Franchitti, Scotland, Honda Reynard, 35, mechanical.
24, (25) Mauricio Gugelmin, Brazil, Toyota Reynard, 34, mechanical.
25, (12) Oriol Servia, Spain, Ford Lola, 10, mechanical.
26, (24) Casey Mears, United States, Honda Reynard, 0, contact.
Time of race: 1 hour, 51 minutes, 47.260 seconds.
Margin of victory: 5.786 seconds.
Caution flags: 2 for 5 laps.
Lead changes: Eight among five drivers.
Lap leaders: de Ferran, 1-21; Moreno 22-23; Dixon 24; Moreno 25-46; Da Matta 47-48; Vasser 49; Dixon 50-51; Da Matta 52-65.
Points leaders: 1, de Ferran 191. 2, Brack 163. 3, Castroneves and Andretti 141. 5, da Matta 120. 6, Franchitti 105, 7, Dixon, 98. 8, Papis 90. 9, Carpentier 88. Kanaan 83.