CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago: Newman/Haas race report

Havoline driver a Matta won six of the last nine CART races with his victory in today's Cart Grand Prix of Chicago - second at track; Lilly driver Fittipaldi lost a wheel and retired in 14TH place. - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta drove to...

Havoline driver a Matta won six of the last nine CART races with his victory in today's Cart Grand Prix of Chicago - second at track; Lilly driver Fittipaldi lost a wheel and retired in 14TH place.

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta drove to his eight overall CART victory today in the 250-lap CART Grand Prix of Chicago as well as his sixth in the past nine CART events dating back to the final two races of 2001. Although winning for da Matta is not new, the fact that the win took place on the 1.029-mile short oval is newsworthy, as the team had struggled with their short oval set-up as of late. The victory was also the second time da Matta won three consecutive events in his short CART career. In route to bringing Newman/Haas Racing it's 65th win and first at the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based team's "home event," da Matta replicated his first CART victory that took place at this track in 2000 when he held off then Newman/Haas Racing driver Michael Andretti by 1.6 seconds.

After earning his best qualifying position on a short oval of third place since his third place start for the Milwaukee 2001 event, da Matta and the Havoline team were encouraged by their improvement on short oval tracks after being one of the most competitive teams on road and street courses. In fact, as evidence of their new found improvements on short ovals, a small mistake by da Matta most likely cost him his first pole on an oval. During his second and final qualifying lap, da Matta was almost two tenths (1-1/2 tenths of a second) faster than his first lap before his car appeared to "wiggle" in one of the turns after he admittedly went into the corner too deep. His attempt to "correct" the move led him to "overcorrect" and the mistake possibly cost him his third consecutive pole position as well as his first on an oval and the first for the team on a short oval since Fittipaldi earned his first pole in Rio de Janeiro in 1999 as da Matta was less than two-hundredths-of-a-second slower than polesitter Dario Franchitti.

Prior to the race, da Matta and his fellow Brazilians Christian Fittipaldi, Tony Kanaan and Bruno Junqueira shocked friends as well as fans when they shaved the majority of their hair similar to the style worn by Ronaldo, the star of the Brazilian World Cup team as a sign of patriotism for their country's record fifth World Cup title. Da Matta gave his country another reason to be proud after winning his event as well as increasing his lead in the CART FedEx point standings.

At the start of the race, which was run in steamy 94 degree conditions, da Matta was passed by friend and fellow countryman Kanaan before the field slowed under the caution flag to clear the cars of Jimmy Vasser and Kenny Brack who crashed in the first turn on the first lap. Once the race was restarted, he held fourth place and began to conserve fuel so that he could extend his stop until the end of the 68-lap window as mandated by CART. Once he made his first stop on lap 68, the team was able to shave a second off of the time for the stop because his fuel tank was not completely empty which allowed him to return to the track ahead of previous race leader Dario Franchitti and previous third place runner Kanaan but in fourth place overall behind two cars on a different pit strategy. Once Michel Jourdain and Christian Fittipaldi made their stops, he moved into second place behind leader Alex Tagliani on lap 77. He held his position until the second of three pit stops began to take place. By again conserving fuel, he was able to pit two laps later than Tagliani and thus gain valuable track position before he pitted after temporarily leading the race for his own stop on lap 136. After a quick stop, he was able to return to the track ahead of Tagliani but temporarily behind Fittipaldi who would stop a few laps later. Once Fittipaldi pitted, da Matta took over the lead which he held through three more yellow flag periods and subsequent restarts before he made his third and final pit stop on lap 204. Again the Havoline team performed a quick stop and da Matta was able to narrowly return to the track ahead of eventual second and third place finishers Bruno Junqueira and Dario Franchitti, respectively, although in fourth place behind cars that had yet to make their final stops. By lap 216 he was in second place waiting for Tagliani to pit for his final stop which he did on lap 235 and da Matta took over the lead. From laps 235 to 250 da Matta maintained an average lead of six-tenths of a second lead over Junqueira, which he held until the checkered flag. In addition to scoring 20 points for the win, he also earned a valuable point for leading the most laps at 82 which increased his lead to 25 points on second place Junqueira heading into the Toronto Molson Indy street race where a maximum of 23 points is up for grabs. Following are da Matta's post race comments:

"The Havoline crew performed flawless, quick stops and helped me win this today," said da Matta. "It was a total team effort from the engineers improving our short oval set-up to the mechanics and pit crew. I'm happy to win a race that is not our strength. If you look back to Motegi (Japan), I finished 15 laps down from (winner) Bruno. Then we improved and I ran sixth (at the short oval) in Milwaukee before I had a mechanical problem. Now we won this oval race today and you can see how far we have come. My hat is off to the whole Newman/Haas Havoline team for the improvements they have made. We worked very hard to get to this point. All of the theories that they had about why we weren't so good on short ovals - most of them were right. Especially in May when everyone else was running in Indy and we ran over 1000 miles between Christian and myself to try to improve our oval setup. The hard work paid off. Today was a great race for us. Tony (Kanaan) got by me on the start and I just ran behind him and was able to save some fuel so that we could short-fill the car on the first stop and get out ahead of Dario (Franchitti) and Alex (Tagliani). Then we gained another spot by being able to stay out longer than (race leader) Tagliani and made up some track position so that we he pitted, he came out behind us. I think we performed well under pressure and I think everybody was able to see it but I don't think this was one of my best races. Racing is funny because maybe a race that you think is your best, you only finish fifth or sixth in but you are very happy with your performance because maybe everything wasn't going your way but you got the most out of the situation.

On the possibility of matching a CART record four consecutive wins at the next race in Toronto:

"I'm not thinking about tying the CART record. I'll push hard to make it happen because it is an important number but not because of that. It would be because of the Championship. To win six out of the last nine races to me personally means a lot because I know how tough it is to win just one in this series. Winning six out of the last nine is very difficult to get."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi failed to score points for the second consecutive CART event after his race ended after his second of three stops when his left rear tire came off of his race car in the CART Grand Prix of Chicago. After earning his top qualifying position on a short oval this season of 11th place, Fittipaldi briefly moved into 10th place before dropping to 12th on the first of 250 laps when the caution flag came out for the incident between Vasser and Brack. During the caution period CART ruled that Fittipaldi had to let Michael Andretti pass him for position because that was the order prior to the yellow conditions although the team disagreed. Before the race was restarted the team elected to pit in order to hopefully benefit from the decision later in the race. He returned to the track in 16th place, which he held until he moved into 15th place after Patrick Carpentier retired from the event on lap 47. As the first round of routine pit stops began to take place, Fittipaldi moved all the way up to take the lead of the event on laps 73-75 before he made his second stop on lap 76 and returned to the race in 13th place but moved into 12th place after Michael Andretti came into he pits and subsequently retired with mechanical failure. He held 12th place until the next round of stops began and was able to stay on track longer and thus hopefully gain valuable track position. By lap 137 he returned to the lead of the race which he held for five laps before making his third pit stop in lap141. During the stop, the inside rear tire changer Pedro Campuzano experienced trouble securing one of the lug nuts and signaled to the team manager who saw the situation and said "No, no, no" in an effort to stop the car from leaving the pits but unfortunately the phrase sounded similar to the usual "Go, go, go." In a split second after the radio transmission, the car left the pit and Fittipaldi was on his way back on track. Approx. six seconds later he was called back into the pits but the left rear tire shot off of the car. Fittipaldi retired in 14th place but fortunately retained his fifth place position in the CART FedEx point standings. Following are his post race comments:

"I didn't know there was a problem with the stop until I got to the middle of turn one and I heard TZ (John Tzouanakis) come on the radio and tell me to come back in," said a disappointed Fittipaldi. "Then about a few milliseconds later the wheel came off. During the stop I heard him say 'Go, go, go' but he was actually saying 'No, no, no' because he saw that the inside rear tire guy had a problem. The problem is that the series is so competitive today not like 20 years ago when only three guys can win. Anyone can win if they are in front and the pit crew is under more pressure than ever to make up the positions. Obviously the Lilly crew is good at pit stops because they were leading the Craftsman Pit Stop Contest coming into this race. Things like that happen to everyone. This is actually the third race in a row it has happened to someone but unfortunately it was us this race. The Bridgestone tires are too good - they don't go off so everyone is running a fast pace the entire race. We gave away some good points today because we had a sixth or seventh place car and while that wouldn't have won the race for us the points were very important."

- Manufacturing SuccessToday's victory marked the 16th for Toyota since joining the series and eight of those 16 by da Matta as well as their fifth in seven races this season for Toyota and marks the manufacturer's seventh win in the last nine CART races. It was also the 113th for chassis manufacturer Lola, of which 61 were won by Newman/Haas Racing.

- Next Up...Round 8 of 20 in the CART FedEx Championship, the Molson Indy Toronto, will take place next Sunday and will be televised live by CBS Sports at 1:30 EST. The team has won five races at the track - all with Michael Andretti behind the wheel (1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2000). Havoline driver da Matta's highest finish was fourth place with PPI Motorsports in 2000 after leading 73 laps before making a late race pit stop for fuel. Lilly driver Fittipaldi's highest finish of third place came in 1999.

-nhr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams ART Grand Prix