CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago: Race report

Cristiano da Matta wins third straight CART Fedex Championship Series event by taking victory at Cart Grand Prix Of Chicago. CICERO, Ill., (June 30, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta ( ...

Cristiano da Matta wins third straight CART Fedex Championship Series event by taking victory at Cart Grand Prix Of Chicago.

CICERO, Ill., (June 30, 2002) - Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) translated his road-course dominance into oval-track success for the first time during the 2002 campaign Sunday at Chicago Motor Speedway by leading 82 of the last 116 laps around the 1.029-mile oval to take his third straight CART FedEx Championship Series event, beating Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) to the line by 0.639 seconds to capture the win.

Da Matta won his fourth event of the season and opened up a 25-point lead in the series championship over Junqueira, and in the process, became the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win three consecutive events in the same season. The win matches the second time that the diminutive Brazilian has pulled off the triple, completing the feat with a season-opening win in Monterrey to pair with his two wins to conclude the 2001 season.

Quick pit work was the order of the day in keeping da Matta in front of his pursuers, which included early race leader and polesitter Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and front-row starter Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Franchitti led the opening 67 laps of the event, giving the lead up during the first round of pit stops as he fell behind both da Matta and Tagliani.

Tagliani took the lead after the stops had cycled through and ran away for the next 58 laps, setting the season standard for most laps led in a race by any Ford-Cosworth driver. The Canadian would lose the top spot after his second pit stop, when he ducked in a lap ahead of da Matta and Franchitti. Da Matta pitted on the next lap and was racing out of pit lane while Tagliani was looking to regain the lead, but Tagliani had to slow slightly while trying to pass Junqueira on the outside of Turn One, allowing da Matta to take the lead for the first time of the day.

Da Matta gave the lead up to Newman/Haas teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) briefly but the team would give it back to da Matta as Fittipaldi lost a rear wheel coming out of the pits. The ensuing restart after the caution flag would be an eventful one as Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) tried to pass Tagliani on the outside heading into Turn Two, resulting in both drivers spinning into the grass. Both were able to continue and Tagliani pitted to put himself off sequence while da Matta stayed at the point.

Tagliani would hold the lead for 20 laps before the mandatory pit rules called him in for fuel at lap 235, allowing da Matta to reclaim the lead, and he would outduel a charging Junqueira to the line for his eighth career win. Junqueira snared his third podium of the season and stayed within shouting distance of the red-hot da Matta while Franchitti moved into sole possession of third place in the point standings with his podium finish.

Behind the podium residents were a pair of drivers that had career-best days in the CART series. Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer/Denso Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) equaled a career best with a fourth-place finish, a placing that was his best-ever finish on a oval track and matched his high of fourth from last year in Houston. Takagi was strong in Saturday practice and ran in the top 10 all day long before moving up to give Walker Racing a strong placement.

Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his first career top-five finish by coming home fifth, marking the first time in CART history that two Japanese drivers have finished in the top five in a race. His finish buoyed the Fernandez Racing squad, which saw leader Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) retire after brake problems, ending a promising day that had him in the top five in the opening stages of the race.

Scott Dixon (#44 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would take the sixth spot, giving the sophomore driver his sixth top-10 finish of the season. Tagliani would recover to place seventh while Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) grabbed the eighth spot for the second straight week, marking the third consecutive week that the Mo Nunn Racing entry has scored points after opening the year with four straight scoreless outings.

Tracy rebounded from his spin to earn the ninth spot while Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) held on to the 10th position despite an air-jack failure that caused him to suffer lost time in the pits all day long. Jourdain is the only driver to have finished every race this season.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP FINISHERS: (Bruno Junqueira did not attend the post-race conference due to heat exhaustion).

Cristiano da Matta: "I hope it keeps on going, right. But this series is so competitive. Everybody that follows the series, to win some of six of the last nine, for me personally, it means a lot because I know how difficult it is to get six out of last nine. It's very difficult, and it just means a lot. It shows that I'm in very good shape; the team is in very good shape; Toyota is in very good shape; Lola is in very good shape. It's a great combination and we have to keep on working. Of course, you have to enjoy it because something like that in a series like CART doesn't happen every day. So you have to enjoy this moment and have to keep on working hard to make sure we keep on winning."

Dario Franchitti: "The championship is not over. We're not even halfway through the season yet. There's a lot of racing to go. If we can improve our performance and start winning some races, then we are looking good. Cristiano is very strong and he's done a good job, his whole team, but we are going to be trying to beat him. His car has been consistent and quick. Any week the championship could change. We have to stop Cristiano winning."

NOTEWORTHY:

* The podium of Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone), Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) and Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) finished in the same order as they did last weekend at Portland International Raceway, marking the first time since 1994 that CART has had the exact same podium in two consecutive races since Mid-Ohio and Loudon when Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi turned the trick.

* Da Matta has now led 301 laps this season, a career-high for him and the most by any Newman/Haas driver since Nigel Mansell during his CART championship-winning season in 1993.

* Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) was eliminated in a first-turn crash, marking his fourth DNF of the 2002 season. He only failed to finish five events in all of the 2001 campaign.

* Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his seventh straight top-10 finish with a 10th-place run Sunday. Jourdain is the first driver to start a season with seven top-10s since Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) hung seven straight to start the 1999 year.

* Da Matta will be looking to tie a CART record next weekend at Toronto as he looks to join Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi as the only driver to win four consecutive races.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Nigel Mansell , Emerson Fittipaldi , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain , Mo Nunn