CHAMPCAR/CART: Chicago victory still sweet for da Matta

(RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, CA, August 1, 2000) -- After five years and 153 Champ Car starts, Cal Wells III's PPI Motorsports (PPIM) team achieved its first CART FedEx Championship Series victory Sunday in the Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor ...

(RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, CA, August 1, 2000) -- After five years and 153 Champ Car starts, Cal Wells III's PPI Motorsports (PPIM) team achieved its first CART FedEx Championship Series victory Sunday in the Target Grand Prix at Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero, Ill. The win, courtesy of second-year CART veteran Cristiano da Matta in the #97 Pioneer Electronics / WorldCom Toyota-Reynard, also marks the former Indy Lights champion's first CART victory and has catapulted him to fourth in FedEx series standings.

Founded by Wells in 1979, PPIM began as a small company that built and fielded winning off-road trucks. In 21 years of operation, PPIM has won 25 off-road championships, including eleven Baja 500 wins and two Baja 1000 victories, as well as the 1999 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship title. With 88 off-road wins, 11 Atlantic wins and now one CART win to date, PPIM has claimed victory in every division in which it has competed with the exception of its newest endeavor, NASCAR.

Wells first entered the CART series under the Arciero-Wells banner in 1995, fielding Toyota-powered efforts for drivers Hiro Matsushita (1995, 1997 and 1998); Jeff Krosnoff, who was killed in a race accident in Toronto (1996); Max Papis (1996, 1997, and 1998); Robby Gordon (1998); Scott Pruett (1999); and Cristiano da Matta (1999). As the foundation for Toyota's CART development program, the team set records for the engine manufacturer through their first four years of partnership (1995-1999) -- including Toyota's highest finish of fourth (da Matta, Nazareth) and Toyota's first pole position (Scott Pruett, Fontana) in 1999.

In 2000, as PPI Motorsports, the team has posted its most competitive season to date with da Matta and reigning Indy Lights champion Oriol Servia, driver of the #96 Telefonica Toyota-Reynard. In April, Servia matched PPIM's best road-course finish of fifth at Long Beach and went on to claim PPIM's first podium, a third-place finish, in Detroit this June. Da Matta added two more podiums to the total with a third-place effort at Cleveland (his first CART podium) and the win in Chicago. All told, PPIM has earned three podiums, three top five qualifying efforts and seven top five finishes in 13 of 20 CART events this season.

"It has been a long road for us, which makes this victory all the more sweet," commented Cal Wells III, president and owner of PPI Motorsports. "This is a very special moment. Words cannot even begin to describe it. We, along with the folks at Toyota, have worked very, very hard for this, ever since our CART team was born alongside their new engine program in 1995. After we lost Jeff Krosnoff, the guy we all knew would be the future of this team and the engine program, we focused on building something that would honor his memory and what he, along with us, was trying to accomplish. Max (Papis) did a tremendous job stepping in and really helped keep this team and this program together and moving forward. For Jeff, success in this journey is the best tribute there is."

"We've had a lot of partners who have helped us get here, especially Toyota," Wells continued. "That relationship has been the lifeblood of this team, ever since we partnered with them in off-road in 1982. WorldCom really helped us raise our profile in the CART series when they came on board in 1996, and Pioneer and Mitel Semiconductor have supported us through these past two seasons as part of their extended families. We weren't sure we'd be able to find funding for a second car this season, and when Telef=F3nica stepped up we were able to continue with a two-car program that has benefited our overall on-track performance immeasurably. Everyone associated with us played a part in this victory.

"The potential for success has been there, and finally everything is coming together to prove that we are a championship-caliber team," Wells summarized. "Both the Pioneer and Telefonica teams are incredibly strong, and we've got two really talented athletes motivating us from behind the wheel in Cristiano and Oriol. We've got consistency on our side, and with one in the books, the will to earn our next win has only gotten stronger. We will, as Jeff Krosnoff always said, stay hungry."

Da Matta, the 1998 Indy Lights champion, earned a best start of sixth, a best finish of fourth and finished 18th overall in his rookie CART season with PPIM (1999). Da Matta's last win was in Vancouver in 1998, capping off a two-year Indy Lights run that brought him seven wins and 1997 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year honors in addition to the 1998 title.

"It feels very, very good to win," said da Matta, who drove to first from fifth position on the starting grid. "I can't wait to do this again, and again. I am extremely proud to give Cal his first victory." Da Matta dedicated the win to Wells and Krosnoff during the podium celebration at Chicago Motor Speedway.

"This season we got off to a rough start," da Matta continued. "Our problems early in the season were not due to the engine, they were our own issues. We had a lot of difficulty with our oval set-up and big problems with qualifying, so to win on an oval is really satisfying.

"I knew we could win races this year, we just had to step up as a group, qualify in the top ten and finish every race," da Matta added. "If you consistently run in the top ten and finish races, eventually the door is going to open but first you must be there. After our two fourth-place finishes in Rio and Japan, and Oriol's podium in Detroit, the whole team had a lot more confidence. It made all the difference. We have a very special team, and the chemistry is really good."

Da Matta, Servia and the PPI Motorsports team are conducting a two-day CART test in Elkhart Lake, Wis., before heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Round 14 of the CART FedEx Championship Series, August 11-13.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Max Papis , Oriol Servia , Scott Pruett , Jeff Krosnoff , Cristiano da Matta