CHAMPCAR/CART: Corby: Newman/Haas race report

Havoline driver da Matta finished 2nd in the sure for men 500 in England and stretched his point lead from 52 to 58; Lilly driver Fittipaldi retired in 17th place after mechanical failure. - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta increased his lead...

Havoline driver da Matta finished 2nd in the sure for men 500 in England and stretched his point lead from 52 to 58; Lilly driver Fittipaldi retired in 17th place after mechanical failure.

- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta increased his lead in the Championship from 52 to 58 points over second place with his second place finish in today's Sure for Men 500 at Rockingham Motor Speedway (RMS). It was his ninth podium finish of 15 races so far in the 2002 CART FedEx Championship as well as his second podium finish at RMS after he finished third here in the inaugural event in 2001. After three days of atypically sunny and warm conditions, race day dawned under overcast skies and race temperatures ranged from 62 to 64 degrees ambient. At the beginning of the 211-lap race around the 1.479-mile oval, da Matta held his third place starting position behind pole sitter Kenny Brack and second place starter Michael Andretti until his first of four mandatory stops on lap 47. The stop was made under caution due to the need to clear debris from the track. Previous fourth place runner Tora Takagi apparently short filled and got back on track ahead of Andretti and da Matta in second place. Once in fourth da Matta remained there through the second caution period which was brought out to remove the car of Paul Tracy who retired with mechanical failure. On lap 94 he made his second stop and returned to the field in sixth place overall and third of those who pit in sequence. Between laps 110 and 114 he moved back up to third place after temporary race leader Dario Franchitti and two drivers behind him made their out-of-sequence stop. He held third place until lap 138 when second place runner Tora Takagi pitted. After running in second for three laps, he made his third stop on lap 141 and returned to the race in fourth place until Franchitti, whose first stop dropped him to the back of the field from his fifth place start, pitted after leading another two laps. He held third place through a caution period to remove debris from temporary race leader and first time CART participant, Darren Manning, who lost an end plate from his rear wing but thrilled his fellow British natives by leading laps while out of pit sequence. In the midst of the eight-lap caution period to remove the end plate, da Matta moved into second place behind Kenny Brack when Manning pitted out of sequence. He held his position and utilized a 10-lap caution period brought out when Tony Kanaan made contact with the wall, to make his final pit stop on lap 172. He entered the pit behind Brack and ahead of Franchitti but came out in second place to Franchitti. Da Matta and crew experience a slightly slower stop due to a minor problem with the outside rear tire but it should not have prevented them from being able to get out ahead of Franchitti except the Scotsman's crew performed an unbelievably quick stop and he was able to pass da Matta as well as Brack who had a slow stop and dropped from the lead to ninth place. When the race was restarted on Lap 180, he was .3-seconds back from Franchitti, which he kept under .8 seconds although he was unable to attempt a pass on the square-shaped short oval. He maintained his second place position from laps 173 to 211 when he took the checkered flag .98-seconds behind Franchitti and also earned 16 points toward the Championship. He also set the second fastest lap of the race to Jimmy Vasser. He entered race weekend with a 52-point lead over second placed Bruno Junqueira, which he was able to increase to 58 points by virtue of finishing second while his fellow Belo Horizonte native only collected 10 points from a fifth place finish. Franchitti closed his gap from second place from 17 to seven after round 15 of 19. Following are his post race quotes:

"I was trying to win this race," said da Matta. "If it (a pass) doesn't happen in the pits it won't happen in the race at all because it's too difficult to pass here. There are only four races to go. It's not over yet but it's closer than the last race. I have a 58-point lead and we're going to keep trying to score as many points as possible. We've finished on the podium the past three races but I'm going to try to get back to the top step because I miss the feeling of the win. It's been too long. When you feel like you have a car capable of winning and you don't, you have a small bad feeling in your stomach. We had a good race car today. I probably could have fought for the race win but it was just a matter of finding a place to make the pass. This track has long corners and short straights so it is difficult to build enough momentum to attempt a pass. The pit stops were very good as usual with the team. They have done a great job this season. I was very worried about the points lead coming into this race. It was very important to score 16 points but I still cannot relax until mathematically we are done with the Championship fight. Even then we would still try to win as much as we did before but I bet we would sleep a lot easier at night."

- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi completed only 44 of 211 laps before he retired with a yet-to-be determined mechanical problem that he experienced from the beginning of the Sure for Men 500 at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby, England. He started in 12th place and moved into 11th on the start ahead of Adrian Fernandez although he dropped to 14th place on lap 2 after 14th and 16th place starters Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon (respectively) passed him. He held the position while hoping his car would begin to react better in the ensuing laps. On lap six he informed the Lilly crew about the problem via radio as well as dropped to 15th place before falling to the back of the field in 19th place on the following lap. He remained on track until lap 17 when he pitted in order for the team to change the ECU (engine control unit) as well as the spark box in an effort to solve the problem. He returned back on track four laps down to the leader and immediately reported that the problem still existed. He came back into the pits on lead lap 28 so the team could change the coils and springs. When he returned to the track he was 18 laps down to the leader on lap 40 but reported that the situation had improved. Unfortunately the improvement was only temporary as the problem resurfaced four laps later. The team elected to bring him into the pits and retire from the race because they could not solve the problem. In the Championship hunt, fourth place Patrick Carpentier extended his pre-race lead on Fittipaldi from three to 17 with his third place finish although those ranked Fittipaldi failed to score many points and he was able to hold onto fifth place in the standings with four events to go. Following are his post race comments:

"We had a problem since the start of the race and we changed many things but the problem didn't go away," said Fittipaldi. "After we came in on the first stop and changed the ECU (engine control unit) and the plug box and it was better for four or five laps but then it started all over again. This is a short oval but it is completely different than other short ovals we go to. It is a challenge from that standpoint. It's a shame not to score any points here especially since the guys below us in the standings didn't make many points. We'll hope for more in Miami and the rest of the races."

-nhr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Tora Takagi , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta