CHAMPCAR/CART: da Matta adds name NHR list at Monterrey

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta scored his second CART victory in his debut with Newman/Haas Racing in the CART season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico. On Saturday, da Matta equaled his best...

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta scored his second CART victory in his debut with Newman/Haas Racing in the CART season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico. On Saturday, da Matta equaled his best starting position to date of second place in the 2000 Toronto event. Ironically da Matta's first victory came in Newman/Haas Racing's hometown of Chicago in 2000 after he held off Michael Andretti, the driver he replaced, by 1.6-seconds for his first CART victory on the oval track. In addition to being da Matta's second overall win today, he scored his first on a road/street course and the sixth CART victory for Toyota. Da Matta has been powered by Toyota all three seasons he has competed in CART but Mexico was his first event in a Lola chassis. Da Matta also brought Newman/Haas Racing its second consecutive victory after Fittipaldi won the 2000 season-ending Marlboro 500 in Fontana, Calif. It was the team's eighth win in a CART season-opening race in its 19th season.

For the first 24 laps, da Matta held his second place starting position no more than two seconds behind pole sitter and race leader Kenny Brack. During the caution period to remove the crashed car of Roberto Moreno, da Matta followed Brack into the pits for tires and fuel. The Texaco/Havoline/Kmart crew performed a quick stop for their first time with the single probe refueling system that will be mandatory beginning with the fourth event. Da Matta returned to the race behind Brack in fifth place with the top-three not yet making their stops. He reported to the team that his car was handling much better on the second stint than before he pitted due to some minor changes. He moved into fourth place behind Brack on lap 28 after the two passed Alex Zanardi, who was making his return to CART since racing in Formula One. By lap 40, da Matta was running in second place to Brack until lap 44 when he took over the lead for the first time in the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart car. He was able to build a slight lead on Brack for one or two laps until Brack returned to fill his mirrors a mere .6-seconds behind. On lap 53 Brack pulled alongside da Matta to attempt a pass by subsequently


Cristiano da Mattaon the podium. Photo: Bob Kozel/Motorsport.com

went off course. After Brack regained control of his car he began to continue his pursuit of da Matta on laps 55 and 56 but to no avail. On lap 57, Brack pitted leaving Gil de Ferran behind da Matta as he raced as fast as he could to gain valuable track position before his next pit stop on the following lap. Da Matta made his pit stop and was able to get back on track before Brack or de Ferran came by the pit exit. By lap 68, da Matta had built a hard-earned four-second lead on second place Gil de Ferran but that came to an end when his teammate Fittipaldi brushed the concrete wall after struggling with an ill-handling race car so the yellow flag was brought out and the field bunched up. As the time allocation for the two-hour event neared, new CART Chief Steward Chris Kneifel announced that it would be a timed event rather than an 80-lap race thus leaving seven to eight laps left in the event. The race was restarted on lap 73 and da Matta successfully held off Gil de Ferran in addition to getting a big jump on him. When the white flag was brought out on lap 77 signaling one more lap in the race, da Matta had built a 1.3-second lead which he stretched to a comfortable 1.982-seconds when he took the checkered flag on lap 78 to win his second CART event and the 59th for Newman/Haas Racing thus adding his name to previous team winners which include Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy and Christian Fittipaldi. Da Matta became only the second driver in team history to win in his debut. Nigel Mansell was the other driver to do so when he won the 1993 CART season-opening event in Australia in his first race with the team. Da Matta had the following to say after the race:

"What a great finish for the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart team!" said da Matta. "I want to thank Carl and Paul for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. We had a pretty good race. Kenny was hooked up at the beginning of the race but I think he had some problems. He was hooked up at the beginning of the race. Maybe he was using more fuel than I was but running leaner helped me later in the race when I could go one more lap than he did. When I passed him, I had to make good fuel mileage and keep him behind me but my car was a little better in the middle of the race and the end than it was in the beginning. After my last stop when Gil was behind me, my car was much better. I thought I had it (won) at a certain point in the race if I didn't have mechanical problems. I had to get a good plan for the (last) restart. I was expecting a lot of pressure but I got a jump on Gil. We worked very, very hard in the off-season. The team was very specific about the order of things we tested and were really methodical. I would get a little frustrated at times because I wanted to see how fast I could make the car go but they would stick to the order of things instead. In the end it was the best way to do things because we came to this race and were on top of it. The more I work with the team, the better we are going to get. It's not that replacing Michael (Andretti) puts pressure on me. The fact that I am driving for Newman/Haas Racing puts pressure on me. With PPI, it was a relatively new team so each achievement I did was a new one for the team. Newman/Haas has won so many races and Championships and that is what I have as a benchmark. Overall we are off to a good start and I am looking forward to racing in Long Beach even more."


Christian Fittipaldi. Photo: Bob Kozel/Motorsport.com.

- Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi was unable to score back-to-back wins the CART FedEx Series due to making contact on lap of 68 of the time-certain 78-lap Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in Monterrey, Mexico. Fittipaldi struggled to find a good race set-up for his car on Friday and Saturday but was relatively happy with the feel of the racecar in the race morning warm-up but was not able to score Championship points after retiring in 20th place after running as high as 13th. He drove from his 16th place start into 14th by lap two. He held 14th place until lap 9 when the yellow came out for rookie Max Wilson who made contact with the wall. Fittipaldi took advantage of the yellow due to his 14th place position and topped off his fuel tank but did not take on new tires before returning to the race in 22nd place. He held his position until lap 22 when he spun at the exit of turn 12 but continued and dropped to 26th place. By lap 24 he moved up to 18th place as the front runners made their first stops. When Alex Zanardi went off course on lap 29, Fittipaldi moved into 17th place, which he held until lap 36 when Bryan Herta pit. By lap 39, Fittipaldi moved into 14th place after rookie Scott Dixon, who temporarily led due to being out of pit sequence, made his stop as did local favorite and Mexican Adrian Fernandez. Before his second pit stop on lap 49, Fittipaldi ran in 13th place but returned to the track in 20th. He moved into 18th place by lap 61 and into 17th place when Max Papis had problems on lap 65. He was in 17th place on lap 68 when he brushed the wall and damaged his racecar exiting turn 12.

Following are his post race comments:

"The fact that we didn't change tires on the first stint really hurt us," said Fittipaldi. "I got into the marbles and went wide then into the wall. When you get into the marbles, you don't have control of the car. I spun once on the tires then almost hit the wall a second time then the third time was it. It was a very disappointing weekend and start to the season but we are going to regroup and be ready for Long Beach. There is a long season in front of us and both the team and myself are capable of winning so I am encouraged by da Matta's result this weekend and am happy for him. We are going to go to Long Beach with every intention of making it three in a row for Newman/Haas."

- Texaco Brings Good Luck -The last time da Matta drove a Texaco-sponsored car, he scored four wins and four poles en route to the 1993 Brazilian Formula Ford Championship.

- HANS on Road/Street Courses - Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta continued Newman/Haas Racing's lead in the development of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) after wearing it throughout the weekend. The event marked the second on a road course where the HANS had been utilized. Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi, was the first driver to wear the device during a road course event when he utilized it on the street course in Detroit 2000. Fittipaldi led the development of the HANS for use in open-wheel racecars since the winter of 1999 and was the first driver to use it voluntarily during a CART race weekend when he wore it in practice on Friday for the Detroit street race. It was not comfortable enough at that point on road courses but Fittipaldi continued to wear it in testing on ovals during the street/road course part of the season until the next oval event at the Michigan Speedway in July.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Chris Kneifel , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Alex Zanardi , Max Wilson , Bryan Herta , Nigel Mansell , Cristiano da Matta