CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta Chicago preview

Da Bears, Da Bulls, Da Matta! Cristiano da Matta Returns to Chicago to Defend His First Cart Victory and Hopes to Have a "Home Town Advantage" LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 25, 2001) --- Winning by a margin of 1.6 seconds over Michael Andretti, the...

Da Bears, Da Bulls, Da Matta!
Cristiano da Matta Returns to Chicago to Defend His First Cart Victory and Hopes to Have a "Home Town Advantage"

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. (July 25, 2001) --- Winning by a margin of 1.6 seconds over Michael Andretti, the one whose job he would assume, Cristiano da Matta, at age 26, won his first Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx event on the 1.029-mile oval of the Chicago Motor Speedway. Now a year older, with another win and more podium finishes with a new team, da Matta returns to Chicago to defend his title. However, scoring back-to-back victories in this weekend's Target Grand Prix Presented by Energizer becomes even more momentous as it happens to be the home track of the Lincolnshire, Ill. based Newman/Haas Racing who has 59 wins but none at this venue.

In his only two starts at Chicago, da Matta, racing for PPI Motorsports, finished first last year after qualifying in the fifth position, but in 1999 he was forced to exit early due to contact leaving him in 24th place. In his third start in the Windy City he is confident that his new team will provide him the necessary tools to repeat a win. "The Texaco/Havoline/Kmart team has given me a good oval car everywhere I've been to," da Matta said. "The set-up has been better every oval I've been to, so hopefully it is just going to be better in Chicago too."

Not only is da Matta confident in his team, but he is also looking to take advantage of a few other variables that might be in his favor. He said, "The Toyota engine and track are going to be the same which makes me pretty confident going into Chicago. I like the track a lot and it's probably the oval I feel the most comfortable at."

Feeling comfortable at Chicago Motor Speedway is something Newman/Haas Racing likes to hear out of its drivers as they consider the race to be a hometown venue. Da Matta understands well just what it means to race in a 'home event' as he stated, "It's one of those deals where all your crew, engineers, and all of your team will have their friends and family there watching the race and everybody will be pushing extra hard to perform extra well. I'm giving 100 percent of myself every weekend, so it's impossible to give 101 percent. I'm going to try as hard as I try every weekend and I am going to do everything possible to win that race. If we do win, there will be more people to celebrate with. Some of these people only see the races from a TV so it would be nice to win one for them while they are actually with us at the track."

Last year's race in Chicago proved that da Matta was pushing extra hard, as he beat Andretti, CART winningest active driver at the finish. However, it wasn't necessarily his win over the competitor he would replace that stood out in da Matta's mind, but it was a victory over another CART and open-wheel racing "great" that meant more to him.

"It's ironic that I beat Newman/Haas and Michael last year but I was more worried about Montoya who was behind Michael because he looked like he had a good car," said the Brazilian. "What I really wanted was when I was leading on the last yellow flag, Montoya was behind me, and I really wanted him to stay in the race, so I could finish ahead of him. To finish a race ahead of Montoya, who was dominate that weekend, meant a lot to me. It was good to win my first Champ car race! The team was so happy because it was their first race win in CART in their six years in the series. It was good to see the look on so many people's faces and know that you had a part in making them that way. It was a team effort to get to that point. You never forget your first win in a series."

In all, da Matta looks to be a very strong candidate heading into the Chicago race. In combination with his previous win at the track, he is coming off a fourth place finish on the two-mile oval at the Michigan International Speedway, in last week's 500-mile race. Currently, da Matta is only 17 points out of the lead in the CART FedEx Championship points race with 67 to leader Kenny Brack who has 84 points. (There are 22 max. points available per race weekend.) Chicago will mark his 51st career CART start and 307th for Newman/Haas Racing.

Qualifying for the Target Grand Prix will air 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. CART 2Day airs 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2, while ABC-TV's live race broadcast begins 4 p.m. ET. Twenty of 21 FedEx Championship Series events are being televised live on ABC-TV or ESPN and 18 are being televised live on Eurosport, a European network that reaches 250 million viewers in 54 countries. Sunday's race will also air on the CART Radio Network and on CART's official website, at www.cart.com .

Cast your vote for da Matta or his teammate Christian Fittipaldi for the 2001 MCI Worldcom Most Popular Driver on cart.com or texaco.com/racing. Voting will take place until October 9.

-NHR-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Christian Fittipaldi , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta