CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta domination continues at Toronto

Cristiano Da Matta cruised to an easy win at the Molson Indy Toronto. Da Matta started from pole, took the lead into the first corner and was unchallenged in a race of two halves. The first half was processional and incident free. The second contained more excitement, many incidents and even some controversy. But for both halves, one man dominated -- Cristiano da Matta. Da Matta tied a CART record with his fourth straight win. A record held by honourary starter, Alex Zanardi, and also Al Unser Jr.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

"I feel very, very pleased with my weekend," said da Matta. Everything went well. It is very good to know everything is going our way."

The start was aborted when Paul Tracy, who started second on the grid, ran ahead of da Matta on the rundown to the flag.

"I think Zanardi did a good job," da Matta joked. "Paul was ahead of me so it was correct to not start the race."

The next lap however, the race got under way. Da Matta lead Tracy, Bruno Junqueira, Kenny Brack and Christian Fittipaldi. By lap 15 da Matta had extended his lead to 6.1 seconds, with no other changes in the top running order.

A few pit stops then took place in mid-field over the next few laps, which juggled the positions in a couple of spots, but at the top of the order on lap 26 it was still da Matta by 5.7 seconds over Tracy who was 5.5 over Junqueira with Brack, Fittipaldi, Scott Dixon and Shinji Nakano rounding out the top 7 places.

Kenny Brack.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.

The pit stops for the top runners came soon after, and once they all pitted and the order had worked itself out, it was, after lap 35, da Matta by 5.2 seconds over Tracy who was 15 seconds ahead of Brack. Junqueira had dropped behind Brack and Fittipaldi. Shinji Nakano followed Junqueira, then came Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Townsend Bell and Tora Takagi.

It was all very processional. Da Matta's lead was 9.1 seconds on lap 48 and at lap 57 the parade continued in the same order with da Matta now 12.3 seconds ahead of Tracy, who was 11 ahead of Brack. Fittipaldi still followed, with Nakano and Junqueira still behind him. This was the processional first half. The more eventful and entertaining second half was about to begin.

It started on lap 60 when Tony Kanaan broke down just after the pit exit. This brought out the yellow flags and allowed Tracy to gain on da Matta. However, there was one problem for Tracy -- a number of lapped cars sat between himself and da Matta in front.

On the restart, Tracy pushed hard but was held up at turn three by the lapped and battling Adrian Fernandez and Townsend Bell in 13th and 14th. It is unclear if this block unsettled Tracy a bit, as he went off at turn one on the next lap. He then sat in 8th behind Jimmy Vasser.

"After the yellow I lost the front brakes for some reason and then the rear brakes kept locking up and I couldn't get the car to stop," said an unhappy Tracy. He didn't let them stop him from pushing hard. He had a bobble and touched the wall on corner one on the next lap. This time he only lost one spot to Franchitti. But for a man challenging for a lead a few laps earlier, he now found himself in 9th.

At the end of lap 81 da Matta led Brack by ten seconds, followed by Fittipaldi, Nakano, Dixon, and Junqueira. Tracy had continued his entertainment by regaining places from Vasser and Franchitti. Takagi rounded out the top 10.

Tracy's next move to entertain the hometown crowd was to put his car into the tire wall on lap 88 in corner one. This brought out another full course yellow as they recovered Tracy's car. The rope that pulled Tracy out of the tires broke the in-car camera as the television audience looked through it, and once he got going the camera flopped around like a road car trailing a muffler behind it down the road. Tracy only got as far as the pits though as he retired. His front brakes had had enough.

At the restart on lap 92, Bell was overly-optimistic in his attempts to pass Michel Jourdain Jr. on the outside going into corner three. He collected 5th placed Junqueira sending the unfortunate Target driver out of the race.

Junqueira was livid. "It's unbelievable," he said. "That's the second time this season he has put me out of a race." The yellow flags came out again to remove Bruno's car.

Bell was able to continue, made it to the pits and the team fixed him up. Although it looked like he had no damage and the car was ok to continue, Cart Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach decided to remove Bell from the race. It was perhaps a bit of a harsh decision. Bell certainly made a mistake, and cost another driver his race, but Bell had suffered too, and had certainly not done it on purpose, but only made a mistake while attempting to pass.

Other drivers did not want to comment too much on the issue until they had seen the incident and thought about it. Kenny Brack said he would not discuss it, and Christian Fittipaldi said, "It might be good for an example to have been set. That way other drivers wake up, and they say 'If I play it wrong, Wally will park me.' But I am only commenting generally. I don't know what happened."

This caution period gave the field yet another attempt to catch da Matta, who continued to drive a stonking race. However, no one could catch him. There was some excitement further down the field, however, as at corner 3 Dario got hit by Tagliani and collected Jourdain Jr.. Franchitti got away after a delay, but Jourdain fell to last of the runners. Franchitti was unimpressed with his race.

"Tag hit me pretty hard from behind and hopefully CART will do something about it," he steamed.

Later Franchitti spun, bumped a wall backwards, knocked his rear wing ajar, and it eventually fell off, and he retired in the pits.

Da Matta crossed the line 4.4 seconds in front of Brack. Fittipaldi was third, 7 seconds behind Brack. Nakano had his best ever result with 4th, while Scott Dixon and Jimmy Vasser drove consistent and uneventful races to finish 5th and 6th.

Da Matta now leads the championship with 118 points, 48 more than Junqueira's 70. Franchitti and Jourdain sit 3rd and 4th, Jourdain being the only one of the top four other than da Matta, who got the maximum 23 points, to pick up a point. Jourdain got one point for his 12th place finish.