CHAMPCAR/CART: da Matta predicts close Texas finish

FORT WORTH-DALLAS (April 19, 2001) - Cristiano da Matta is off to a blazing start in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series. He won the opening event in Monterrey, Mexico and is the current series point leader. And da Matta's prediction for the...

FORT WORTH-DALLAS (April 19, 2001) - Cristiano da Matta is off to a blazing start in the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series. He won the opening event in Monterrey, Mexico and is the current series point leader. And da Matta's prediction for the April 29 Firestone Firehawk 600, presented by Pioneer, at Texas Motor Speedway? It will be decided in the race's final moments.

"I think the race will be won on the last lap," predicted da Matta. "It's going to be a shootout in Texas and I hope I am part of it."

da Matta moved to the Newman/Haas Racing Team at the start of the 2001 CART campaign. He promptly put the Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Toyota Lola into victory lane at the Mexican opening event. However, he has never competed at a facility such as Texas Motor Speedway's 24-degree high-banked superspeedway.

Besides on-track successes of their racing team, co-owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas are accomplished in their respective fields. Newman's movie roles have entertained the world for years while Haas' business ventures include the North American Lola car distributorship, co-owner of a NASCAR Winston Cup team, and race promotions at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway in Milwaukee and the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston.

da Matta has history riding with him regarding a good finish at Texas. Teammate Christian Fittipaldi won the latest CART oval race in California last October. In the past five CART oval track events, all have been won by either a Newman/Haas driver or a car powered by Toyota.

"The track is absolutely unbelievable," continued da Matta. "Just driving up to the track impresses you. I haven't driven on it yet in anything faster than a van during a press day in January but the banking is pretty impressive. I'm sure it will be even more impressive in my Texaco/Havoline/Kmart Champ Car.

"I have never raced on a track with banking this steep. We didn't test at the track because the team has a good set-up for ovals so they decided to concentrate on more road course testing which definitely paid off (with a win) in Mexico and (second place in) Long Beach.

"I think the speeds will be much higher than when Kenny (Brack) tested because he was running alone and you go faster when you are drafting with other cars. With the cars running close and the kind of racing the banking of the turns is going to produce, I think we are going to put on a good show."

da Matta will face stiff competition in the Firestone Firehawk 600, presented by Pioneer. da Matta's teammate Fittipaldi is expected to be a frontrunner. Defending CART FedEx Championship Series title winner Gil de Ferran and Long Beach winner Helio Castroneves will head the Marlboro Team Penske effort. Other contenders are Michael Andretti, Adrian Fernandez, Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser.

"My first oval race with Newman/Haas will be interesting," said da Matta. "They have a different approach to many things and I'm sure oval racing will be the same way.

"We have done well on the road and street courses so far this season and the team has traditionally done very well on oval tracks so I am looking forward to many new experiences at Texas Motor Speedway - both with the new track in general as well as in my new home at Newman/Haas."

-TMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Paul Newman , Carl Haas , Cristiano da Matta