CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta puts "1" on at Surfers Paradise

CHAMPCAR/CART: Da Matta puts

Brazilian superstar Cristiano da Matta's position as the newly crowned champion of the 2002 FedEx Championship Auto Racing Team series was today made official as he traded his number six numeral for the prestigious number one. The diminutive ...

Brazilian superstar Cristiano da Matta's position as the newly crowned champion of the 2002 FedEx Championship Auto Racing Team series was today made official as he traded his number six numeral for the prestigious number one.

The diminutive Newman/Haas driver acknowledged his race team, claiming their support and assistance throughout the series had significantly contributed to his success.

Cristiano da Matta celebrates his new number 1.
Photo by David Magahy.

Fresh from an impressive win in the Grand Prix Americas in Miami on October 6, da Matta said he had at least one more goal to make his season complete -- to become the first repeat winner of the Honda Indy 300.

Da Matta currently stands with an unbeatable 69-point lead over his closest rival, fellow Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, with a maximum of 68 points available. The 29 year champion presently has six pole positions and seven victories with three races remaining in the CART series this season.

The driver of the Havoline Toyota/Lola said that he still aimed to finish with a victory on the Australian track. "I'm a racer. I'm here to race and I am competing against the best drivers in the world. No-one has ever won this race two years in a row so I'm hoping to set a record."

Da Matta earned the Vanderbilt Cup, accompanied by a one million (US dollars) prize shared between himself and team owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas.

Da Matta was one of 16 drivers that attended an official CART breakfast and media conference at Conrad Jupiters Hotel on the Gold Coast. When da Matta was questioned about how he would spend his share of the one million prize, fellow competitor, Paul Tracy jokingly stated, "He hasn't even bought us a drink yet."

Under the pressure of the crowd, the da Matta succumbed to the banter of the drivers and promised a round of drinks if he was to claim triumph once again on Sunday. "We'll see how I go on the weekend. I'll buy you all a drink after the race," he declared.

Da Matta goes into tomorrow's qualifying as the 3/1 race favorite, ahead of Junqueira at 4/1 and Michael Andretti and Dario Franchitti at 5/1.

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Series INDYCAR