By Clayton Bradford - Motorsport.com On a hot gold coast day, two drivers left the race happy. Cristiano da Matta, driving the Texaco Havoline Newman/Haas car took the race in record time, and Gil de Ferran in the Marlboro Penske sealed the ...
By Clayton Bradford - Motorsport.com
On a hot gold coast day, two drivers left the race happy. Cristiano da Matta, driving the Texaco Havoline Newman/Haas car took the race in record time, and Gil de Ferran in the Marlboro Penske sealed the Cart Championship after a conservative race.
In a race normally littered with yellow flags, this year saw only two short yellow periods, leaving a relatively uneventful and clean event.
A pre-race conversation with pole sitter Roberto Moreno ensured a fast and hopefully trouble free start for Gil de Ferran, who has failed to complete one lap in his last two starts at Australia. When the Green flag was thrown, Gil de Ferran took the advantage over Roberto Moreno into the first corner. "It was actually similar to last year (de Ferran got together with Montoya into the first corner) only this time I got through. I was very relieved to get past the first lap, even if it was under yellow."
Casey Mears tried an ambitious move on the outside of Memo Gidley into the first chicane and was eventually squeezed into the wall, ending his day. Mears' accident brought out the first Yellow for the day and gave positions 19 through to 25 the opportunity to pit and top off the tanks, hoping for an advantage over the front half of the field.
Paul Tracy out braked Cristiano da Matta into Turn 2 (ANA corner) to take third before the yellow was shown leaving the positions after the yellow with de Ferran, Moreno, Tracy, da Matta and Franchitti in fifth.
At the restart on lap 3, de Ferran leapt away from Moreno out of the hairpin onto the front straight to leave the field chasing. The lead extended to 1.346 seconds after only two more laps. Da Matta took back third at the restart in a messy move with Tracy fighting for the position.
The field sorted their positions out for the next few laps with Kenny Brack pressuring the slower Helio Castroneves to no effect, with Bobby Rahal even making comment about Castroneves holding Brack up.
The second retirement for the day was Oriol Servia, who suffered his only mechanical DNF for the season when he broke the gearbox/clutch and parked it on the back straight.
With Servia out of Castroneves began reeling in Patrick Carpentier in the Players car, with Brack pressuring him all the way. Lap 16 saw Castroneves make a lucky escape after trying an inside move on Carpentier into turn 5. Carpentier took his line in front of Castroneves forcing the Penske car to lock his front brakes and tap the wall with his front tyre.
Places remained static until lap 20, with drivers working on their fuel strategies and settling into rhythms before an early stop by the struggling Bruno Junqueira (Target Ganassi). Franchitti gave up fifth position to Alex Tagliani when he also pitted for an early churn of fuel. Franchitti was complaining of a fuel starvation problem on the back straight, causing the engine to cut. Although Dario was not entirely happy about having to get out of sequence and falling to 12th for his troubles. Franchitti admitted that whilst chasing Tracy he couldn't find any more speed to get past.
De Ferran kept to his strategy and pitted on lap 22, and returned in ninth place. Moreno pitted on the next lap and gained the advantage taking the lead from de Ferran. Da Matta lost only one place after his pit stop.
The second and last yellow flag for the day was shown after Dario Franchitti spun after brushing his rear wheel on the wall and stalling the engine. he fell two laps to the leaders before the Cart Safety team could get him back under way.
Carpentier was penalised back to 24th place under the yellow when he pitted under closed pits.
Holding the lead for one lap, New Zealand rookie Scott Dixon lost all advantage in his poorly timed pit, dropping to 15th.
Lap 27 saw the restart with Kenny Brack becoming increasingly frustrated with a very wide Castroneves. Brack tried the outside line and was forced over the inside of the 1st chicane. Brack didn't lose or gain in the incident and soon got past Castroneves who, while chasing Andretti in sixth, overbraked and spun into turn 8 stalling and effectively ending his chance for second in the Championship.
Mauricio Gugelmin, who was in doubt after a qualifying accident broke a bone in his wrist, suffered progressive engine misfire, but soldiered on for five laps before stopping for an examination by his crew. Mauricio struggled with his injured hand for most of the race before calling it a day.
Moreno increased his lead, meanwhile, over de Ferran to over 4 seconds, with a further 2-second break to da Matta, Tracy and Tagliani some 7 seconds behind the leader.
The positions again remained static until Franchitti suffered terminal gearbox problems and stopped in the run off area of turn 3.
Roberto Moreno, leading comfortably by over 4 seconds slowed turning onto the back straight and by turn 7 gave up the entire 4.8 seconds to de Ferran who was pressuring his rear wing. Moreno's car was showing vulnerability, and was obviously having problems with his crew working furiously on both cars just prior to start.
De Ferran took the opportunity to pit as both cars came back onto the front straight dropping to ninth place on lap 46. Moreno continued to show problems when Cristiano da Matta easily took the lead on lap 47 and opened a 1.5 second gap over him by the front straight. Both cars pitted on the next lap but da Matta got the best of it returning in fourth to Moreno's sixth. Dixon again inherited the lead before again pitting on the next lap, falling to eighth.
Da Matta took the lead on Lap 51 and was not passed again. Moreno began smoking under acceleration and was obviously suffering mechanical problems before stopping in pit lane and retiring from the race. Interesting to note that the Australian Akubra hat he has been wearing all weekend was very soon back on the happy Brazilian's head.
De Ferran, struggling with his brakes for most of the race gave up 3rd position to Tagliani who was behind a very comfortable Michael Andretti in second. Da matta continued to increase his lead, eventually taking the chequered flag on lap 65, 5.786 seconds in front of Andretti and Tagliani.
Cristiano da Matta's win promotes him to fifth in the Championship, with Gil de Ferran's fourth place enough to clinch the title with only Fontana left to run.
Kenny Brack, frustrated by traffic for most of the day sat behind de Ferran who was not prepared to let Brack through, even when suggested by his team. De Ferran commented later that he preferred to have Brack behind him as (Gil's) brakes were in serious trouble at that point and he didn't want to risk running into the rear of Kenny.
Andretti had to slow with ten laps to go to ensure fuel economy to finish the race but commented that "we had the car to catch him". Alex Tagliani, clearly pleased with a podium, said he had some luck early with the yellows and had a good run for the day, although suffering the same brake problems as his teammate Patrick Carpentier, pumping the brake pedal, locking rears constantly. Carpentier admitted early on Sunday that he was suffering serious brake difficulties for most of the weekend because of the bumpy track and was chasing a good set up to compensate.
Both Ganassi Toyotas had an average weekend, with Memo, driving a bits and pieces car (salvaged parts from his other car) improving his dismal qualifying to get into the top ten from 23rd starting position. Bruno Junqueira's contact with the wall with only 9 laps to run finished his poor weekend with a DNF and damage to the front right side.
In the press conference after the race, an emotional Gil de Ferran described his back to back championship win as "living in a dream". He described the turning point as the race in England, but from a strategic point of view, after chasing set up for most of the weekend.
With over 286 000 people turning the turnstiles for the weekend, organisers were understandably happy, leaving the drivers to party on the Gold coast before returning to the U.S. for the last race in Fontana.