Cristiano da Matta took this third win of the season and his second race win in as many weeks after losing out at the start of the 110-lap race to Kenny Brack. For Target Chip Ganassi Racing it was a case of 'what if' as an error in the pits ...
Cristiano da Matta took this third win of the season and his second race win in as many weeks after losing out at the start of the 110-lap race to Kenny Brack. For Target Chip Ganassi Racing it was a case of 'what if' as an error in the pits resulted in Kenny Brack resuming the lead from the Brazilian only for his left rear wheel to fall off. This left Bruno Junqueira as the Target driver to pressurize the Newman/Haas driver right to the checkered flag.
For da Matta, he never really had the fastest car all day, but following his wins at Monterrey and Laguna Seca, drove a flawless race to extend his lead at the head of the championship standings. "A lot of pressure from first lap to 110th lap -- no second to breath, it was the toughest race I have had in my whole life," da Matta said. "This is what racing is, not the fuel saving thing. Kenny did a big manoeuvre it was very good. It would have been difficult to pass him again, but I was trying to save fuel--"
Almost certainly, the Target pitlane error during Brack's second stop gave the race to da Matta, but this race consisted of more than 61 laps and the Target crew will be fully aware of their error. For Brack, the race that promised so much ended in a retirement and much disappointment.
With Brack out of the picture, the battle for the lead came down to a straight fight between da Matta and the impressive Bruno Junqueira. The early stages of the race saw the Target driver fall back behind the Players car of Tagliani, but once the Canadian hit more mechanic woes and pitted, Junqueira was able to quickly close down the 15-second gap to da Matta. >From thereon, it was a question of finding a way past and at Portland chasing da Matta that proved impossible. Still it was a good result for Junqueira, taking him to joint second in the championship standings, 19 points behind da Matta who is expected to struggle next time out at the one mile Chicago oval.
Dario Franchitti finished in third position but by his own admission the "guys at the front were in a different league today, there was something missing for sure and we have some work to do before the next road course."
It was a solid result for the Team KOOL Green driver however as he battled hard all day with Townsend Bell to gain the position while his teammate Paul Tracy crashed out whist trying to pass Christian Fittipaldi.
For Townsend Bell, third place was his for the taking after a terrific race in his Patrick entry. A stall in his final pitstop took that hard earned position away from the Rookie, but non-the-less, Bell impresses with his pace and his patience today to pick up a good result and valuable championship points.
Patrick Carpentier finished in fifth position after a consistent drive. The Players team would have expected a great deal more from today's GI Joe's 200 with Alex Tagliani qualifying in fourth position and running third during the early stages. As ever, it was not to be for the luckless Tagliani, as the 23rd lap saw him drop to ninth position and then into the pitlane as mechanical gremlins intervened. Carpentier took up the fight but as with Tagliani, never had the pace to challenge the leaders.
Michel Jourdain Jr continued his phenomenal run off reliability to finish in sixth position, ensuring that the Rahal driver ties with Bruno Junqueira for second position in the championship. However, it was not a great day once again from Team Rahal as Jourdain was never close to the leader's pace while Jimmy Vasser was an early casualty with a gearbox failure while running in tenth position.
Scott Dixon fought his way up from a first corner tangle to finish in a fine seventh position. Dixon was tipped into a spin at the first turn of the first lap of green running when the ever overly optimistic Tora Takagi triggered an incident involving Dixon and Adrian Fernandez.
Tony Kanaan will be relieved to finish his second race of the season and his first trouble-free run. However, he and the Mo Nunn team will be disappointed that their Lola Honda package was no match for the front runners, finishing five seconds behind Dixon in his Target car.
Michael Andretti stayed clear of trouble to finish in ninth position ahead of Mario Dominguez, Shinji Nakano and the luckless Alex Tagliani.
The race, despite relatively little passing for position, proved to be an exciting affair with the race win becoming a straight battle between eventual race winner Cristiano da Matta and the Target duo of first Kenny Brack and Bruno Junqueira.
With a 19 points advantage over the rest of the field, da Matta heads to Chicago well aware that the shortened weekend format to just Saturday and Sunday will do him and his team no favors as they try and set up their Lola Toyota for the challenge of oval racing. It's all still wide open in the championship and Bruno Junqueira will be keen to make the move in two weeks time.