Da Matta Won Road America; Fittipaldi 6th - Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta won his sixth race of the season at the 60-lap CART Grand Prix of Road America today with the help of excellent fuel strategy and pit work. It was his eighth victory...
Da Matta Won Road America; Fittipaldi 6th
- Havoline driver Cristiano da Matta won his sixth race of the season at the 60-lap CART Grand Prix of Road America today with the help of excellent fuel strategy and pit work. It was his eighth victory in the past 14 CART FedEx Championship series events and enabled him to extend his pre-race lead over second place from 27 points to 42. The site of Newman/Haas Racing's (NHR) first victory also became the site of their 67th and most recent one after da Matta led the final 22 laps of the event and drove to a .805-second win over Alex Tagliani with Bruno Junqueira coming in third. Road America was already NHR's winningest track and da Matta extended that to eight victories and 13 podium finishes in the team's 20 years. With five laps added to the event on the 4.048-mile scenic road course, the 60-lap, pre-determined four pit stop race would be the longest Champ car event held here to date and da Matta admitted that the length would be difficult on the equipment. In fact, in the pre-race strategy meeting between da Matta and the Havoline team, a goal was set of just finishing the event, with anything in the top-five being an added bonus especially after only scoring one point in three race days.
At the start of the race, da Matta was passed by fourth place starter Paul Tracy who also passed the race leader Bruno Junqueira on the first lap which also saw a caution flag to restart the car of Michael Andretti who went off course into a gravel trap. After the race was restarted he held third place with a .5-second deficit to Junqueira until the first of his four stops on Lap 14. The Havoline team performed a quick stop but previous fifth place runner Kenny Brack beat him out of the pits, which the team assumed, was due to him being "short-filled" with fuel. Da Matta was now in fourth place and held the position until Lap 24 when Brack made his second stop. On Lap 26 he moved into second place after leader Tracy pitted. He held second place through his next pit stop on lap 28 when both he and the leader Junqueira made their second stops. Despite another quick stop by the Havoline crew da Matta was unable to beat him out of the pits. He maintained an average distance of one-second behind his fellow Brazilian for the next stint and took over the lead on Lap 39 when Junqueira made his third stop. Da Matta was able to stay on track for an additional two laps before his third stop on Lap 41 and thus gain valuable track position by setting quick laps on a light fuel load with hot tires compared to Junqueira's new, colder tires and full load of fuel. After Junqueira returned to the track after his stop on Lap 39, a yellow flag came out on Lap 40 to remove the cars of Paul Tracy and Kenny Brack who collided after an attempted pass by Tracy. During this caution period the majority of the field who had yet to make another stop, pitted under the caution including da Matta who came in on Lap 41. The slowing of the field potentially threatened da Matta's chance of capitalizing on his later stop although he was able to return to the track ahead of Junqueira. Once the race was restarted on Lap 43, da Matta maintained a lead of one second over second place until another caution period for Shinji Nakano came out on Lap 50 of 60 to remove his car from the Turn 12 gravel trap. The top-seven cars made their final stop during the caution and da Matta was able to maintain his lead although he was now ahead of Alex Tagliani as the Canadian beat Junqueira out of the pits. Once the race was restarted on Lap 53, he was only challenged once when Tagliani attempted to get alongside him early on Lap 59 but was unable to do so and da Matta took the checkered flag after he completed 60 laps with a .805-second margin of victory. It was the 18th victory for Toyota since joining the series, their seventh in 12 races and ninth win in the last 14 CART races - dating back to last season. It was Lola's 116th victory, and the 63rd by NHR of 116.
Following are da Matta's post race comments:
"We came into this race thinking we needed to finish the race more than anything else," said da Matta. "Anything we brought home better than fifth place, we were going to take and be happy. We needed it to bump-start our rhythm. If we were not the fastest car, we were the most consistent. The team gave me good pit stops, the car was perfect, everything was perfect. During the race, I ran a conservative first stint. I'm very pleased with the way things went and that our strategy worked. We were able to stay on track and do quick laps. I had hot tires and a very low fuel load. That's what won us the race. When someone else is ahead of you but is not as fast, that's the strategy - to short fill. Then the yellow came out and I was worried that I couldn't keep the lead but we did and I was very happy. I was very tense at that time but I came out ahead of Bruno and was pretty happy. I was a very similar strategy when it was a fuel race. I still have to think about the points. Those three races that we didn't score points in was good for us because it showed us how important it is just to score points each time."
- Lilly driver Christian Fittipaldi moved from his 11th place start in the 60-lap CART Grand Prix of Road America to finish sixth and jumped from a two-way tie of sixth place (in seventh) to fifth in the CART FedEx Championship standings. Running a different pit strategy aided his move to the front although the yellow flag periods and a slightly slower pit stop limited his chance at a top-three, top-four finish although the Lilly team was happy to collect enough points toward the Championship to move up to fifth place. The team struggled to find a good set-up for the car prior to qualifying and Fittipaldi was limited to an 11th place start. Once the race started, he passed Adrian Fernandez in the first turn and Oriol Servia before he completed the first lap for ninth place. He held the position behind a pack of cars until Lap 5 when the team elected to try a different strategy and had him make his first of four mandatory pit stops each 14 laps as his car was faster than those immediately in front of him thus holding him up. Once back on track, he was able to run alone in clean air and clock some consistently fast times. As others began making their first stops, he moved up in running order and was in seventh place before his second stop on Lap 19. He returned to the race in 13th place but began gaining positions a few laps later as others made their second stops as well as picking up a position after fourth place runner Scott Dixon parked his car in a safe spot with mechanical failure. He moved up to sixth place before his third stop on Lap 33 and the Lilly crew performed another trouble-free stop and he rejoined the field in 11th place but moved up to fifth by Lap 40 as others stopped. Immediately after he moved into fifth place, the benefit of the different strategy was reduced as a caution flag came out for the collision of Paul Tracy and Kenny Brack which enabled the field to pit during the slower period. He pitted in fifth place and returned to the track in eighth but moved into seventh on Lap 44 after Dario Franchitti stopped on course in a safe spot with mechanical failure. On Lap 45, Patrick Carpentier made his final stop and Fittipaldi moved into sixth place. The caution flag came out for the third and final time on Lap 50 when Shinji Nakano slid into a gravel trap near Turn 12. The top-seven cars pitted on Lap 50 but Fittipaldi's crew experienced a slight delay with the outside rear tire which caused him to exit his pit alongside Vasser rather than in front of him and he returned to the track in sixth place which he held until the checkered flag. He earned eight points and moved from seventh (tied for sixth) into fifth place in the standings with 82 points.
Following are Fittipaldi's post race comments:
"We ran a risky strategy that paid off a little but would have put us ahead of Kanaan who finished fourth if the yellows hadn't come, especially Tracy and Brack's yellow," said Fittipaldi. "We had a third or fourth place finish today. We had a little trouble on one of our stops and should have come out of the pits ahead of Vasser. The yellows and the slower stop hurt us. On the bright side, it's good to score some points and pick up a position in the Championship standings though. The car was good in clean air and we were able to make up some ground with some quick laps. We were a little behind this weekend and we didn't qualify as well as we should have. Hopefully we will come back stronger in Montreal."
- Manufacturing Success Today's victory marked the 18th for Toyota since joining the series and 10th by da Matta. Today's victory is the seventh in 12 races this season for Toyota and marks the manufacturer's 9th win in the last 14 CART races - dating back to last season. It was the 116th for Lola, and the 63rd by NHR of 116.
- Next Up...The series will head to Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the Molson Indy Montreal. It will be da Matta first event at the track named after Gilles Villeneuve but Fittipaldi raced there twice while competing in Formula One.