CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship Series - Long Beach preview

April 4, 2001 The FedEx Championship Series continues after a month break this weekend with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - an event very similar to the Honda Indy 300 which will be held on the streets of Queensland's Gold Coast from...

April 4, 2001

The FedEx Championship Series continues after a month break this weekend with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - an event very similar to the Honda Indy 300 which will be held on the streets of Queensland's Gold Coast from October 25-28 this year.

While its annual visit to Long Beach has become one of CART's great institutions, the series arrives with a bit of a new look as Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing sits atop the drivers' championship for the first time in his three-year career.

Da Matta, the 1998 Dayton Indy Lights champion, assumed the top spot by virtue of his victory at Monterrey in his debut with the Newman/Haas team. Da Matta, who spent his first two Champ Car seasons with PPI Motorsports, stepped into the Newman/Haas seat vacated by Michael Andretti who joined Team Motorola at the start of this season.

"We were able to get the season off to a good start by winning in Mexico and I think it will only get better after we get a few races under our belts together," said da Matta.

"The (car) set-up for Mexico is very different from the way we will set up the car for Long Beach because of the track surface. The track in Mexico was the smoothest I have ever been on and the Long Beach track is very, very bumpy because it is normally city streets so the way to set up the car is going to be pretty different but we are confident we will be competitive. "I am pretty confident about what we have in our hands right now. I won in Long Beach in Indy Lights in 1998 but have not done so well since then in my two races in a Champ Car."

While da Matta, who owns 21 points (20 for win, 1 for most laps led), is new to the championship lead, his nearest rivals are anything but and each has enjoyed success on the streets of Long Beach.

Coming off a runner-up finish in Mexico, defending FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran, of Marlboro Team Penske, stands second with 16 points. He is also a three-time and defending pole-sitter at Long Beach (1996, '97, 2000). He owns the track qualifying record of 104.969 miles per hour, established last year.

"Long Beach has been a place where historically I've run and qualified well," said de Ferran.

"In fact, Marlboro Team Penske should be in a good position this weekend given my second place and Helio's (Castroneves) eighth-place finish in Mexico - which put us in the fast group for qualifying - coupled with the fact I sat on the pole last year. However, despite qualifying and running well, I've never finished on the podium so I'm hoping to change that this year."

Paul Tracy, the defending Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach champion, finished third in the season opener and thus stands third in the championship with 14 points. He claimed his first career FedEx Championship Series victory at Long Beach in 1993 and earned the pole in 1994. His victory from the 17th starting position last year represented the second-deepest position on the grid from which anyone has driven to victory in a CART road- or street-course event.

Andretti holds down fourth place in the championship with 12 points after finishing fourth at Mexico in his Team Motorola debut. Andretti, who announced last week that he would be competing in this year's Indianapolis 500 for the first time since 1995, is CART's all-time victory leader (40), one of which came at Long Beach in 1986. He also owns nine top-10 finishes and three pole positions (1991, '92 and '95) in 16 career starts at the venue.

In five of the past seven FedEx Championship Series seasons, the winner at Long Beach has gone on to claim the championship.

Following the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the FedEx Championship Series makes its first-ever visit to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Round 3, the inaugural Texas 600, the weekend of April 27-29.

<pre> Fast Facts For The Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach

WHAT: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. WHERE: Streets of downtown Long Beach, California WHEN: Friday-Sunday, April 6-8.

SUPPORT EVENTS: Dayton Indy Lights Championship, Toyota Atlantic Championship, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, Trans-Am Championship.

DEFENDING CHAMPION:  Paul Tracy.
DEFENDING POLESITTER:  Gil de Ferran.

TRACK LAYOUT: 1.968-mile temporary street circuit. RACE LENGTH: 82 laps, 161.376 miles. TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) - 2000, Gil de Ferran, 104.969 mph (1:07.494). Race - 2000, Paul Tracy, 82.626 mph.

RACE ROUND: 2 of 21 in the FedEx Championship Series.

FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES POINTS LEADERS: 1, Cristiano da Matta, Newman/Haas Racing, 21; 2, Gil de Ferran, Marlboro Team Penske, 16; 3, Paul Tracy, Team KOOL Green, 14; 4, Michael Andretti, Team Motorola, 12; 5, Kenny Brack, Team Rahal, 11.

NEXT EVENT: April 29, Texas 600, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Paul Tracy , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Team Penske