August 13, 2000 --- Lexington, Ohio - Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi made his return to racing a competitive one after driving to a third place finish in the Miller Lite 200 at the 2.25-mile Mid-Ohio road ...
August 13, 2000 --- Lexington, Ohio - Big Kmart/Route 66 driver Christian Fittipaldi made his return to racing a competitive one after driving to a third place finish in the Miller Lite 200 at the 2.25-mile Mid-Ohio road course, his first race back after being sidelined due to a very mild concussion after a crash in practice at the last event in Chicago two weeks ago. Fittipaldi was the top qualifier for the team since 1996 after setting the fifth fastest time in final qualifying on Saturday at what has been one of the tougher tracks for Newman/Haas Racing the past few years. On the first of 83 laps, sixth place starter Max Papis squeezed around Fittipaldi on the backstretch for position. Fittipaldi held sixth place for the next 17 laps as polesitter Gil de Ferran and his teammate Helio Castroneves, who tested well at the track, built a sizable lead. He moved into fifth place on lap 17 after passing Max Papis and into fourth place on the following lap after third place runner Dario Franchitti pitted.
He held fourth place behind Kenny Brack for the next 11 laps until he made his first pit stop on lap 30. After the first round of stops were complete, Fittipaldi worked his way into fourth place behind race leader Castroneves, de Ferran and Brack. Castroneves had stretched his fuel and pitted after his teammate and was therefore able to pass him for the lead. He held fourth place to Brack by an average of one-and-one-half seconds for the following 23 laps until he moved into third place when second place de Ferran made his second stop on lap 55. On lap 57, Brack made his second stop and Fittipaldi moved into second place. He drove as hard as he could while Brack pitted so he could make up valuable track position while on a lighter load of fuel prior to his stop. On the following lap, he pitted and the Big Kmart/Route 66 team performed a flawless pit stop and Fittipaldi was able to return to the track ahead of Brack, who was entering the front straight. As the others completed their second stops, Fittipaldi moved up to third place behind the two Penske drivers and ahead of Papis and Brack. On lap 61, a yellow came out to remove the car of Shinji Nakano, who spun. On track, Fittipaldi was positioned behind 15th place Memo Gidley and 16th place Mark Blundell. In order to try to pass second place de Ferran, Fittipaldi would first have to pass the two backmarkers on the restart or thereafter. The team communicated to each of the drivers pits that Fittipaldi would be attempting to pass them. Blundell had agreed via radio to his team that he would allow Fittipaldi to make a pass. When the race was restarted on lap 66, Fittipaldi was able to get by Blundell but was slightly slowed which allowed de Ferran to build a lead. He was running 1.7-seconds behind de Ferran, but still behind Gidley when the caution flag came out again on lap 70. The team again communicated with Gidley's team, which confirmed that the driver would let Fittipaldi pass on the inside of turn 3 if he was close enough. When the race was restarted on lap 74, Fittipaldi was unable to pass Gidley in turn 3 as the driver moved over prior to his attempt. He successfully passed him though on lap 75 and knew he had only a few more laps to reel in de Ferran before the 83-lap race was over. He closed the margin from 1.2 seconds to seven-tenths of a second but ran out of time before the checkered flag came out. Fittipaldi matched his best finish of the season at Portland with third place today. He moved from 15th to 14th in the Championship point standings after collecting 14 points with his third place finish. Following are his post race comments:
"Was this a victory in the sense of being the first to take the checkered flag? No, but there was no way to match the red cars so we won the race of the rest," said a pleased Fittipaldi. "I though I had enough to get Gil on the last restart but we ran out of time. I'm not sure why he slowed down at the end. It was good to finish on the podium after my short vacation (missed the last event in Chicago due to mild concussion from a crash on Friday). My muscles hurt on Friday but it got better each time I was in the car after that. There was nothing more we could have done to make our situation better. This is the best car I have had at Mid-Ohio. This has been one of the hardest tracks for our team over the past few years so this is a victory from that standpoint. My hat is of to Penske. They really got their act together today. I thought it was going to be like Portland where they qualified well but didn't dominate the race as much. That wasn't the case today. We will just have to go back and do a little homework and go on to the next race. I am excited to go back to Road America. In this series, you have to be competitive everywhere you go. You aren't going to be competitive just because you won somewhere the previous year. I am looking forward to the race even more after running so well here."
- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline driver Michael Andretti accomplished his goal of scoring points toward the Championship with his eighth place finish in the Miller Lite 200 at Mid-Ohio and his 11th points paying finish in the 13 races this season. Despite this, Andretti was disappointed with his finish because he was hampered with boost problems for most of the race but was comforted with the knowledge that he scored points toward the Championship. After starting the 83-lap race in eight place, Andretti held his position until he passed Cristiano da Matta for seventh on the third lap. He held seventh place behind Fittipaldi for the following 15 laps before moving into sixth place when third place runner Dario Franchitti made an unscheduled pit stop. On lap 28, the team informed Andretti that the computer telemetry reported an engine boost problem. Andretti was driving with approximately two-and-one-half inches less boost which translated to approx. 35-40 horsepower, which is a sizable amount. The problem was similar to the one Andretti had on the Nazareth oval in May. He made his first pit stop on lap 31 and moved into seventh place after others made their first stops. Patrick Carpentier stretched his fuel and pitted one lap later than Andretti, and was able to move ahead of him on track and costing Andretti one position. He held seventh place for the following 25 laps before the front-runners began making their second stops. He moved into fourth place on lap 59 before making his second stop on lap 61. After Andretti pitted, a caution flag came out that de Ferran, Max Papis and Adrian Fernandez were able to capitalize on by pitting during slower track conditions. Fernandez returned to the track ahead of Andretti and dropped him to eighth place. On lap 65, the team reported to Andretti that the boost problem disappeared and he should run at the "full-rich" fuel setting. In total, he ran in eighth place for the remaining 23 laps until the checkered flag on lap 83. He scored five points for a total of 125 to second place Gil de Ferran's 106 in the CART Championship. It was the 11th time in 13 races that Andretti has scored points. Following are his post race comments:
"We had a boost problem for most of the race so I was down on power which makes scoring points that much more of an accomplishment today," said Andretti. "We were down two-and-one-half inches of boost, which is a lot of horsepower. We are thankful for the points but it would have been nice to build more of a lead in the Championship. Coming in with a 22 point lead over Roberto and leaving with a 19 point lead over de Ferran is still good but the pressure is on to keep finishing races. To leave this place with points is good though. We have struggled the past few years here so to find a good balance in the car was encouraging. The Penskes look like they will be tough at Road America but the Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline team plans to just keep plugging along and rack up some points toward the Championship."