CHAMPCAR/CART: Fittipaldi, da Matta Vancouver race report

Vancouver, B.C., Canada --- September 2, 2001 - Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi returned to his favorite race city in hopes of bettering his third place finish from 1996 and ultimately would have had a shot at a fourth place finish once the race...

Vancouver, B.C., Canada --- September 2, 2001 - Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi returned to his favorite race city in hopes of bettering his third place finish from 1996 and ultimately would have had a shot at a fourth place finish once the race strategy played out but a punctured tire and subsequent extra pit stop dropped him to an 11th place finish in the Molson Indy Vancouver. To start the weekend off right, Fittipaldi hosted the team to a go-kart rally on Thursday night at nearby F 440.

Once the team got back to business on track, they set their sites on a top-eight qualifying position. Late in the 30-minute session Fittipaldi pitted for his second set of tires in an effort to post a quicker lap time than his current one worthy of 12th place, but Paul Tracy brought out the red flag as well as the checkered flag ending his three final attempts. When the scheduled 100-lap Molson Indy started, fifth place starter Bruno Junqueira and sixth place starter Helio Castroneves went off course and Fittipaldi moved into 10th place which he held until lap 26 when he pitted during the caution to move Helio Castroneves' car from the front straight. He returned to the race in 14th place after losing a position to his teammate Cristiano da Matta in the pits as well as behind three cars that were not on the same sequence as the leaders. He moved into 13th place after Paul Tracy retired from the race after completing 29 laps.

By lap 41, he moved into 10th place after Max Wilson retired due to mechanical failure and Memo Gidley and Scott Dixon pitted. All three were on a different pit strategy. Around lap 60 he was told he could drive on a "full rich" fuel setting and to run as fast as he could. The team soon discovered that since he was in a pack of slower cars, he could not make use of the extra fuel so they decided to have him pit so that he could return to the track and run by himself and make up valuable track position. He made his second stop on lap 66 and returned to the race in 17th place.

Soon after, other teams realized the benefit and began calling their cars into the pits. On lap 70 a caution flag came out to remove the crashed car of Max Papis. Because Fittipaldi had already pitted, he should be at the front of the grid once the others had completed their stops. Unfortunately the field did not catch up to the leader quick enough and those cars that pitted were able to get back on track in front of Fittipaldi. By lap 74, he was in 12th place after polesitter and race leader Alex Tagliani stopped on course with mechanical failure, Max Papis crashed and three cars pit. He held 12th place until the crew called for him to immediately pit on lap 77 under caution because the telemetry showed that his right rear tire was deflating, possibly as a result from running over crash debris. After making a stop for four new tires, Fittipaldi returned to the race in 19th place but moved into 17th by lap 79 after Jimmy Vasser was squeezed off the racing line and into the tires by Tora Takagi and Fittipaldi got ahead of Dario Franchitti.

By lap 80 he moved into 12th place after Bruno Junqueira and Scott Dixon pit, Adrian Fernandez slid into the tires, da Matta drove into the tires after Tora Takagi attempted a pass and da Matta had to make a wide turn to avoid hitting him and he passed Shinji Nakano.

It was determined by CART that the race would be a two-hour and 10 minute timed event rather than a 100-lap event. Fittipaldi held 12th place until lap 86 when he moved into 11th after Mauricio Gugelmin pit and fourth place runner Patrick Carpentier had to replace a flat tire after being hit by Kenny Brack.

He held 11th place until the checkered flag after completing 98 laps and scored two points toward the Championship. Once he pitted, the team was relieved to have scored two points despite the fact that they found another punctured tire. Fittipaldi remained in 12th place in the standings although he only fell back three points to the leader in the Championship with 59 points back from Gil de Ferran with five races remaining.

"The way the race played out, we would have finished fourth if our right rear tire didn't get a puncture," said Fittipaldi. "We aren't performing in the races for one reason or another but it isn't from a lack of trying. The team elected to have me run full rich on fuel before my last stop but we determined that it didn't do us any good since we were being held up by slower cars in front of us. We decided to go ahead and pit so we could get back on track and run alone to make up some time. When the yellow came out, we were in a good position to gain a lot of spots but no one packed up in front of me so the guys that pitted were able to get back on track in front of us. Regardless of that, the way the race played out, we could have finished fourth if we didn't have to come back in to change tires because of the puncture. We could have made us some good ground in the Championship but something beyond our control happened."

- Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta returned to his favorite race city with big expectations. After setting the second fastest lap in the first practice session on Friday, the team made some changes to the car that resulted in the fifth fastest time in the afternoon.

On Saturday, the team set the third fastest time in the morning and was optimistic about a top qualifying spot for the race. In qualifying, da Matta experience the return of a throttle problem that was present on Friday although they could not find the origination of the problem. The stuck throttle forced da Matta to drive into the tires on his first lap out during the limited 30-minute qualifying session and he received an eight-minute penalty for bringing out the red flag to stop the session. He and team switched to the back-up car and went on track late in the session. Unfortunately Paul Tracy crashed with 2-1/2 minutes to go in the session which would have rendered three more attempts at a faster lap on new tires and da Matta was stuck with a 14th place starting spot.

Once the scheduled 100-lap Molson Indy began da Matta moved from 14th into 11th after passing Tony Kanaan on the start and moving up two positions after Junqueira and Castroneves came into contact and dropped back.

He held his position until his first pit stop on lap 26 during the caution to move Castroneves stalled car from the front straight. He returned to the race in 13th place after gaining a position by passing Fittipaldi in the pits but was behind three cars that were out of pit sequence. He moved into 12th place after Paul Tracy, who he was running behind stopped on course after apparent contact between the two cars. By lap 41, he moved into 9th place after the three cars out of sequence either retired (Max Wilson) or pitted (Scott Dixon, Memo Gidley). He held his position until lap 67 when drivers began making their second stops. By lap 69 he was in fifth place and planning to enter the pits for his second and final pit stop the next time by pit entrance but a full course yellow was brought out to remove Max Papis' crashed car. CART closed the pits on lap 70 and da Matta took over the lead after those in front of him had pitted immediately before the yellow came out. The team instructed da Matta to program his car to run as lean on fuel as possible in order to keep his car running until the pits were opened.

After leading three long laps under caution, da Matta had to stop in the still-closed pits on lap 73 or run out of fuel on course. Along with da Matta came Jimmy Vasser, Dario Franchitti and Memo Gidley. After he returned on track for one lap in fifth place, CART instructed him to go to the back of the pack for the restart which occurred on lap 78 with da Matta in 13th place after serving the penalty for stopping in a closed pit. On lap 80, Tora Takagi attempted to pass da Matta, who had to make a wide turn in order to avoid colliding with the rookie. Da Matta drove onto the dirty part of the racetrack off of the racing line and slid into the tire barrier. The CART Safety Team pulled da Matta away from the track but then push started him moments after that. He returned to the pits to replace his tires and for the team to look for damage. The second he was sent on track, the team noticed damage to his left front suspension and he was told to proceed cautiously down the remainder of pit lane and back into the pits because they did not want to risk having him drive an unsafe racecar. He retired in 20th place but only fell back an additional five points to the new leader Gil de Ferran who has 115 to da Matta's 78. Following are his post-race comments:

"The team had already told me to pit next time by before the yellow came out," said da Matta. "Even driving slow under caution we were burning up fuel so we either had to pit when the pits were closed or stop on course.

We didn't have an option. It ruined the race for me, Dario, Vasser and others who were tight on fuel because we were doing good fuel mileage. The tank was basically empty. On ovals, I understand closing the pits but not on road courses. I held the lead for a few laps under caution and was in a good position to make up some spots after my stop because we were able to go a few laps more. We got back on track in fifth place but then had to go to the back of the pack for the restart because we stopped in a closed pit. We were fast in every session and the car was great in the race so it's a shame that this happened. Earlier in the race, Tracy closed the door on me and my front wing hit his tire. At the end, I had to avoid a red and white car of either Helio or Tora, I don't know which but they pushed me into the dirt and that sent me into the tires. We could have had finished with a few points otherwise. We are only five more points back from the leader and 37 total so we are still close but so is everyone else."

- The Journey Across The Pond: The FedEx Championship Series will embark on a new adventure when taking the American form of racing on ovals to Europe for events in Germany and England. Fittipaldi's top finish in Formula One, of fourth place came in Germany. Both drivers have raced in Germany and England and are looking forward to reacquainting themselves with their European fans.

-nhr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Bruno Junqueira , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Max Wilson , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Cristiano da Matta