CHAMPCAR/CART: Fittipaldi fifth, da Matta points lead after Nazareth

Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi scored a fifth place finish in the 225-lap Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota today as well as his first points toward the Championship while rookie Scott Dixon brought PacWest Racing their first victory...

Kmart driver Christian Fittipaldi scored a fifth place finish in the 225-lap Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Presented by Toyota today as well as his first points toward the Championship while rookie Scott Dixon brought PacWest Racing their first victory since 1997. Fittipaldi came to Nazareth as the reigning oval winner and was optimistic about the race where he qualified second for the event in 2000. During practice on Friday and Saturday, the team worked to find a set-up that would allow the backend of the car to stick to the pavement better in order to set a fast lap time but was unable to and Fittipaldi qualified 17th. In the race, seventh place starter Bryan Herta spun and Fittipaldi moved to 16th place, which he held until his first pit stop on lap 76 during a caution period for Michel Jourdain who spun after starting the race in a career best third-place. During the pit stop, the refueler had trouble getting the new single-probe nozzle into the racecar and Fittipaldi lost three positions before returning to the racetrack in 16th place rather than 13th behind Roberto Moreno, who he had been running behind.

Due to being in 16th place, Fittipaldi took advantage of the caution period for Tora Takagi and made his second stop on lap 116 and returned to the race in 15th place. He held his position until lap 125 when he moved into seventh place after the front runners pitted during the caution period to remove the debris from an accident between Gil de Ferran and Alex Tagliani. On lap 141, third place runner Dario Franchitti pitted and Fittipaldi moved into sixth place. Fittipaldi then had to hold off Kenny Brack, who arguably had the fastest car on track in the race, for approx. 20 laps until Brack passed him on lap 161. He held seventh place until second place runner Shinji Nakano pitted and he moved into sixth on 182. When previous race leader Tony Kanaan pitted on 190 of 225, he moved into fifth place but was passed by Michel Jourdain on lap 201. He held sixth place until lap 213 when fifth place runner Jourdain spun again immediately in front of Fittipaldi, who swerved to avoid Jourdain but regained control of his racecar and held his positions until the checkered flag came out after 225 laps. He collected 10 points to put him 12th in the standings. Following are his post race comments:

"It was good to salvage some points today after starting off the race in 17th place and having a problem on our first stop," said Fittipaldi. "The fueler had a problem getting the single-probe fuel system into the car and we came out in 16th after losing a lot of time because of the problem. We lost some ground on the first stop but came in for our second stop out of sequence, which later worked out for us because of how the yellow flags fell. It is really a relief to finally score some points. I like racing on the track in Japan and am looking forward to starting some momentum there."

Texaco/Havoline/Kmart driver Cristiano da Matta ran as high as third place for a good portion of the race but pit strategy aided those not on the "leader strategy" and he finished 10th but was able to hold onto the lead in the CART FedEx point standings. Da Matta was in eighth place on the last restart but was passed by two cars due to the action of the car in front of him and which took his full focus and enabled two cars to pass on separate occasions. He started the race in ninth place but was temporarily passed by Bryan Herta who subsequently spun on course, thus enabling da Matta to maintain ninth place. He moved into eighth place when fifth place starter Helio Castroneves spun on a restart from Herta's caution period on lap five.

He held eighth place until he passed Tony Kanaan and Michel Jourdain on lap 73. On lap 76, he made his first pit stop and came out of the pits in third place after a quick stop by his crew enabled him to pass polesitter Bruno Junquiera, Paul Tracy and Adrian Fernandez in the pits. Once back on track, he held third place behind Oriol Servia and attempted a pass several times over the course of the following laps but was unable to complete it. After holding third place, he made his second pit stop with the rest of the front runners on lap 125 and rejoined the race in 12th place but still third to Brack and Servia. He moved into 11th place when Franchitti pit on lap 141 and into 10th place on lap 181 when second place runner Tora Takagi pit. On lap 190, previous race leader Tony Kanaan pit and da Matta moved into ninth place. He held that position for many laps until fifth place runner Jourdain spun and he moved into eighth place. He held his position behind Servia and in front of Michael Andretti on a restart from a caution period on lap 217 when Servia aggressively protected his position and Andretti was able to pass both drivers on the outside. The following event happened on the next lap and Dario Franchitti was able to pass, dropping da Matta to 10th place where he finished the race. He earned three points toward the championship for a total of 40 points which tied him with Paul Tracy although he is technically ahead due to his win in Mexico.

Following are his post race comments:

"The car was pretty good in the race," said da Matta. "It was much better today than it was for qualifying. I was quite impressed in the morning warm-up and in the race. We were good on the first stint. After the first stop, the car was okay but we were a little too neutral on the last stint. Your car had to be much better than the next guy's car if you planned to pass him on this track. Worst case, we had a top-five car but the yellows just didn't fall that way for us. We came in with Brack and Oriol on our second stop and dropped way back to those out of sequence and couldn't get back up there. Because we are friends and have been teammates, I think Oriol was worrying too much about me than the other guy around us and was watching me so much that Michael and another car got by us at the end. For most of the race, I could get a run on Oriol and pull close to him but he would pull away from me after that. The main thing is that we were running strong in the race after having to work really hard the last couple of days. Not every race will work this way and we can finish up front. It was good to get points though and keep working on consistency in Japan. I'm looking forward to racing there and think we will be competitive. We know the areas we want to work on and the entire team will continue working hard to do well in Japan."

- Knock, Knock, Who's There? While Fittipaldi was on his way home from the track on Friday, he stopped at the house of an apparent fan who had a life-size standup of him in one window and posters in others. No one was home though so Fittipaldi had a photo taken of himself in the front yard before leaving a note at the door. The photos are now on his website fittipaldiONLINE.com. The fan, Jessica Heckler, contacted Fittipaldi via the email address he left at her door and also appeared in his line during the all-driver autograph session at the track on Saturday. She told him that it was her lifelong goal to meet him and invited he and his wife Andrea to stop by again at the end of the day but Fittipaldi was scheduled to attend a party at Mario Andretti's house that evening and could not stop by.

- Notable Rookie Scott Dixon became the youngest driver to record a victory in a major racing series including CART, NASCAR Winston Cup, IRL and Formula One. Dixon is 20 years, 9 months and 14 days old.

- Revolutionary Logo Placement...After a successful short-oval debut in practice and qualifying for the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, the eye-catching WheelFX technology developed by Adflash will make its next appearance June 2-4 at The Milwaukee Mile for the Miller Lite 225. WheelFX, which uses LED lights and special process control software to create images on the wheels of racing cars, was launched on the Newman/Haas Racing cars of Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta. Fittipaldi's car featured logos of Kmart and Toyota while da Matta's car featured Texaco and Toyota logos.

- On to the Japan:The CART FedEx Championship series visits their third different country so far this season as Round 4 takes place at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan. Race equipment is scheduled to be loaded in Indianapolis late this week and flown to Japan. Both Fittipaldi and da Matta will be traveling to Tokyo on Sunday, May 13.

-NHR

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Mario Andretti , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain